Thursday, 16 April 2020

EARLY DAYS



There are many allusions to World War II in the newspapers, on radio and on TV these days as we go the dreadful Covid 19 crisis. Even Her Majesty the Queen referenced Vera Lynn's wartime hit We'll Meet Again in her warm and inspirational broadcast to the nation. And it started me thinking - what do I remember of the war?

Not a lot, you might think, since I was not born until November, 1941. But I do have plenty of memories of the early years of my life. Snapshots, yes, but incredibly clear. I was only just two years old when my sister was born, yet I remember my Gran asking me if I would like to go upstairs and see my new little sister. It was a cold - possibly wet - January morning, and I had climbed into the living room window cill via an armchair, and was drawing with my finger on the steamed-up window. I'm afraid my recollection doesn't extend to what I thought of her, yet that memory of being told I was no longer an only child is framed for ever just as if it were a photograph.

Other clear memories involve being in my push chair. I can still recall the pleasure of being taken out for walks in the countryside, often by my dear Auntie Marjorie with whom we shared a home. She liked to go 'round the walls' - the perimeter of Ammerdown estate - and we would listen to the telephone lines humming above us as we went. On another occasion she had taken me down to the lane that runs along the valley below what was our house and stopped on a bridge over the river so that I could look down at the ducks. I was wearing a pair of brand new sandals and feeling very proud of them. Unfortunately disaster struck. Auntie had parked my push chair close to the wooden rail, the better for me to look through, and somehow I managed to catch one of my sandals beneath the bottom strut. When I freedved my foot my sandal was wrenched off, and fell down into the stream. Oh, the memory of how horrified I was! And of seeing Auntie scrambling down the steep bank to try and retrieve it. It wasn't to be. She couldn't reach it, and we had to go home and confess the awful thing that had happened. But would you believe, when clearing Mum's house after she died what did we find in the sideboard but the tiny surviving sandal, still brand new, having been worn only once. Mum had kept it all those years!

Even worse - another push chair incident, this time with Mum in charge. We were in the Co-op Drapery Shop, and Mum stopped to talk to a neighbour whose little girl was just a day younger than me. And for some unknown reason I leaned across and bit her on the arm! I think they put it down to me being jealous at the attention my new baby sister was getting, but I have no idea. I just remember the sudden urge to bite Valerie (as I later came to know her) and feeling dreadfully ashamed afterwards as Mum apologised profusely to Valerie's mum!

I can also remember the incident in the woods when the black bird - a crow or rook - was shot and landed fluttering right in front of me, though that is thanks to the hypnosis I had to cure me of the bird phobia that plagued me for forty-odd years, the story of which I related in an earlier blog. That had been tucked away in the depths of my memory until the hypnotist unlocked it. Now I can remember the whole thing, even being upset whilst having my lunch when I got home, and Mum saying 'Just forget about it, my love.' Well, I did, at least my conscious mind did, but I still remembered the terror every time I had contact with a bird, especially a black bird. The nightmares, the day walking across the fields Dad had to give me a ride on his shoulders in order to pass a dead black bird under a tree, the fear of any sort of fluttering. Only when I was able to remember the fright that caused it all, making me cry: 'It's dead! It's dead! I don't want it to be dead!' in a little child's voice, and face it with adult understanding was I able to begin to overcome my phobia.

I clearly remember a dream, too, much more clearly than I can recall what I dreamed last night, although I was very young, certainly no more than four. It was a terrible fire in a circus marquee. Yet somehow also our house was being threatened. My grandparents had their bedroom downstairs in what should have been the front room because Gran had 'a bad heart', and she had lots of ornaments on the mantelpiece. I was running in and out of the house getting those ornaments two at a time and running out to put them on the front lawn where they would be safe. I'd love to know where that dream that I've never forgotten came from - if I close my eyes I can still feel the aura of it. And I became fascinated by fire, to the extent that later, whenever the 'fire hooter' went to summon the volunteer fire brigade (the 'hooter' as in fact the old all-clear air raid siren) I would run down the hill to the fire station to watch the engine come out with its bell clanging. I even kept a notebook recording each call out, and the fire chief, a friend of Mum's, said I could be their mascot and ride on the engine one day. I don't think that ever happened, or I would surely remember it!

