Saturday, 29 September 2007

Early memories

My parents moved out of their house, at 47 Devon Rd, Bristol during World War II and went to live with my maternal Uncle Fred, and his wife, Phyllis. Mum and Dad moved because their house was next to a railway line - a sure target for bombers.
“They would” Uncle Fred said, “be caught like rats in a trap” should the line be bombed.

Mum became pregnant with my third sister. The baby was born, named Sylvia, and died soon afterwards. From what I have heard I would guess that she had spina bifida.

Mum and Dad, with my two older sisters then moved into a couple of rooms in nearby Alpine Road. Their own home had been sequestered by “Bristol Corporation” to provide housing at a time when no new homes were being built, and many were being bombed.

In 1944 my twin sister and I were born in that house on Alpine Rd. A bit of family lore is that my father fainted when my twin was born after me, as no-one knew that Mum was carrying twins.

In due course Mum and Dad were able to reclaim their home - I think that the family who’d lived there were named Colson. It was a terraced (row) house - three up and three down. I am told that Mr. Colson owned a horse which he brought through the house to graze in the back garden. Mum said that it took days to clean the house when the family moved back.

Next door lived Mr. and Mrs. Charlton - Uncle and Auntie Charlton. I liked to visit them. They hoarded old newspapers. Their son Claud had been engaged to marry Miss Elsie Lawes. Claud died, and “Auntie Elsie” lived with the Charltons for the rest of their lives, taking care of them, and never marrying. She worked as a clerk for a builder in the Ashton Gate area of Bristol.

The Charltons were members of Easton Road Methodist Church. When I was about 7 or 8 years old Mr. Charlton died suddenly. He and his wife had been to an evening Church meeting, and were walking home - it was a crisp, frosty evening. He “dropped dead” on Vicarage Road. Conversation was hushed, and for the first time in my life I heard the word “coronary” .

Mrs. Charlton died a few years later. I remember being taken to the room where she lay a-dying. I was nine years old, and she said “soon you will be a teenager”. Then she corrected herself - “no, not a teenager, you will have double digits”.

Auntie Elsie was a frequent visitor to our home. She hailed from Bournemouth where she would visit her sister. Elsie would always refer to Bournemouth as “Bourne”, making it sound like a very exotic place. Once her nephew Michael visited, and although I did not understand my feelings ( I think that I was still eight or nine), I knew that I wanted to hang around boys like Michael.

Much later Elsie took in a lodger named Ron. He’d been in the R.A.F. during World War II and had severely frost-bitten fingers. For reasons I did not understand, I never liked Ron very much, but he was very popular with my siblings. We each remember the long lost Christmas-tide photo’ of Ron at our home. He was wearing a cowboy hat and toting a toy pistol. I thought that it was so silly - for in my own way I was becoming quite the little snob.

After Ron’s death, Elsie would be in our home every Sunday for “Sunday dinner”.
She was our favourite neighbour. More about other neighbours tomorrow.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Poetry. Wordsworth

The fundamentalists and evangelicals with whom I was raised, would have little truck with the Romantics. Wordsworth’s “Intimations of immortality” was a particular bete noir.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:

“Trailing clouds of glory” indeed! But what about original sin! Harrumph.

But I grew to love at least one of Wordsworth’s poems, the one I had to learn by heart in High School. Here it is.

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Romantic indeed, but none the worse for that. Many cities have their own sweet beauty.

In Infants’ School we sang:

“The world looks very beautiful,
And full of joy to me.
The sun shines out in glory
On everything I see.
I know I will be happy
While in the world I stay.
For I will follow Jesus
All the way”.

My home City of Bristol is quite hilly, and from our back bedroom there was a wonderful panoramic view of the City, from Dundry in the south to Purdown in the north. Centre view was the physics laboratory for Bristol University in a building named “The Royal Fort”.

(It was on the site of a fort which Prince Rupert had built during the English Civil War, of which only the gatehouse remains today.)

The Royal Fort had a metallic roof. One day, when I was five or six, I took in the view and that roof glistened in the morning sun. I knew it. I got it.

