Category Archives: Random Thoughts & Life Stories

What Did Girls Learn at School in the 1930’s?

There is currently a programme airing on the BBC called Back in time for school . The programme takes modern day children back in time to experience school life through seven eras.

When I was going through my grandfather’s things following his death, I found an exercise book from when my grandmother was at school in the 1934. She had kept it because it contained recipes. The subject was domestic subjects and inside is a treasure trove of information about domestic life in those times and what girls learned at school.

When I was at school in the 80’s, we were taught domestic science which was basically cookery. What my grandmother learned, was a complete guide to managing a 1930’s house. This may be because most women in the 1930’s were homemakers, or perhaps some girls were still going into service and needed to know how to do domestic tasks in a large household. The lessons contain really useful things about baking that I wish were still taught at school, like tips and tricks for making cakes and pastry. The remainder of lessons relate to laundry and domestic chores. Here is an example:-

Method for washing white cottons and linens

  1. First put the clothes to soak to loosen the dirt, if possible over night.
  2. Wash them in hot water with plenty of lather
  3. Rinse in boiling water and wring all the soap out.
  4. Mangle them to get the rest of the water out.
  5. Put them on the line to dry
  6. If they dry too much, sprinkle with water and roll them up
  7. Iron, fold edge to edge and then once more.

In other laundry lessons they learned about blueing clothes, washing and ironing prints, washing silks and starching clothes. No wonder they set aside a whole day for washing! It certainly makes you realise how easy domestic life is in the modern day.

Domestic tasks included how to scrub white wood, cleaning brushes and brooms and my personal favourite – daily work in the dining room.

Daily work in the dining room

  1. Open the window
  2. Take out the rugs and flowers. Shake the rugs and change the water in the flowers
  3. Put the table chairs and cushions into the corner of the room and cover with a dust sheet
  4. Put down the hearth cloth and attend to the grate in the following order, Take out the ashes, keep the large to light the fire and empty the small ones into the ash bin. Clean and polish the grate. Lay the fire using newspaper, sticks, ashes and coal, then light it.
  5. Sweep the floor
  6. Remove the dust sheets and dust all the furniture
  7. Polish the floor
  8. Bring back the rugs and flowers and put everything in its proper place
  9. Lay the table

I’m not really sure if this one is meant for any household, or for those in service, I suspect the latter. It explains a little about how clean and tidy my grandmother was and how she always had a particular way of doing things. It uses to drive us nuts when we were kids and we used to think she was too fussy. As much as I may decry the teaching of such things to girls, sometimes it would be useful to have a system to follow to avoid the overwhelm.

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Reclaim Those Mom Jeans

I have waited 25 years or more for this day.

In my student days, these were my favourite pair of jeans.

They were second-hand, distressed, men’s 501’s, I bought from some trendy, independent clothes shop in the Cardiff arcades. They were too big on the waist, so I synched them in with a wide, brown suede belt but they were the perfect length for my short legs. I wore them with brogues or red leather baseball boots and they became my college uniform.

During my late teens, I never wore jeans or trousers, I was strictly a dress and skirts girl. I liked to feel feminine and also found jeans restrictive and uncomfortable. That is, until I discovered the soft, loose quality of these amazing jeans. I wore them until holes appeared and then hand embroidered cross stitch patches to repair them.

I don’t remember when I let them go. Most likely holes appeared in places I could no longer patch or perhaps they went out of fashion? Since the early 90’s, I have never found another pair of jeans that I loved so much. The boot cut, low-rise, that came into fashion next were fine for my pre-motherhood flat stomach and the low slung combat jeans were a close second but not quite as comfy as those 501’s.

Then there were skinny jeans – great with boots and long sweaters but even with extensive lycra, never really felt comfortable to me. A few weeks ago, I was shopping with my teenage daughter and the shop assistant was wearing a pair of jeans that looked just like my old faithful’s. I complemented her and told her how much they reminded me of my jeans from my student days. My daughter told me they were called ‘mom jeans’ and were really fashionable.