I also remember being small enough to fit in my mother's 'boat shaped' basket and pretending it was a real boat, and being dreadfully upset when I grew to big to get into it!

And so to the war. I remember hearing the siren - the alarm then - and the planes going over. I remember being told you could tell the difference between British and German planes because of the engine sound. I remember sitting on a blanket on the lawn and watching the English ones streak overhead and disappear into the distance,

Most exciting of all was when a German plane came down in a nearby field. My mother took me across to see it, and lifted me up onto the step so I could see inside! I couldn't have been more than three years old if that, but it's another clear memory.

And Auntie Flo, Gran's sister, who was bombed out of her home in Oldfield Park in Bath and moved into our already crowded household, being given my bedroom! But she played with me for hours, especially with my china dolly's tea set. I can even remember the scent of her talcum powder ...

And how my sister and I loved playing with our gas masks when the war was over! I can still smell the rubbery smell when we opened the cardboard boxes they were kept in ...

Oh, I could go on and on! But the rest, I think, will have to wait for another day!

Thursday, 2 January 2020

HAPPY NEW YEAR!


So here it is - the beginning of t he Roaring Twenties! I have to confess I didn't stay up to watch it in - I was in bed and asleep when the hands of the clock turned to midnight, though I was woken up by the sound of fireworks before turning over and going back to sleep. Once I would never have dreamed of missing that magic moment. Even in recent years when the partying days were over, I would have been able to look out from my bedroom window in Bristol Road, Radstock, over the whole valley, and watch the sky light up for miles around. Here, I can see nothing but trees and the occasional distant flash above them. Times change - but memories remain. And what memories!

When Terry, my late husband, was still a serving police officer he was, of course, usually on duty - New Year's Eve is always one of the busiest nights of the year for the police, as well as the other emergency services. But after his retirement we hosted a big party almost every year. I'd spend hours making buffet food, the bubbly would be chilling in the fridge and the glasses set out on the kitchen table, we'd light the fire and loads of candles, and sort out the CDs that would make the party swing. Then I'd glam up - those were the days! - and await the arrival of our guests, always at least fifteen and sometimes more. There would be lots of chatter and jokes, maybe a game or two, and some of us would dance. Then, as the time approached, we'd all gather in front of the television, glass in hand, waiting for the moment to drink to the new year. There would be the inevitable 'Auld Lang Syne' and hugs and kisses all round. Later, glasses replenished, we'd sit in a big circle for more talk and jokes. When the last guest left Terry and I would do a certain amount of clearing up and the rest would be left till next morning.

As I mentioned before, whilst still in the police force, Terry was often working over New Year, but two of my most special memories were made on such occasions. Before moving to Radstock, we lived on a large estate on the outskirts of Midsomer Norton. One of my drama friends lived just up the road, and that year he was hosting the New Year's celebrations. I couldn't attend - I had two small children and no baby-sitter, so saw in the New Year alone. Just after midnight there was a knock on the back door, and I opened it to find a group of my friends, including Doug, the host bringing me a lump of coal and some mulled wine. So I was not alone any more! On other occasions we and the neighbours would go out into our gardens and bang saucepan lids - this was in the days before fireworks became the thing.
Another memorable New Year came when my daughters were grown up enough to go out for their own celebrations with friends. I was alone as midnight approached and thought I would be seeing the New Year in alone again, but at ten or five to twelve a car zoomed up our drive and past the kitchen window - we had moved to Radsteock by now. It was the green Saab Terri, my elder daughter, had taken over when she passed her driving test at 17 - she and Suzie had left their friends and come home to mark the magic moment with me! I was so thrilled - and touched - that I think they made it my happiest New Year ever.