“The world looks very beautiful,
And full of joy to me.
The sun shines out in glory
On everything I see”

Even on a physics lab!

Thursday, 27 September 2007


We are still capable of wonder!

Last night six of us, neighbours, went out to “Terra Nossa”, our local Brazilian restaurant (their fried bananas are worth the trip to Sarasota!).

We got home at about 9:00 p.m. and as we got out of the car, someone said “Wow. Look at the Moon”. It was shining on the evening after full moon (a Harvest Moon), but it was still utterly splendid.

When I walked at 6:00 a.m. today the Moon was still radiant in the western sky, whilst in the east was Venus in all her glory. She’s been gorgeous on recent mornings with what has looked like a golden orb.

Wonder indeed.

My mind went back to some poetry which reflects on that wonder - in this case Psalm 8.

Here it is, in the Authorised Version (King James Version in the U.S.A.) - the version in which I learned it by heart many years ago.

1 O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens.

2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;

8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Here a copper, there a bob.

In immediate post war Britain there was not much of anything to be had in the stores. We still had rationing, and luxuries were out of the question.

In common with most of the families in our neighborhood, my parents had to scrimp and save. Every penny counted, and at one time there were so few pennies that my parents almost lost the “three up, three down” terraced (row) house which they were buying.

But there were many ways in which the budget could be stretched.

We used Brooke Bond “Dividend” Tea. On the side of each quarter pound packet of loose tea, there was a little adhesive stamp, just like a postage stamp. Brooke Bond provided cards for these stamps, and when one was filled with fifty stamps, off it would go in the mail, and we would await the five bob postal order from the Tea Company.

Similarly, Mum bought “Royal Diadem” flour. Each one pound bag contained a coupon, and when Mum had saved 50, (or was it 100) coupons, my twin sister and/or I would be sent off by ‘bus to the “Royal Diadem” office on Stapleton Road. There are dusty coupons would be carefully counted, by a careful clerk, and unless Mum had miscounted, we’d be handed a crisp ten shilling note.

We’d receive “hand me down” clothes from neighbours, sometimes left anonymously at the front door. Until 1950 our family consisted of three daughters and one son (me), so these were mostly clothes for girls.

My “best friend” was Jeffery Davies - he was a year younger than I, but much huskier. His Mum handed over a green Macintosh which he had outgrown, for my use. I wore it to school one rainy day, and was teased so much for having a “hand me down” mac’, that I refused to wear it again.

Gas and electricity meters, inside the front hall, were coin operated, on a pay as you go system. (This was common throughout the U.K.) My memory here is a bit hazy, but I seem to remember that the gas meters took “coppers” and the electricity meters needed shillings.

The meters were always set ahead so that householders in fact paid in advance for a little less gas and electricity than they’d actually consumed.

Once a quarter or so, the “gas man” or the “electricity man” would come to the house, check and empty the meter, and reconcile the coins with the actual amount we had used.
Then, they would issue a “rebate” - the amount we had overpaid.

When times were hard, Mum might say “perhaps the gas man will come today”, knowing that if he did there would be a few extra coppers to spend.

(Incidentally, those penny coins were called “coppers” as they had been made from copper between 1787 and 1860. Before that they’d been made from silver, and after that they were minted from bronze).

Worn out clothing would be saved, and every now and then Mum would separate them into bags of cotton and wool material, and one or other of the children would take the # 83 ‘bus to Old Market Street, and then wander over to Rose’s scrap yard. We reckoned that Rose’s paid better than the rag and bone man, besides which, one of the Rose clan was rumored to be a member of the Plymouth Brethren, which automatically made their scrap yard “a very good thing”.

All the grocers sold biscuits from tins, with glass lids. Inevitably some would get broken, and would be set aside until the grocer could fill an empty tin. These would be sold at a reduced price, and we’d be sent to the shop to ask “do you have any broken biscuits”.

On Saturdays after 5:00 p.m. we’d go down to Witt’s Bakery by Lawrence Hill Railway Station, for after that hour they’d sell cakes and pastries at a reduced price. The manager of that shop, Miss Jessie Joyce, was also Plymouth Brethren, so here was another “good thing”.

