Tag Archives: #history

Family history

What a Friday I’ve had! Fridays are generally always brilliant but this one was super special. I have spent the day with my lovely cousin S. She’s really my second cousin – our dads are cousins; her grandma and my grandad were siblings. She lives down in Surrey and before this summer I’d only seen her a handful of times in the last two decades – at her wedding, at funerals and a couple of family gatherings. It’s one of those situations where because we’ve only ever met up via Family Events we’ve never thought of meeting up alone. This summer she got on a train and came up to St Albans and we spent the day together. Her dad is ten years older than my dad but he spent most of his childhood, up to his teens, living in St Albans so they share a history of more than just being cousins and consequently the city means something to both of us.

The visit in the summer was more about us catching up and getting to know each other a bit better – we are related and we send each other Christmas cards and think the world of each other but we needed to spend some time reconnecting. And it was lovely and I felt like we’d seen each other only a week before. She’s funny and kind and caring and lovely. We’ve got lots in common and we laughed a lot – a family trait – her grandad was always laughing and made everyone around him laugh too. He used to tease my dad, even when my dad was well into middle age, that the milkman was his real father!

Today she came up again (I’d offered to head down her way but she insisted that St Albans is far nicer than anywhere near her, so could she please come up again?) and we’ve had a magical family history mystery tour.

We’d both grilled our dads for the lowdown on places of significance and I came up with a plan. I picked her up from the station just before 11am and we headed off. Our first stop (well, drive-by as there was nowhere to stop) was the building that used to be the school where her grandma went as a young girl, in Catherine Street, now the Jubilee Centre. My grandma used to go there in later years for company – a sort of day centre for elderly people. Then we drove on to the school that her dad and my aunt attended, now Garden Fields school but formerly Townsend.

Next stop, and we did stop, was the house in Marshalswick that her Dad lived in as a boy before the family moved to Surrey when he was a teenager. My dad just about remembers them living there but he was only 5 when they moved away so it’s only a very vague memory.

From there we drove to my dads childhood home in Marshall Avenue where he was born. S’s Dad and grandparents lived there with my grandparents and Auntie for a while during WW2 and my dad was born during this time. Her dad remembers the midwife coming to help deliver my dad and thinking that he must be in the big black bag that the midwife had with her! She chucked the bag down on the floor and he was worried that the baby would be hurt. My dad was a tiddler, weighing just over two pounds, which in those days (with no incubators or special care baby units) would have been a big cause for concern, could easily have fit in the bag so he could be forgiven for his mistake!

We got parked up at the Verulamium museum car park and headed off for a coffee at the Inn on the Park. The place was packed with mums and toddlers so not a great choice for a chat but the coffee was hot and we didn’t plan to be there long – we had more places to visit!

Now on foot we headed round St Michael’s to Portland Street where our grandparents lived as children. I’ve never been up there (as far as I know) and S definitely hadn’t so we were quite excited to see the house- until we realised we weren’t quite sure which number it was! A quick call to my mum confirmed we were outside the right house. The houses can’t have changed much since the early 1900’s and our house (as I now think of it!) still had an old boot scraper outside and we gave the handrail a little stroke in the hope it was the original (you never know). We were both amazed at how such a big family had managed to all fit in such a small – two up two down – house. And we complain about not having enough room. Lightweights.

By this time the pub was calling us so we stopped for lunch. As the Verulam Arms (where S’s grandad liked to drink) is now a Forager food pub we opted for a more traditional lunch in The Six Bells, as recommended by my parents. And very nice it was too.

Properly refuelled and after much more chat and laughter we set off again on foot to the Gorhambury Estate where S’s grandad worked as an apprentice gardener when he first come up to St Albans in his late teens. It was during this time that he met my great aunt, S’s grandma, and the rest, as they say, is history.

S and I both feel so strongly that our family history mustn’t be forgotten. Her dad didn’t have siblings and she is an only child. I am lucky to have my brother and our cousin P, and we need to all make sure we keep the family bond going strong. We’ve got shared history passed down from our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and we’ll make our own history going forward. A truly special day, with many more to come.