So - here it is. Another year gone, a new one just begun. And I hope it will be a happy, healthy and prosperous one for all of you, my lovely readers. And for me too ... And my New Year's resolution is to write my blog more regularly. I wonder how long that will last ..?

Saturday, 10 August 2019

MORE CHILDHOOD MEMORIES


Pollock's Theatre

I've written before about the games we played outside when I was a child; today I'm remembering the things that kept us amused when the weather was too bad to play outdoors. And my very favourite toy is pictured above. My precious Pollock's Theatre. Mine was very like this one, made of wood with printed paper depicting the curtains, orchestra and so on pasted on. There were slats just like the batons on a real stage to insert cardboard scenery and also stage dressing that protruded from the wings. The script of the play to be produced was in a printed booklet, and included push-out cardboard characters as well as the scenery and props, and there were wires that the actors could be attached to in order to move them about on stage. Oh, how I loved that theatre! I played with it endlessly. I really wish I still had it, but unfortunately after I left home it was consigned to the garden shed along with other toys and dolls, and when I found it years later the wood had rotted, the cardboard curled and faded and the paper had been nibbled by mice. Thinking about it now I'm tempted to buy one from the Pollock's Museum in Covent Garden and display it in my living room. Though I don't see myself having the patience to push the actors on and off stage!

'Dolly Dressmaking Books' were another favourite. They were still about when my own daughters were children, but nothing like the ones we used to enjoy. I think the card dolls on the front and back covers were push-out, but we had to cut out all the dresses ourselves with little scissors, and I particularly liked the ones that had to be cut out from squares of paper 'fabric' using template patterns. We had stencils made of waxed card and a small, flat topped hard brush to dab the paint through the holes of the pattern, and transfers that had to be soaked in a saucer of water and then pressed onto whatever we were decorating. There were jigsaws, painting and colouring books, and magic painting books. Our mother kept a little stock in the bottom of her wardrobe for rainy days when my sister and I were bored, and would fetch us one each down - we didn't get to choose, but the surprise was part of the fun. But why, oh why, did our friends' painting books seem more exciting? I remember loving it when Lynette, who lived near us, let me bring one of hers home to colour in a few pictures before letting her have it back again. Incidentally, we always loved playing at Lynette's, because she had a fairy cycle (though I couldn't ride it I could push myself along the wall of their house on it) and a swing in an apple tree in her garden. But I digress.

When I was only five years old and recovering from a really bad case of whooping cough I drew, coloured and cut out a bride and groom, bridesmaids and dozens of guests which I wanted pasted as a frieze round my bedroom. I discovered that if I rested the paper on a book while using coloured pencils I could get the imprint of the book cover through to produce a different patterned fabric for each of my characters - all the book covers had a slightly different weave. You couldn't do that today with glossy covers! A little later at about age seven I invented an alter ego, and spent many happy hours drawing pictures of her and inventing adventures. She was called Pamela Garrett and she was a Wren Waaf, because I couldn't decide between the Navy and the Air Force - this was, just after the war - and I gave her a smart uniform combining the two, though I think it veered more towards the Wrens than the WAAF.

My mother ran a Kays catalogue, and I loved cutting out the 'ladies' - the clothes models. At the time the Bath Evening Chronical ran an annual beauty queen contest, with half-a-dozen or so photographs of entrants published each evening. I collected these faithfully, chose which ones to paint, and would lay the whole lot out in rows on my bed, deciding which ones would be the finalists and winner. My little sister used to pester me for some of them and I was very upset when my mother decreed that I should let her have some - it was really important to me that I had the whole set. I remember to this day that one of them was called Sunny McGarry. If anyone reading this knows of a Sunny McGarry who would have been in her late teens or early twenties in those days I'd love to hear from them! Incidentally, my sister used to take my 'catalogue ladies' too, more to annoy me than because she wanted them .....