( I digress for a moment. Plymouth Brethren were fervent expositors of “dispensationalism” , quite convinced that the second coming of Jesus was imminent.

If we sang “Rock of Ages”, when we got to the line “when mine eyelids close in death”, dear Jessie Joyce would sing in a loud and emphatic way “should mine eyelids close in death”. After all Jesus might well return before she or her sister Mary died. He didn’t.)

And, last of all for today, there was “pinky fruit”. Pinky fruit is apples, pears, bananas, oranges etc which had just begun to turn bad. Off we’d go to the greengrocer to see if she or he had any pinky fruit - sold of course at a lower price. Mum would carefully cut away the bad bits, and assure us that we were getting the very best. In a way she was right - for we were being fed by her love.

I hate poverty.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Pounds,shillings and pence.

Until 1968 the British currency consisted of Pounds, Shillings and Pence

£ s d

The basic unit, the Pound £

was divided into 20 Shillings s

And each shilling was divided in to 12 pence d

Thus we added up monetary figures in three columns

The right hand column was for pence, which we added up by twelves. Each complete 12 was carried over into the middle column, for 12 pence made one shilling.

e.g. if the right hand column added up to 38, we could carry forward 3 (36 pence makes 3 shillings) and leave the remainder as 2d.

Then we counted the middle column in twenties. Each complete 20 was carried over to the left hand column as a pound.

e.g. if the middle column added up to 90, we would carry forward 4 ( 80 shillings makes 4 pounds), and leave the remainder as 10.

This explains why, when we learned our “times tables” we needed to master the 12 times table - so that we could add up those 12 pence makes a shilling column.

Of course this system baffled and confused overseas visitors to Britain - we liked it that way!

In 1971 the system was decimalised, so that the British pound is now simply divided into 100 pence.

The highest value Bank note we ever saw was for £5. The earlier notes I saw were printed on large and very thin paper. They represented a fortune! Smaller £5 notes were already taking over.

Much more common was the one pound note. And we had a ten shilling note.

In coinage there was a rare “crown” worth five shillings. These were minted for special occasions.

Then there was the half crown - worth two shillings and six pence.
( Eight half crowns made a pound).

That was followed by the florin - worth two shillings.

Then the shilling itself (twenty shillings make a pound)

Followed by the sixpence, the three pence, the penny, and the half penny.

There were still the occasional farthings in circulation, worth one quarter of a penny. You might also encounter the rare silver three pence coin - made of silver. These were treasured and set aside to be cooked in the Christmas pudding, a little bonus if you found one in your slice.

A pound was always a “quid”.

A shilling was a “bob”

A sixpence was a “tanner”

A penny was a “copper”

Pronunciation was also hazardous for overseas visitors.

A half-penny was nearly always abbreviated in writing to “ha’penny” , but it was pronounced “hape-knee”.

Two pence was always “tuppence”. Three pence was “thrupence” - and no-one ever had ever had a “thrup-knee” coin, it was always a “thrup-knee bit”.

Similarly a florin (two shilling coin) was rarely graced by than name - it was always “two bob”.

Two other notes for now:

If a theatre show, a film, or a purchased article did not live up to expectations we might refer to it as a “tup-knee ‘ape-knee” thing. (two and a half pence!)

No longer a coin, but still in common parlance was the “guinea” - worth £1.1s. 0d (Twenty one shillings.)

Advertisers loved the “guinea”. For instance a fine fur coat might be advertised at 99 guineas. That “sounded” less than £ 100, but in fact it was 99 pounds plus 99 shillings, almost £ 105

All this in preparation for tomorrow “Here a penny, there a shilling”.

And, why not do your own Google search to find out the origins of “Pounds, shillings and pence” and that £ s d symbol.

Monday, 24 September 2007

To the Bishops assembled &c, &c

Our Episcopal Church Bishops are gathered in New Orleans even as I write.