Our grandparents’ home in Portland Street.

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Bittersweet

I went to visit my Nan with T & A on Saturday. We haven’t seen her for a few months and I wanted to see her before our Christmas visit as that would have been too long to wait. K didn’t come with us as he was up in Birmingham for a friends 50th birthday (more on that later). There is no getting away from the fact that my Nan has aged. I had a bit of a ‘moment’ late last year when I hadn’t seen her for quite some time and I wrote about it in Growing up is hard In the last few weeks there has been talk about her going into a home where she would have round the clock care. There are many pros to this idea: my mum and my aunt won’t have the huge responsibility of looking after her (cleaning, washing, cooking, sorting out finances – the list goes on); they will be able to visit her and actually spend time with her rather than spending all their time doing chores; we will all have less worry about her being in her flat alone with only a neighbour and her lifeline (a button she can press to connect her to a care service) to hand if she feels unwell; less worry about her falling and being unable to call someone – just less worry generally. The cons are that we will have to sort out all her belongings and reduce them down to a size that she can take with her. She has a LOT of stuff and to her it’s all important and all needs to “go to a good home”. She will have to leave her home of 50+ years and her life will change. At nearly 97 who wants that? Of course she doesn’t want the upheaval and the uncertainty of what life will be like. Ideally, in her head, she wants to see her days out in her flat and remain the master of her ship, a ship she has been in charge of for 50+ years until the last 6 years or so when things started to get harder. She is resistant and then, alternately, resigned to the idea. When I saw her on Saturday she asked me if she looked old. I told her she was beautiful. Because she is. I wish with all my heart that I could wind the clock back for her to a time when she was still be able to do everything for herself, that she didn’t need carers, that she didn’t need my mum and Aunt to do all that they do for her.  I’ve not really been able to stop thinking about her since I saw her and I know my mum and Aunt feel caught between a rock and a hard place – no-one wants to force her to go into a home against her wishes, no-one wants her to be upset or sad BUT the situation is becoming almost impossible. She seemed to be in the ‘resigned’ camp of thought when I saw her (this can change daily, today she is probably adamant that she is going nowhere) and said that it’s all down to the social worker’s report and the decision of the care panel. We will have to see what they say and hope that she accepts it. It’s always lovely to see her but I always leave with a certain sadness.

As I mentioned earlier, K went up to Birmingham for a friends birthday. They were going go-karting and out for a meal and drinks afterwards. He decided to stay overnight as he doesn’t see them that often and wanted to be able to have a couple of drinks. I hate it when he is away, I don’t sleep properly and I miss him. Sad, but true. However, he doesn’t go very often and other than work-related evenings or socialising now and again with our friends he doesn’t get much downtime apart from with me, poor man. When he moved down here and we moved in together he would go up now and again but then we got married, as did many of his friends, and then we had T. It all happened quite quickly and I have to admit that I didn’t make it easy for him to go back up after we had T. I couldn’t cope well on my own and felt that I needed him around all the time. He was great and never complained, but he sort of fell out of the habit of going back up and seeing his friends. When he got home yesterday he was really full of beans and chatty and he’d clearly had a good time. He was knackered but he’d enjoyed himself immensely. He sat and chatted to T about the go-karting (they had been to a local one recently so were comparing notes) and about some funny incidents in a bar. We went out for dinner and he was chatty all night and relaxed and it was lovely It made me realise how much he must have missed seeing them. I have to take some of the blame – I didn’t make it easy for him in years gone by and he knows I don’t like him being away so he tries not to be. I’ve told him he must go more often. No, I won’t sleep but, big deal, I don’t sleep well when he IS here! I love seeing my friends and I can see them whenever I want to. They make me happy, they know me as someone other than a wife or a mum. He must feel the same when he is with his friends – they’ve known each other since secondary school and they have history – they don’t know him as Dad or husband or colleague. To them he is just K and that must be great. I am determined to get him to go up at least once every couple of months as we will all reap the benefits if he comes back as happy as he was yesterday.