Each week when we went to market we were allowed a 'Saturday Treat' instead of pocket money. We could each choose a small toy from the Swifts, the paper shop, when she paid the paper bill. Sometimes it would be a new little animal for our farm, a lamb or a duck perhaps, sometimes a windmill or a kaleidoscope and once it was a plastic viewer which you slotted film into and pulled through. We also had an ice-cream from Mr Paniccia, who parked his van outside the market. I have a feeling we also had our first bubble tubs as a Saturday treat. Until then we used to blow bubbles from a lay bubble pipe dipped in soapy water.

We really were very good at entertaining ourselves in those long ago days. No TV or computer games, only the wireless, which ran on what my father called 'an accumulator' that needed charging from time to time - Listen With Mother at 2 pm and Children's Hour at teatime. It all comes back to me so clearly as I write it might have been just yesterday, those happy, happy days of my early childhood.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Christmas Past


Since we're now in December I thought I'd revisit my childhood Christmases for this instalment of my memories of growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

They were wonderful, those Christmases. For weeks ahead we were forbidden to poke into 'Grandma's corner', a space in her bedroom between the wardrobe and wall, because that was where mysterious packages were stowed. In fact 'Grandma's corner' was out of bounds from early November and late January because both my birthday and my sister's fell during those months. And then the Great Day would approach! On Christmas Eve we'd sit around the dining table wrapping our presents for the rest of the family, and perhaps making yet more paper chains to decorate the house. The Christmas tree would already be up, with little candle lights in their holders - real candles, burning brightly - no 'elf and safety worries then! Hazel and I would both be watching the clock, eager for bedtime because in the morning ... it would be Christmas Day!

Once in my bedroom, though, I would find it hard to fall asleep, and would creep out of bed to look out of the window in the hope of catching sight of Father Christmas's sleigh zooming across the sky. Though I never saw him (of course!) I lived in hopes that this year I might be lucky. Then, if I woke in the night, I would crawl to the bottom of the bed and feel my pillow case to 'see if he'd been'. Yes, we hung pillowcases, not stockings, but since the presents we were left usually included a jigsaw puzzle and an annual, a stocking would hardly have accommodated them. And always, at the bottom, was an orange and an apple.

Our 'big presents' would be left on the settee in the living room, covered with an old sheet - probably the same one we used when we played 'hospitals' with our dolls. The sheet was never removed until after we'd had breakfast and cleared away, and the lumps and bumps beneath it were wonderfully tantalising. When the time came, my mother and father, Gran and the auntie with whom we shared a home, would make a circle of chairs in front of the fire, the sheet would be removed and the presents distributed. My Grampy never joined us for this ritual - he was always in the kitchen peeling the potatoes and sprouts for lunch, or dinner, as we called it.

Oh, those Christmas dinners! They weren't elaborate as today's are - just boiled potatoes, Brussel sprouts, homemade stuffing and cockerel, but the smell and taste was divine. Any sort of chicken was a once-a-year treat, and our cockerel had been raised in a chicken run in the allotments just across the road from our house by 'Mr Young The Fowl Man'. In the weeks before Christmas we'd wake to the sound of the cockerels crowing and know one would end up on our table. Mr Young delivered it on Christmas Eve and my aunt would then singe off the remains of the feathers with a taper. Not a nice smell, but exciting, and not nearly as bad as the smell back in the autumn from the Christmas puddings being boiled in the copper. That was a smell I detested - wet pudding cloth and the house filled with steam. I didn't even like Christmas pudding very much, and still don't, though I love brandy and rum butter!