Some of them are godly, some of them are knaves. We have wise Bishops and unbelievably foolish Bishops. There are some Bishops with whom one might want to spend a long evening with fine food and good red wine. There are others with whom one would not wish to spend twenty minutes in a Laundromat.

But to the Bishops assembled:

1. It is not your job to defend or protect G-d. Love is indefensible, and only the arrogant would seek to protect the Almighty.

2. The Anglican Communion, as we know it, is a very modern creature, dating only since the ending of British colonialism. It is little more than a small blip on the radar screen of the history of Christendom.

It hardly even appears on the screen of all of G-d’s interactions with humankind.

Enjoy this historical perspective dear Bishops!

3. The Church is not the same as God’s reign (the kingdom of God). It can point to that
reign, or it can obscure it. The reign of G-d is infinitely more important than the Church.

4. It is not your job to save the Church. It our job to cooperate with God in healing the world.

5. You and your names will be forgotten in about 50 years.

6. Never give in to bullies. If you do so, they’ll be back to bully you more.

(Revised 6:20 p.m. September 24th)

Sunday, 23 September 2007

The year of my two "disasters".

My sixth year was a wee bit fateful. I cannot remember which came first, but in that year I came down with scarlet fever, and one of my legs was fractured.

The scarlet fever led to my being taken to the isolation unit at Ham Green Hospital in the village of Pill. (Never thought about it until yesterday, but “Pill” is not a bad name for a village with a Hospital!)

I was taken by ambulance - this for me was a wonderful adventure. During the journey I heard the bell named “Great George” in the Wills Memorial Tower at Bristol University.

This handsome neo-Gothic tower had been erected with tobacco money from a member of the W.D. and H.O. Wills tobacco company. The bell, named, as all bells should be, could be heard in many parts of the City.

Early each morning at Ham Green Hospital all the morning nurses - sisters, staff nurses and ward nurses would walk, be-cloaked, in a solemn procession from their dormitories to the wards - led by none other than the head nurse “Matron”. I believe that they had also been led in prayer by Matron before the silent procession .

Dad and Mum could visit me, but could only view me through a window. I can see them there even now. They brought a care parcel with fruit and sweets (candies).

One day I asked a nurse if I might eat an apple - in the care package at the foot of my bed.
“No” she said, “it will spoil your dinner”.

Nurse left and I reasoned “it’s my apple, I shall eat it despite what nurse said”. I ate half the apple, and hid the other half under the covers.

Nurse discovered that half apple, scolded me, and then slapped me!

I was discharged a day earlier than had been planned. I arrived home mid-afternoon before Dad had returned from work. I hid under the kitchen table with its covering which reached the floor - and surprised my Dad when he arrived home.

In a strange irony, Dad died at Ham Green Hospital some 24 years later.

Mum and Dad had prepared a second care parcel for me. They urged me to share it with my twin sister. Did I do so?

In that same year Mum took me to a wedding of someone or other, at St. Werburgh’s Church. (In those days folks would attend the wedding ceremony of a close acquaintance, even if they had not been invited to the wedding and reception).

After the wedding we walked to the ‘bus, alongside Brooks’ Laundry where Mum had worked after school. The pavement (sidewalk) was uneven. Mum tripped, knocked me to the ground, fell onto to me - and hey presto my leg was fractured.

Off to the Bristol Royal Infirmary where I was fitted with what Americans call a cast and the British call a plaster. It was made of plaster of Paris, and boy was it heavy.

The milkman, Pete Bedford, would call me “peg-leg”, which made me mad.

I was exempted from morning assembly (prayers) at Greenbank Infants’ School, which made me glad.

My Grandmother, Nanny Povey, took me to the BRI the day the plaster was removed. As we left the Hospital she scolded me. “Now stop that limping” she said, “or you’ll limp for the rest of your life”.

I cannot remember if she added “make haste”, two words we she often used.

At nine or ten I was in Bristol General Hospital to “have my tonsils out”. (Tonsillectomy is a grand word which we never used!).

Americans get hospitalized. British people are “in hospital” (never in the hospital).

I have not been in hospital (as a patient) since then.