Mom jeans are high-waisted, with a baggy fit around the zipper and legs. The name was coined from jeans your mom wore in the 80’s and early 90’s and were originally seen as unflattering and unfashionable. But somehow, teenage girls have realised how amazingly comfortable and flattering these jeans are and brought them back.

I was overcome with excitement! I could finally find a comfortable pair of jeans, where my middle-aged belly wouldn’t creep over the top and I could sit down in all day without feeling I had been cut in two. But then the dilemma – they are not called mom jeans because they are for moms but because they used to be worn by moms. Is it okay for a woman in her late 40’s to wear the jeans a teenager would wear?

My teen seemed to think it was, so I bit the bullet and bought them. I love them, they are comfortable, they make my waist look small and they are the perfect length for my little legs. They have a few too many rips for my liking, as a sensible mother, I feel they may wear in too quickly and I don’t want to give them up!

I’ve had to adapt my wardrobe slightly with some shorter tops and a pair of shoes (they really don’t work with boots). I love them, perhaps because they are nostalgic, perhaps because they are comfortable. Either way, I urge all middle-aged women to reclaim those mom jeans. Why should the teenagers have all the fun? Although maybe if we all start wearing them, they will quickly go out of fashion. Perhaps I should stockpile them while I still can.

She Used to Be Mine

I’m really excited because this week I’m finally going to see Waitress. I’ve loved this song since I heard Jessie Mueller sing it on the Tony awards a few years ago and I’ve been meaning to record it ever since.

Through the many transitions of life, we all have times when we no longer recognise ourselves and long for our younger selves. I felt this loss of identity, intensely when I was at home all day with three small children. There seemed to be no time for me, to look after my appearance, to get out of the house and be myself or to have a purpose other than being a mum. As they get older, after so many years of being at home, I struggle to find my purpose and identity when they are not around.

As I approach my late 40’s, sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder if it is really me. I long for my youthful skin and slender body. However, some of the things I missed when I was a mum of young children, are creeping back. I’ve rediscovered old hobbies like dancing and singing  and explored new ones, like playing the ukulele.  This is my first recorded attempt at playing an instrument and singing at the same time (a new and exciting skill for me).  As the song says ‘she’s imperfect but she tries’. Fear of being imperfect holds me back in many things, this is an attempt to let some of that go.

Almost every decade past the age of thirty brings a shift in identity; becoming parents, returning to the workforce, kids leaving home, divorce and separation, retirement, old age, all make us re-evaluate who we are. This song is a sad song about wishing you were who you used to be, but also a song of hope. The people we used to be are still there, we are those people, but our life experiences add depth to them. It is natural to miss who we used to be, but carry them with you through life, they are us and we are them.

The Story of Two Nests of Sparrow Chicks in our Garden and How they Ventured into the House.

Every year, sparrows nest in our bird box. We watch the mother and father fly in and out, building the nest. We hear the chicks when they are born and see the parents feeding them. When the nest is empty, sometimes we watch the chicks in the trees as they learn to fly.

sparrow chick in a tree

As I was sitting in the garden, a few days after observing this chick in the tree, one of the chicks flew into the house.  I followed it in and opened doors and windows to entice it out.

baby sparrow in the house

Shortly after the mother entered the house looking for her baby. Her distinctive clicking cheep sounded desperate as she tried to get the chick to respond to her.

 

After some time the mother left. We thought we saw the parents  flying around with the chick outside.  I could still hear the chick’s squeaky chirp, but assumed it was coming for the garden. We left the house, as we needed to go out. Some hours later, on our return the children came running, saying the chick was still flying around inside the house. It settled on a high window ledge and we could see the parents flying around outside and frantically calling.  I opened windows and doors again and the mother came in and out, searching and calling. The baby flew to above the front door but didn’t work out how to get down.

 

 

Eventually, after hours inside the house, the bird flew to the ground and hopped outside to be reunited with his parents.