 

“That’s very nearly an armful”

I gave blood last week. I try and go as often as I can and it makes me feel good about myself for a few minutes. I don’t mind the process – I’m not bothered by needles and I’m a “quick bleeder”* so it doesn’t take long and then I’m off back to my day to day life. I don’t really give it much more thought other than the fleeting feeling of doing a good deed. But I received a text yesterday telling me thanks and that my donation had been sent to the Queen Hospital in Romford. I had a similar text last time I donated and I sceptically thought it would be just randomly sent, that they couldn’t possibly track my donation and then tell me about it. It seems I was wrong and I should not be such a doubter. What a great feeling.

* I also have very shy veins so although it can take ages for them to get me started, I don’t take long once it’s underway. Not sure how helpful being a “quick bleeder” or having “shy veins” would be in the event of an injury to myself but let’s focus on the positives.

Title courtesy of the brilliant Tony Hancock in The Blood Donor. If you’ve never seen this classic sketch you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEUvyaNu0uw

The Office

No, not the Ricky Gervais series, although that was genius, my office where I work two days a week. It’s nice to have some company for those two days while having my own space at home the other two days.

Our office of (mainly) three people is a pretty nice place to work. We listen to Radio 2 and we like to moan about stuff they report or the topics that Jeremy Vine discusses at lunchtimes. One of my bosses, N, calls a spade a spade and if he disagrees with something he will make it very clear. I don’t always agree with what he says, but he is entitled to his opinions and I know where I stand with him. He is straightforward and he doesn’t try to hide that he is a tiny bit sexist and just, well, not completely PC. It’s nice though, because they don’t care if I am a bit grumpy – they don’t even notice most of the time and they certainly don’t assume that I am in a mood with them. (When I worked in a predominantly female office in a  building society it was impossible to have an off day without offending someone or someone assuming you had the hump with them about something.) They don’t expect me to make the drinks, in fact I get more offers of coffee when I am in the office than when K is working from home with me. I feel valued (most of the time) and am made to feel that I do a good job.

I have been very lucky with bosses over the years. They have all been men, with the exception of two, and they have all wanted me to progress, to do well, always made me feel appreciated and a worthy member of the team. The two women I have worked for were very different. I distinctly remember one saying to me, after I was asked my opinion by another member of staff, “It’s early days, don’t try to run before you can walk”. And another who did her utmost to keep me in my place – sending me on pointless errands that ended up with me being humiliated in front of another member of staff; asking me to make calls that she didn’t want to make; insisting on being in any meeting I was invited to (even if she wasn’t involved in the project).

With the exception of one, I have always found men to be the easiest people to work with. When I worked for a large coffee company back in the 90’s I far preferred being sent to sort out a technical issue in the all male warehouse than the all female telesales department. The guys in the warehouse were goodnatured, friendly and above all straight-talking. Walking into the telesales department was a different matter altogether. I never knew what sort of reception I would find and would always leave feeling like they were going to talk about me the minute I left the room (this was justified, it wasn’t paranoia). As for the one exception, he was a sexist pig. He used to call me to his office to sort out a technical issue, knowing I would probably have to clamber around under his desk to check cables, etc. whilst he sat as close as possible, watching me. This was back in the days when women were expected to wear skirts to work and despite the nature of my job I had to adhere to it, even though trousers would have been far more practical. I suspect if I was doing that job now I would have grounds for accusing him of sexual harassment. But he is the only man I have come across in my 27 working years that behaved that way. He was the exception to the rule. (I did warn my younger colleague to take care around him and I always made it clear to him that I knew what he was – a dirty old man, which he would deny, instead insisting that he was “just a red blooded male”. Yuck.)

The allegations we are hearing daily in the press make me think of him. He tried to pretend he wasn’t a perv. He tried to make out he was something he wasn’t and they are the dangerous ones. The ones who purport to be a certain type of person while the words that they say and the things that they do call them out as a liar at every step. The ones who think they are above any sort of laws, who have no respect for women or sense of decency.  I am sure lots of women will have come across a man like the one I knew all those years ago. Hopefully, most of us will have only endured this low level sexual harassment but I know there are plenty who will have endured far worse.

