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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Playing Out


Today, while being walked by the dog (!), I passed through one of those pieces of rough ground that you sometimes come across in towns and villages.  At the end of a road or on a piece of land in between the houses of an estate.  Just waiting for someone to squash in more homes.

I suddenly remembered that as a child, I spent a whole summer basically living on such a site.  That's to say, my parents knew where I was and I did return for meals/sleep but the rest of the time was spent working on the den I built with friends.  We made a hollow inside a group of tall bushes in one corner of this waste ground, dragging all manner of rubbish from around the site with which to "furnish" and "arm" the camp.  For it was a working military base - we were on a permanent war footing with a neighbouring den.  We had look-out rotas, a fleet of bikes and a couple of siblings employed as spies.  We started as early as we were allowed out, stayed all day and on nice evenings, went back after tea too.

It was surrounded by the back fences of gardens (not mine) but developers had not filled in this particular blank space yet.  Like the land I saw today, it had become a bit of dumping ground but with a bit of tlc, could have been a real asset to the community.  However. within a year or so of that summer, builders had found a way to get vehicle access through and building began.  One of my fellow fighters even found herself living there after her parents upgraded to one of the new houses.

I did think as I looked around today that I had really quite a lot of freedom while at middle school.  Far more than my children.  I don't recall any of our parents ever coming down to see where we were.  We said we were going to that place, we were trusted to stay there.  And no one seemed to think we would come to any harm.  Just went home when we had had enough, filthy but happy.

The endless debate goes on, doesn't it?  Are there more child snatchers these days?  Were we too slack with children's whereabouts in the past?  Have mobile phones made a difference?  Do children just not want to leave their screens and play such games these days?  I really do not have any answers and this is not a parenting blog.  However, as regular readers will know, I do like to ponder on how things were different for the generations before me.

My mother grew up in a tiny village.  She has memories of wandering all over and often being brought back to the house by neighbours.  In one famous family anecdote, she and her younger siblings decided to paddle in the fresh cowpats they found.  All very amusing but looking back now, she says my grandmother clearly was not coping with four children, the younger three all being under four at the same time.  Grandma simply did not know where they were.

My father spent toddlerdom in India and there are photos of him with his ayah (nanny), on bikes and on the beach.  Quite a privileged upbringing in some ways.  But when they fled from India, his sun filled memories of India were exchanged for dull and endless factory terraces in Coventry.  His first coat and boots.  Playing football in the street and against the yard wall.  Watching the horse drawn milk cart arrive.  I think he did have quite a bit of freedom though.  My grandmother was occupied with a new baby once my father turned six and I do know that by fourteen or so, he was off on European train trips with the Scouts.  Unsupervised.  Given clues to meet their leader somewhere!

Their parents had different upbringings again of course.  Some rural - playing out all the time, some restricted and sent early on to boarding school.  One in very poor city circumstances, leaving school at thirteen or fourteen.  How much freedom did they have while living at home?  Maybe they had more freedom but at the same time had less choices.  My Anglo Indian ancestors' choices were all limited by their mixed race status.  Many of my English ancestors must have been limited by poverty.  Freedom to play out is harder to use if you are a drudge at home or in a mill or factory.

Playing out is the new staying in.  My motto for the summer.  But call me when you get there, darling.  I don't want to be a 1970s parent!


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sporting Life

Life getting in the way of my pleasures again. Child sporting activities for one thing.
These days, things seem to be taken so seriously for children’s sport.  Endless activities for children to take part in, too.  My kids are not unusual in having cricket, swimming, riding, gymnastics, Brownies, Scouts, tennis, cheerleading and musical instruments on the go t various points.  I myself honestly do not remember doing anything but Brownies and music until I was well into secondary school.  After that, I had a hectic time but with youth groups rather than sport – my father was probably a little disappointed at my lack of interest, I think.  Slightly weirdly, I did go through a “born again Christian” phase.  That wore off. 
I do firmly believe in the idea of being the best you can – the “go to” phrase from Olympic year for schools.  Whatever my children have a go at, all that we have asked is for them to try their best.  If they want to give up on an activity, as long as money has not been wasted, we have not pushed them into continuing with things they no longer enjoy.
However, I do wonder where this all ends.  If a child is good at something, it is right to encourage them if you can.  But if they say their ambition is to be at the Olympics, how far can you encourage them and how much should you try to set their expectations?  Gymnastics is a good example.  It does not matter how many hours my daughter puts in, I know that she will not make the Olympics!  She is primary school but still appears to have started the sport too young.  How mad is that!  And the level of commitment required these days for a child who shows any kind of promise is staggering.  Weekends, evenings, often called at the drop of a hat.  To say nothing of the financial and family life consequences.
The photo above shows my grandmother at school in India.  She is the girl closest to the photographer.  Despite being a Christian Anglo Indian, it seems that her school embraced traditional activities for all pupils and as you can see, the girls are racing with water pots on their heads.  I love the picture.  My Nana was sporty for most of her life.  Her sport of choice in the UK was tennis and she was very good.  My Grandad too was a tennis player and in India, he was an excellent hockey player.  My father still plays tennis a number of times a week at nearly 70.  A fabulous example (which I am unlikely to follow!).
The post-war London Olympics included many athletes who would now be considered quite old and certainly many people who were late starters in their chosen sport.  One of my favourite London 2012 stories was of the female rowers who had only taken up the sport ion the last five years.  This seems to be me to be a far healthier attitude.