A few weeks later, the girls were playing football in the garden and discovered a nest near a rock, shaded by fern. Inside were 3 tiny eggs. A few days passed and the girls ran in to tell me the eggs had hatched.  We watched them for the next few days. Sometimes the mother sat on them and sometimes they were left while she searched for food.  She was never far away and a number of times we saw her swoop down to scare off an inquisitive baby bunny.

mother sparrow on her nest

We watched  as the strange bald creatures with huge eyes grew into fluffy chicks.

Sparrow Chicks in nest day after hatching
Day 1

sparrow chicks in nest
Day 2

Baby sparrows in a nest
Day 4

Then one morning my daughter ran to tell me to come and look at the nest.  The nest had been pulled from its hiding place and was on the lawn. The birds were nowhere to be seen. Had an animal discovered them, or was it time to fly the nest?

sparrows nest

We soon discovered the latter was true. Carefully camouflaged by brown leaves, one of the chicks was hopping around the ground and waiting for the parents to come and feed it. We could hear the other chicks too but we think perhaps they had gone into next door’s garden as we couldn’t see them.

sparrow chick before it could fly

After 24 hours the chick had gone, probably learning to fly. We heard them for a few days and then no more as they moved on to discover the world.

I love that we have learned so much about birds simply from sitting in the garden on a summer day.

Do You Remember Perms, White Stilettos and Frankie Says Relax T-shirts? Pop Stars In my Pantry will have you dancing on the ceiling.

a memoir of pop mags and clubbing in the 80's

Since I first heard about  Pop Stars in My Pantry – A Memoir of Pop Mags and Clubbing in the 1980’s, I have been eagerly awaiting its release. When I was a child, my dad and his friends would play 60’s music and talk about what they were doing when particular records came out. He used to say “One day you’ll talk about 80’s music like this’, but I could never see how ‘my’ music could ever be thought of nostalgically.

In the early 80’s, when Paul Simper was embarking on his career as a music journalist, I was still at Primary School. Even at the tender age of 10, every Tuesday, I would race home for lunch, grab my pocket radio and run back to school. Our group of friends would huddle around the radio listening to the lunchtime announcement of the top 40 on Radio 1, hoping that the bell would be late so we could make it to number 1 before we were called to line up.

80's teen
Me at 14
By 1983, I was approaching my teens and had fallen madly in love with Wham, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. I read Smash Hits every week, memorising lyrics from my favourite songs and plastering pull out posters over my bedroom wall. Like most of my friends, I would record the top 40 onto cassette tape, pausing after every song to cut out the talky bit in between. Sometimes, I’d even tape music shows on television with my little cassette recorder (possibly before we had a video recorder).  My husband challenges me sometimes, to see how many 80’s songs I can recognise from playing the intro. He loves how many I know from just the first few notes.

It won’t come as a surprise then, that I  expected Pop Stars in My Pantry to be an indulgent treat for an 80’s music fan like myself.  What I didn’t anticipate however, was sitting on my hands in a coffee shop, to suppress the urge to jump up and down flapping my arms, like my teenage daughter, when she got tickets to see her favourite band. The cause of such uncharacteristic, emotive demonstration? Simper’s account of his interview with Kate Bush; almost as exciting as meeting her in the flesh. This was one of many similar moments, as stories of my teen idols revealed themselves.

Pop Stars in my Pantry is much more than an account of interviews with the stars. It is an immersive chronicle of the 80’s music and club scene. It’s about a time when young journalists and music stars moved in the same circles, danced together, drank together and were friends with one another. For me, it demystified many of my teenage heroes like George Michael, and made me admire them more. I loved hearing about big events like the Wham farewell concert, Prince’s after show parties and a New York trip to interview Sade, but the smaller everyday moments, paint a perfect picture of the era and transported me to my youth.