Back to the Christmas presents. We weren't snowed under, as children are today. There was usually one 'big present', quite often shared by my sister and me. My aunt knew someone who made wooden toys, and I particularly remember the dolls' house - my dad fixed up real electric lights that ran off a battery - and a huge model roundabout. It was a work of art, but we never quite knew how to play with it. There was always a new pair of slippers each, and some books. And, a running joke, a present from an aunt who we rarely saw, but who invariably sent us something far too young for us. I especially remember one year when we were quite big we each got a 12-piece jigsaw - we had endless fun doing 'speed contests' to see who could finish fastest. Her presents to the rest of the family were not received with much more enthusiasm - she invariably gave my mother an apron or a peg bag purchased at their church bazaar. And one year my mother's other brother, to whom we were very close, received the very same shaving bowl he had given to his brother the previous Christmas ... There were also the calendars - a picture pasted on an A8 sized piece of card with a booklet of tiny pages, one for each month. No space for writing in endless appointments then! But an empty space on the wall without one.

The present I'll never forget came when I was eleven. I had passed my 11-plus (though only 10 at the time I took it) and started at the local Grammar School that September. Until Christmas I had travelled on the bus, but really needed - and wanted! - a bicycle. I will never, ever, forget coming downstairs on Christmas morning and there, in the hall, covered with the inevitable sheet, was a bicycle shaped object. I was so happy I was practically in tears - I remember very vividly the excitement fluttering in my stomach. It was perfect. A red Hercules. My parents were paying for it in monthly instalments - long afterwards I came across the repayment book. I dread to think what they had to sacrifice to buy me that bicycle! Dad had to take me around the lanes, hanging onto the saddle, to teach me to ride it, but then there was no stopping me. That bike was my pride and joy. In fact, I only found the will to get rid of it when I moved here, two and a half years ago. Before that it hung in the garage wherever we moved, getting steadily rustier, and still I couldn't bring myself to consign it to the dump. It was still so special to me.

Christmas past. Carols and cockerel, paper chains, and presents tied with string - no sellotape then! The memories make me nostalgic and a bit sad - today we all go mad with endless preparations to make 'the perfect Christmas' - elaborate food, oceans of alcohol, flamboyant decorations, expensive presents - far too many, in my opinion - especially for the children. As they hastily tear the wrapping paper from one parcel after another do they really appreciate what they have received half as much as we did with our two or three presents (including the inevitable, boring slippers!)? But I am grateful I can share the celebrations with my wonderful family - and that I have such wonderful memories of simpler times.
Happy Christmas, Everyone!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES



Writing my Families of Fairley Terrace series has been making me think a lot about my own childhood in the 1940s. Although of course things had moved on since the early part of the century, very much remained the same. Surprisingly so, considering how far everything has evolved in the last 50 years or so.
To begin with, when I was a little girl there were very few cars on the road. I used to sit for ages on the steps at the bottom of our path watching for one to pass by on the main road from Radstock to Frome with a notebook and pencil to take down the numbers - it took a very long time to fill a page. I saw a grey one regularly - our next door neighbour - who was the Miners' Union secretary, I think, and also a magistrate - drove about in it. My uncle owned both a motorbike and a car, Sometimes he would take us out in the car on a Sunday afternoon for a ride and a picnic, often to Masbury Ring on the Mendips. And on his way back to work at the NCB offices after having lunch with us, he used to give me and my sister a ride to the top of the hill sitting on the motor bike tank! No crash helmets or 'elf an' safety in those days!

All deliveries were made by horse and cart. The milkman, the baker, the grocery deliveries, all courtesy of the Co-op.. They came once a week on a Monday afternoon, the order having been taken by a man with an order pad who called on Friday afternoons. I used to really look forward to his visits - he always played with me, doing bits of my jigsaws etc - and I clearly remember being in love with him at 4-5 years old and hoping he would wait for me until I was grown up so that I could marry him!

The Co-op was locally owned and run and had their own farm, dairy and bakery as well as the retail shops - grocery, butchers, fish shop, drapery, furnishings and a cake and bread shop with a little café at the back. They also had dozens of horses to pull all their delivery carts and wagons. Almost every evening at about 6.30 pm they would be taken in a long string to the Co-op field (behind the Football Field) which could be accessed either by the main road or by what we called 'The Back Lane', now known as Old Frome Road. My sister and I would wait at the roadside until we heard the distant clip-clop, and if they were using the Back Lane, run through the house and up the back garden to watch them pass by. We were always disappointed if they had been taken to another Co-op field in Tyning, on the other side of the valley.
The railway delivery wagon was huge, with a green baize cover and was pulled by a big cart horse. And at the other end of the scale ponies pulled trucks of coal and coal waste from Ludlas colliery at the bottom of the hill on tracks that ran across the road. Often on our way to school or home again we had to wait for them to pass. They were later replaced by a kind of Puffing Billy.