Sport for all, be the best you can (whether that be sporting, academic or whatever – although preferably not at underage drinking, ASBO acquisition etc…!) and enjoy it all.  My maternal grandfather always said Do your best and leave the rest.  I will be repeating this mantra to my kids (and to myself as a parent) as I whizz from activity to activity.  And if all fails, they can learn water pot carrying – a bit of heritage never hurt anyone.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

How very on trend

Music featured in the show

Last night I was watching BBC2's Back In Time For Dinner.  I have not managed to see all episodes but the basic premise is one of those "send a family time travelling" programmes.  How will they get on living in the Second World War/as Edwardians/etc...

Anyway, this series has been looking at the changes to food fashions/availability and family eating habits.  So the family concerned have "lived in" every decade from the Fifties to the Nineties.  It has been an interesting experiment and quite eye opening to see how things have changed in many ways.

But last night, I watched the Nineties episode in despair.  Not at the quality of the programme or anything.  Just at what a predictable life I seem to have had.  Each show, they have re-done the house's kitchen appropriately for the decade.  Well, last night they could have been standing in the first kitchen which I ever properly owned.  It looked identical, even the door handles!  And as for the music, their clothes, the dinner party food fashions, let's just say someone had been watching my life in the Nineties and decided to recreate it for television.

Yes, it is funny but it is also disturbing in some ways.  Most of us like to think of ourselves as distinctive in our choices.  You think you have maybe given the nod to a trend in home décor or in cooking but you don't like to think that you are wholly immersed in/influenced by your times.  You want to feel creative and unique.  [Strangely, for the Seventies, I had just laughed and reminisced - I guess because the ghastly choices were not made by me - they just seemed nostalgic!  Maybe my mother would cringe though.]

Yet once you look back at a period of time, you can see how sheep-like we all really are!  Obviously those programme makers did not use just my life.  My life in the Nineties was just, unbeknownst to me, completely mired in the trends of the times.  I had wholeheartedly embraced the Nineties apparently.

Sadly this means that my current almost brand new kitchen living room will one day probably be looked at by someone as "typical early twenty first century open plan living".  They will question how we ever thought we could live like this, who would have a cooker like that, etc etc.  By then, who knows, they may all be living on Willy Wonka style meal chewing gum or something!

It would be curious to know if our nineteenth century and earlier ancestors would have similar feelings if we were able to show them footage relating to their own early days.  That is to say, Victorians did not call themselves "Victorians" or Georgians use the term "Georgians".  Is this defining of a period's trends new or would someone in 1890 be despairing at the cliché of an 1870 kitchen or living room décor?!  There were huge innovations during the nineteenth century.  I am not sure that an average person would be able to pinpoint a particular decade from its style though.  Maybe an aristocratic person could but I think the rising consumerism of post war combined with wealthy middle classes, mass media and so on has caused our lives to be much more trend-led.  More so even than we realise, clearly...

Monday, 13 April 2015

Help needed!

For me, writing a blog has been a highly challenging and unusual experience.  I am around 80 posts in now and I am sure I should post more regularly than that.  I am definitely a bit rubbish when it comes to having stuff timed and ready for while I am on holiday and that sort of thing.  But I do enjoy the writing process at least.

I have gained a lot from at least attempting to be disciplined as a writer (of sorts!).  I need to get my viewing numbers up though.  To that end, I hope shortly to have buttons on the page for readers to share a blog post directly via Twitter or Facebook.  However, if you are a regular reader and like what you read, as opposed to stumble upon it accidentally and wonder what the hell I am going on about, I would be really grateful if you would think of ways in which you could share the blog.  Book groups, by email to friends, on other blogs or forums. Every Little Helps, as the blue and red supermarket says...

I am learning how to use Twitter but I fear I may be a decade older before I truly understand how to grow my audience that way!  I seem to be stagnating with my number of followers at present.  Any suggestions, anyone?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Family Values


I am just at the end of ten days in Florida.  It has been quite something.  As regular readers will know, we recently lost my father in law and we were unsure until two days before as to whether we would make it to the US.  However, as a family bonding exercise it has been amazing.  We have queued, gasped, screamed and laughed as a family.  We are very lucky.

And something which has struck me in every park, but particularly the Disney parks, has been the very strong sense of family shown by the American families.  A Florida visit seems to be a rite of passage which is used at all stages of life and by all strata of society.  The first visit in your stroller, the first visit when you are tall enough for all the rides, the spring break visit with your college friends, the visits as a parent yourself and finally the visit as a grandparent sitting on a motor scooter but still loving it.  My husband and I do not have large immediate families.  Complicated but not large. So huge group family holidays are somewhat out of our experience. We do have friends though who all return to the same holiday camps or hotels en mass year on year and they get a lot out of those times.