80's style, Laura Ashley dresses and doc martins
My 17th birthday, the Laura Ashley dress and Doc Martins phase.
It took me back to a time when music and fashion were everything. To digress slightly,  Paul Simper is married to an old school friend of mine, who as a 16 -year -old, I idolised. She introduced me to some of my all time favourite music – the Cocteau Twins and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. She showed me cool, independent clothes shops. We memorised the whole of a Lloyd Cole album together and poured over magazines with brooding black and white photos of beautiful people. We were inseparable, until I found my first boyfriend and sadly (and with hindsight regrettably)  the intensity of first love, left little room for such an earnest friendship, and we soon followed our own paths. I’m not surprised at all that she ended up with someone with so many great stories to tell.

Pop Stars in my Pantry is funny, honest, revealing and tremendously exciting.  It is the absolutely perfect book for anyone who grew up in the 80’s and I can’t wait to share it with all my friends.If you didn’t grow up in the 80’s, read it anyway, as it will give you a wonderful taste of life back then.  I was excited before I read it, I’m even more enthusiastic after.

Pop Stars in My Pantry is currently available in the UK  (this link and all links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links meaning if you purchase a product using this link I will receive a small commission)

If you’ve read the book and are craving more, check out these audio clips from Paul Simper’s interviews with the Stars. I challenge you to wipe the grin from your face.

A Suitcase of Memories

me and my grandad

When I look through old photographs with my kids, they are full of questions.

  •  Who is in them?
  • When and where they were taken?
  • How old was I ?

Photographs are a wonderful record of the past but when I am no longer here, will  a photograph  be sufficient to tell my story?
I have recently  lost people from my life. Listening to their eulogies, made me realise how little I really know about them. When I am gone, what will my children know about my childhood? What will they remember me telling them? What will they know about family they barely knew or never met?

my grandad driving a lorry in WW2

In my grandad’s last years, he kept his memories in a suitcase by the side of his chair. It clearly gave him comfort to browse old papers and photographs. The suitcase was a treasure trove of family history.  Each photograph was carefully labeled with a year, a description and who appeared in the photo. There were many photographs of people and places from World War II. Accompanying them were letters, cinemas tickets, call up papers and other fascinating historical documents.

My personal favourite is this safe-conduct paper, presented by German soldiers when they surrendered.

safe conduct paper German soldier ww2
This inspired me to add descriptions and dates to photographs from my childhood. Over time, I’d like to catalogue our digital photographs to provide more detailed descriptions.

Coincidentally, when sorting boxes in the garage, I  came across a box of keepsakes. I often wonder if I hoard too many personal things and considered clearing out some of the box. I found  scrapbooks of my theatre days and old video tapes of shows I was in. I also found 2 boxes of wedding cards. These seemed prime material for a clear out, but inside the boxes, I found many more cards than I had imagined, giving a clear picture of significant people in our lives at that time. The boxes also contained the booking details from our honeymoon and keepsakes from the trip, reminding me of details I had almost forgotten. Detailed memories are quickly forgotten. These seemingly sentimental keepsakes, will perhaps feature in my suitcase of memories one day?

wedding memories

It is always hard to balance what to keep and throw away.  Perhaps in the modern age of social media it isn’t as important? I’m glad my grandad treasured his suitcase of memories and left them for us to know what mattered to him. I’ll continue to document my life and hope when I’m just a memory, my family will value them too.

I’m 46 and I’m…. Learning to Dance: How I Found the Confidence to Try

This week, I took a ballet class for the first time in 35 years. Why did I wait so long?

 

IMG_1203
In my ballet dancing days

 

Believing I couldn’t dance

The last time I took a ballet class I was 11 years old.  My teacher had told me I wasn’t any good, after getting a mediocre grade in my exam and  I never saw myself as a dancer from that point on. I learned basic tap as a teen and was part of the dancing team in one show, but I couldn’t keep up with the girls who still attended dance classes.  With hindsight, I should have found a different teacher and a different type of dance. Soon I was pigeonholed as a singer and actress who could move but not dance.

How it held me back

As a musical theatre performer, this obviously held me back. There were parts I didn’t audition for because I would need to dance and parts I didn’t get because others could dance better than me.  There were bitter disappointments, like the time a director called to say they rated my talent but my dancing wasn’t strong enough for this particular show. My breaking point was a show in which I had to sing in the wings with the old people, because I didn’t pass the dance audition. That was the last musical theatre production I appeared in.