Life was simple, we played out all day when it was fine, across the fields and in the Back Lane - Off-ground-touch, hopscotch, marbles, all kinds of chases that involved someone being 'on it' and the rest running as fast as they could. When it was beginning to get dark we would play 'What's the Time, Mr Wolf?' Every summer the Methodist Chapel held a fete in a field that is now all houses, preceded by a fancy-dress parade. A lady who lived in a row of four cottages on the Back Lane made the most amazing costumes out of crepe paper. For dozens of children! Stepping into her little living room for a fitting was like stepping into wonderland, beautiful costumes hanging from every possible hook - one year my sister was Little Bo Peep, with wonderful flounces. Oddly I don't remember exactly what any of mine were, I just know nothing was beyond Mrs Bristow's talents. One of our favourite sideshows at the fete was trying to get a metal ring round a multiply-twisted wire without touching it - it was wired to a battery and a bell rang if - when! - you failed. This was set up by a gentleman named Ralph Chivers who lived with his brother (both bachelors) in one of the Big Houses on the main road.

But there were drawbacks too. Mainly, as far as I'm concerned, the lack of any form of central heating. In winter I always seemed to feel cold. We had only one fire - in the living room - and an Aladdin oil stove for warming any other room when necessary. We either sat as close as possible to the fire and scorched our legs or froze. Water for the bath was heated in a copper and dipped out with a dipper while we filled saucepans from the tap at the bottom. At school there was just one coke stove per classroom, surrounded by a fire guard on which knickers could be dried if one of the pupils had an 'accident'. Our little bottles of milk would be stood beside it to thaw. The walls of the cloakroom ran with water, and when the loos in our outside toilet block froze over paraffin lamps would be put in them to try to unfreeze them. Most of all I hated the clothes I had to wear. I have very sensitive skin and the woollen vests and jumpers made me itch so much I was constantly shivering. How I hated those vests - particularly on a Monday morning when they were clean and tight. We wore fleecy liberty bodices too and very big knickers.

Other pet hates were: Milk of Magnesia on a Sunday evening 'to keep us regular' - ugh, that horrible thick powdery spoonful (though I loved orange Minidex for Vitamin C); lumpy dry mashed potato; and, in school, having to lie down for a rest after dinner. In the first year infants' class children lay on a coir mat on the floor, but as I had a 'bad ear' my mother insisted I lay on a wooden pallet bed because of draughts coming from under the doors. I hated feeling different as well as not being used to having to try to sleep in the day. In the second year Infants' we lay on desks, so at least I wasn't singled out, but it was still a very long half-hour or whatever.

This is turning into a very long trip down memory lane, so I think I'll have to save the rest for next time. But I can't leave without mentioning some of the everyday items that have disappeared from the face of the earth but were commonplace when I was a child. Zambuc, a wonderful thick green ointment that healed almost anything, but primarily the long 'cuts' on ones fingers from constantly being in water, either doing the laundry or the washing up. Minidex, as already mentioned, Thermogene, sort of pink cotton wool for putting inside your vest if suffering from a chesty cough - my grandmother used to use it - and tiny bottles of olive oil, bought from the chemist, and warmed by the fire before dripping into the ear to soften wax. And of course Gibbs Dentrifice tooth powder in a tin, as pictured above. You wetted the toothbrush and then scrubbed it round the tin's contents to make a paste. Our bathroom had a bath and a loo but no handbasin, so in summer we washed and cleaned our teeth in the kitchen, and in winter with a bowl on a stool in front of the fire.