However, Florida and especially Disney offers something different.  It offers a kind of history and heritage.  People collect pin badges each year and attach then to their pass holders like badges of honour.  They look forward to seeing the same rides which have been there since their own childhoods (I think some date from the ark!) whilst also expecting new and cutting edge stuff for their children. They want to do the "I remember when" thing with their grandchildren or the "remember when" with college buddies on reunion trips.  And don't get me started on the tradition of matching family trip t-shirts!  You can have them ready and waiting at your hotel...  This was actually the most un British aspect of the whole thing.  Drawing attention to yourselves!

All in all, this aspect of Orlando has been very educational as a family.  Today, we were queuing for the biggest ride of the year - Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal.   We queued for ninety minutes and we were closely followed by a three generation group who were pushing a very elderly guy in a wheelchair.  Having read the warnings about the ride, we were privately concerned at his being included but hey, not our business.  And do you know?  He was wheeled right to the train, marvelling like the rest of us at the pre-ride settings.  He was helped onto the ride and he had a blast just like we all did.  He sat with his son and his grandchildren and he loved it.  Another thing which we noticed actually - the provision for those with disabilities or need for assistance was outstanding.  Every theme or water park had help for nearly every ride.
  It was very inclusive on all levels - age, ability, etc.

Not so much a post about family history as the importance of family today but I hope still worthy of consideration.  If you do go to Orlando though, just beware of the road system... It will stretch marriages to divorce... a whole new chapter of family history in the making! We were on the verge of counselling after getting lost for the fourth day in  row...

Friday, 3 April 2015

Articles of Interest

Image result for the guardian

I am away at present and will not be posting as regularly as usual for a few days but in The Guardian on Saturday 28 March, there were two pieces relating to family history subjects which I would definitely recommend reading if you can find them on the website.  I show the links below but if they do not work, do search on the website using the writers' names.

I Turned My Great Grandfather Gay - Patrick Gale

I Found My Birth Mother Through the Newspaper Small Ads - Catherine Chanter

Incidentally, I would highly recommend the free Guardian app.  You get the full paper as far as I can tell, as well as updates on stories.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Thank you, Baldrick

- 'Thank you for introducing me to a completely new sensation, Baldrick.'
- 'What's that, Mr Blackadder'
- 'Being pleased to see you.'
I love Blackadder in all his guises.  In fact while gulping gas and air to produce eldest child, I was listening to audio recordings of Blackadder, much to the midwife's own amusement.  Today, I was reminded of the above quote for a somewhat strange reason though.
To backtrack, as a teen I was always known as a bit Millie Tant.  Always had a cause and a Left wing one at that.  I shouted my way past 10 Downing Street under Thatcher, I went to anti Poll Tax meetings before it was even law and listened to ranting Scots telling what misery was on the way.  I had the full collection of CND and Greenpeace badges.  I think I was drunk for a week in the student union when Thatcher fell.
So today, it really stuck in my throat to realise that a series of programmes I wanted to watch were a) presented by Michael Portillo and b) really quite good.  A new sensation indeed.  Yes, while ironing for an hour, I was totally engrossed in Portillo's State Secrets on BBC2 iPlayer.  Me, who was working in Westminster when he was still in power! Me, who knew his slayer Stephen Twigg as a fellow researcher!  Oh dear, oh dear.
His State Secrets are a look at some of the papers hidden in the National Archives in Kew and the items chosen were mostly fascinating - everything from an X-Ray of Hitler's head to Henry VIII's catering list for a banquet and a job review for the official executioner.  I haven't watched all the episodes yet but yes, I admit that I will be watching them, choke, choke...
Having been to the Archives myself, it was amazing to see behind the scenes and there is no doubt that the collection is astounding in its breadth.  It was amusing, though, to note that Portillo did not show any signs of having done the National Archives training DVDs - which ordinary users must sit through before entry.  Plus, of course, he did not have to join the queuing system in order to access his chosen items.  I thought it was an unbelievably efficient system when I went but now, having seen the lengths of the corridors of documents, I am even more impressed by having been able to see my choices within an hour.
Portillo has been presenting TV for a while now but none of his previous efforts had managed to break down my prejudice.  He seems now to be quite "reasonable" (to quote David Cameron's favourite description of his policies!)  Maybe he has mellowed in old age or is just hiding his spots better these days.  State Secrets is to be recommended if you can get past the presenter's history.
As for myself, my Millie Tant days are long since past.  Not sold out, just tired out.  I was swiftly disillusioned once I worked in politics and this year, twenty years later, for the first time in my adult life, I am not even sure who to vote for.  Being for or against Thatcher was such a galvanising force when I was young.  The current leaders just seem to merge into one blur.  No chance of Blackadder's totally new sensation with them, I fear...