 

IMG_1206
photo credit Michael McClary

 

Other obstacles

In my 20’s I tried a few dance classes. Adult tap was fun, until I moved to a different town and the new class made my brain hurt because it was faster paced. I tried a contemporary class but had to travel on the train, which became a pain.  Another class was full of teenagers who had been dancing all their lives and I was completely out of my depth. I really wanted to learn musical theatre dance, but I wasn’t sure what that type of dance was called.  Eventually I gave up trying and resigned myself to never being a dancer.

Perhaps I’ve lived my dance ambition through my kids.  They are all wonderful dancers. I don’t feel like I have pushed them to dance, but perhaps on a subconscious level, I was living my dreams through them.

Now it’s my turn – I’m 46 and I’m trying again.

What changed my mind?

Strangely, it was taking up taekwondo.

IMG_1205

I took up taekwondo three years ago because my whole family attended and I needed a regular activity to make me workout. I really enjoyed the fitness element, as it forced me to push myself to do things I wouldn’t otherwise try.  When I started I couldn’t do a sit up or a press up.  Three years later I could do fifty of each, my weak wrists strengthened and didn’t hurt anymore and hip pain I had been struggling with since my first pregnancy disappeared.

Learning the moves was challenging and sometimes I felt I would never be able to learn the forms or kicks. Over time I began to realise that I was improving, very gradually. I became more flexible, my technique improved and I could remember more complicated poomse.  That’s when it dawned on me.

If I could learn taekwondo in three years, I could apply myself to something I really wanted to learn and in three years time, I could be a dancer.

Finding the Right Class

the studio

As I had discovered in my 20’s, finding the right class as an adult isn’t easy.  It was difficult to find a class during the daytime, when my kids are at school and I have most flexibility. At least this time I knew what kind of class I was looking for.  After watching my daughter at a trial jazz class, it was clear that jazz was the class I had been looking for all these years.

I was so excited when I found a studio that appeared to fit my requirements perfectly.  The Studio, Issaquah, is a dance and yoga studio exclusively for adults. They have a huge variety of classes and class times to suit everybody.   Fear, led to procrastination, but my desire to learn overcame and I booked my first jazz class.

Jazz Class

jazz hands

Within minutes, I felt like my 6-year-old self, excited to be at ballet class for the first time.  The studio has a warm, friendly ambience and the people in the class reflect that and were really welcoming. The teacher Megan, is brimming with enthusiasm and energy, which is totally infectious. It was everything I could have asked for and more. A good core workout, a brain workout as I learn new routines and a mixture of fun and  technique; exactly what I was looking for.  It isn’t an easy class and some of the routines tax my brain, but experience has taught me not to give up. I don’t look at my awkward self in the mirror and lose hope anymore, because I know, soon it will become easier.  My body and my brain will learn to do new things, step by step.

Ballet Class

 

Erin rearshot
Enter a caption

 

I  loved it so much I decided to try the beginners ballet class, to help with dance steps, technique and posture. My children found it highly amusing but I think they pictured me strutting around in a leotard or tutu.

Ballet was a busier class but I didn’t feel lost. Again the teacher was friendly and encouraging and everyone in the class was either new to ballet or hadn’t danced since a child. For years I’d felt like the useless one in the group; here I fitted in. I liked the slower pace of ballet, as it helped me keep up with the routines. Many of the exercises and terms were familiar from my childhood, even if I couldn’t quite remember them properly. I thought I would feel like an idiot in a ballet class in my 40’s, but somehow it felt like coming home.

I keep seeing new classes I’d like to try, like the daytime tap class starting in June. Anyone buying me a gift in the future shouldn’t struggle for ideas – keep fueling my dance account and I’ll be happy.  I’m so excited to see how I will improve over time; maybe I’ll even dance in a show again someday?

 

Disclaimer: All recommendations are personal – no financial incentive was given for writing this post.