So you see much of the world The Families of Fairley Terrace is set in I experienced too, and can easily fit myself into the early 1900s with the help of a little imagination. Time moved so much more slowly then, now the pace of life rackets by in the blink of an eyelid, with new innovations and discoveries we did not even dream of. And I count myself very lucky to have had the best of both worlds!

Saturday, 31 March 2018

WHAT'S IN A NAME

WHAT'S IN A NAME

Our name is probably one of the most personal things bout us.  Even though we share it with hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of others.  Whether we like it or not, it's who we are.  No wonder expectant parents agonise over what their offspring should be called.  In most cases, they are stuck with it for life.  Though some, like my own daughter, manage to make the change.  She was christened Tracey Louise, which I thought was a very pretty name, but she hated the Tracey.  As soon as she started at uni she called herself Terri.  Her dad, my darling Terry, used to joke that she'd had his money, had his car, and now had his name.  

It did make for difficulty when her friends called, asking for 'Terri'.  I had to ask - which one?  And when she was married she was horrified when she realised her real name would be used and printed in the Order of Service!  (She soon got over that!)  Everyone, including her sister, Suzie, (christened Suzanne), call her Terri nowadays, as do I - most of the time, though when talking to relatives or old friends I still say Tracey.

Another thing about names is that many of them are tell-tale signs of how old you are.  Janet must have been very popular when I was born - when I was at college there were two others in my class.  Terry also had two girlfriends called Janet before the third one sealed his fate!

One of my best friends at school was named Enid, which she thought dreadfully old-fashioned, and hated, though her mother could never understand why.  She always went by her middle name, which was very pretty and is still popular today, and no, I'm not going to let on what it is.  But she was entered in the school register as Enid, and when a teacher who didn't know about her preference called her 'Enid' she would blush scarlet.  

Though some names remain popular through the ages, most seem to go in cycles - what were the names of old people I knew when I was young are now back in fashion.  Alfie and Emily are just two examples.  Some however, such as Mabel and Maud have largely been left on the back burner.  My own grandchildren all have traditional names - Tabitha, Barnaby, Daniel and Amelia.

When I'm writing a book, I take a long time deciding on the names of the people in the story.  I have to find one that belongs in the right era and also fits their character.  Once I have found the right name, I instantly get a clearer picture of them.  It's fine with the hero and heroine, I don't think many people would object to a strong, good woman sharing their name.  But when it comes to villains I get a bit worried.  What would so-and-so think if their name is used for the 'baddie'?  I've sometimes changed a name midway through because I've thought of someone who might be offended!  Because inevitably, names are attached in your mind to people you have known.  For instance, when I was at Primary School there was a little girl in my class who was a skinny little waif and none too bright whose knickers were frequently put to dry on the guard round the coke stove (no central heating in those days!) because she'd had an accident.  If ever I picture a similar character, her name instantly pops into my mind, though I've never used it yet!

Sometimes with minor characters the same name occurs to me time and again, so my editor has to point out - 'There are rather a lot of Freds..' or whatever!  And one of my regular readers made the mistake of reading the heroine's name wrongly in my Janet Tanner Oriental Hotel.  'Why ever did you call her Elsie?' she asked me.  I had to point out that she was actually called Elise, a name I'd taken a long time choosing!

So there you have it.  And besides being Janet I'm also Jennie and Amelia, and once, long ago, when I wrote a couple of bodice rippers which were all the rage at the time I was Jade Shannon.  I thought Jade was perfect for that!  

In fact, I'm very happy with all my names.  Though my mother very nearly called me Grace .... And I'd have liked that too.  In fact, my heroine in the new family saga I'm writing is called Grace.  But that's a story for another day ... 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Widows Promise

Whew! I can hardly believe I've just completed the fifth book in my Families of Fairley Terrace series (under my pen name of Jennie Felton). I was just putting the finishing touches to it when the fourth came out in hardback and as an e-book, the story of a young widow struggling to keep her family together after the tragic death of her husband. I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!



When I began the series with All The Dark Secrets I never for one moment imagined that it would become a series of five. I knew I was 'mining a rich seam', as it were, (no pun intended!) with the starting point of the terrible colliery disaster that actually happened, and twelve men and boys met a horrific end when the hudge - an early form of cage - crashed into the depths of the earth when the rope controlling it snapped. (See my blog of 16th October 2014 for a full account of the tragedy). But I little realised how I would be drawn in to the lives of the families who lived in a rank of miners' cottages and were all affected in one way or another by the dreadful events of that day. Maggie, the central character in ALL THE DARK SECRETS, lost both her father and her fiance, Jack, in the accident, and would eventually learn a terrible secret kept by her brother, Billy, as to the cause of what had happened.

THE MINER'S DAUGHTER tells the story of Lucy Day, just a little girl when her father died in the accident. Her life was changed forever when her mother was forced to marry an evil local preacher, but she went on to find fame as a singer in the music halls and happiness with her childhood sweetheart.

Although Edie Cooper, the heroine of THE GIRL BELOW STAIRS, was not directly affected by the tragedy, the love of her life, Charlie Oglethorpe most certainly was. As a young lad he was the one to run back to Fairley Terrace with the terrible news that the hudge had gone down,and the experience had haunted him and coloured the way he had lived his life for many years to come.

Carina is the central character in THE WIDOW'S PROMISE. It was because of what had happened at the pit that her family moved away from Fairley Terrace, and the narrow faulted seams of the Somerset coalfield, to live in South Wales. But when visiting her aunt, Hester Dallimore, the gossip-monger of Fairley Terrace, she falls in love with a local lad, marries him, and comes back to Somerset. The couple have two children, and live happily on Robert's family farm but tragedy strikes, and Carina is forced to carry on alone and responsible not only for the two little ones, but also Robert's ageing grandfather and his wild and wilful sister.

In the fifth book, which I have just finished, we meet a new family, who moved into the house left vacant when Carina's family moved to South Wales, and the story follows the two Sykes girls, Laurel and Rowan. Their mother, Minty, is obsessed with respectability and keeping herself to herself, never enjoying the easy friendships that characterise the women of Fairley Terrace, but unbeknown to them, there is a very large skeleton hiding in her cupboard. However, all the people from the previous four books had become like old friends to me, and I've been delighted to be able to revisit some of them and discover what happened to them after their own particular chapter was closed. I've suggested this book should be called THE SISTER'S SECRET, though the lovely folk at Headline may have other ideas!

I learned so much through researching these five books. First, in ALL THE DARK SECRETS, I discovered how stained glass windows are made, courtesy of a dear friend, Richard Jones, who had sadly left us before the book was published. His father had made a stained glass window for a cathedral in New York, just as Lawrence did in the book, and Richard had taken it up as a hobby, turning a shed in his garden into a workshop, or den, as he liked to call it. He showed me all the tools and the kiln and even loaned me a very precious old manual which had belonged to his father which explained the process in detail. Bless you, Richard. And the beautiful plate panel you made for us still has pride of place in my home.

For THE MINER'S DAUGHTER I was delighted to dig into reams of research material about the wonderful world of the old time Music Hall. A particular passion of mine. For THE GIRL BELOW STAIRS I learned a great deal about the Suffragettes. For the farm in THE WIDOW'S PROMISE I had only to cast my mind back to when I was a little girl - horses still pulled the wagons for haymaking and so on - and I realised that during the first half of the 20th century change, for most ordinary folk, was slow in coming.

The most fascinating aspect of my research for the fifth book was the old travelling fairs, and Romany culture.

I'm not sure where my next book will lead me, but i'm already turning over ideas. It may be a stand alone, or it may be the first of a new series telling of the lives of another community that I hope will become another group of friends.. But whatever, it will certainly be set in the Somerset countryside where I grew up, and which I love,

I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!