I don’t think men should EVER be allowed to get away with any sexually predatory behaviour and sexism should have been locked up back in the days of Benny Hill. As a mother of a son I hope I have instilled in him that girls are to be respected as much as any boy (not more, just as much) and as a mother of a daughter I hope I have instilled in her that she can do anything she wants, that she doesn’t have to take any crap from anyone and that she is as good as any boy, but she shouldn’t walk over anyone in the process.

But, not all men are sexist predators, just as not all women are feminists who look out for their female colleagues.

I like my office. Smelly, belchy men and all.

 

 

Boring/perfect

I’ve had a boring day working and not much about it has made me smile, until I went out for dinner with my lovely old friend. (She’s not old, I’ve just known her a long time, that sort of old friend.) As always, we’ve caught up on family news, swapped moans about work and husbands and most of all we’ve laughed. Not just a chuckle here and there – proper laughing that makes your tummy hurt. And stuffed our faces whilst telling each other how badly our latest health kicks are going. And home in time for the ten o’clock news. Perfect.

Planning, Being Human and Revision

Good news! We have finally been granted Planning Permission. So all we need to do now is choose a builder (we’ve whittled it down to two – it’s difficult because they are both really nice, both have quoted around the same price and both are available when we want to get started) and get booked into their diary ready to start in the New Year. Exciting times ahead. Also ones full of dust and noise and horrendous disruption but…..it will all be worth it. I see this fast becoming my new mantra. (I don’t have a current mantra but it may catch on.)

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Last week A was asked to write an essay on What Makes Us Human by her PRE (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics for those, like me, who aren’t familiar) teacher. She asked me to read it over and give her feedback. I’m always a bit on edge when anyone asks me to do this. I am more likely to pick up on spelling errors (I’m not so hot on grammar) and typos so I’m better suited to proof-reading than critiquing. I was pretty impressed; I went a bit misty. She’s 12 years old. She never fails to surprise me – some of the points she made were pretty mature. I quote: “Being human means we mess up from time to time. How can you be human if you don’t make some mistakes? Nobody is perfect. ALL of us have flaws.” (I’m a bit disappointed that she doesn’t think I’m perfect but she’s wrong). She’s not great at taking constructive criticism (one of her flaws, but she get’s it from her mother – OK, I admit, I’m not perfect) so I had to be careful with my wording: she needed to work on some of her ideas a bit more but other than that I told her how mature a lot of her thoughts are and that she should be proud of her work, as she had clearly spent some time thinking about it. Oh, and that it made me a bit misty eyed. She liked that bit.

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Last night, K, T and I attended an info evening at school ahead of the mock GCSE exams starting in November. I thought the intention was to give us ideas on how to help our child through this process and the proper exams in the Summer. I thought we would be talked through strategies, given useful websites, suggested revision guides to buy, etc. We were to some extent but it was really just the core subject heads telling us how difficult the exams were going to be, how much pressure was going to be on the students and (in the case of one teacher) way too much detail on what the exam was going to cover. If I was finding it all a bit daunting, I can’t imagine what the students were thinking. The only positive note came from the head of Maths, and coincidentally T’s teacher, who said that, after hearing his colleagues speak, he felt quite relieved that he taught maths as it was pretty easy to revise for! Top man. He was upbeat and honest – if you want to revise, you need to do some maths. Just do some maths: pick the topics you struggle with and practice – twenty minutes a day. Great.

The funny thing for me was K. He hated school; he gets a bit antsy when we have to attend anything like this – he can’t sit still; he just can’t wait to get away. Last night I felt like I was sitting next to two 15 year old boys. T’s leg was jiggling away and he was looking at his feet for most of the talks. K was “busy” looking at the handout and whispering silly comments to me, when one of the speakers said anything daft. I nearly choked on my Polo when one of the teachers said that the students “need to get on the game”. I think he meant get their heads in the game but it came out wrong, I met another mum’s eye and we both nearly had to gag ourselves to stop from laughing. There’s always a highlight to these evenings.

Stress, Social and Smooth

Stress. The kids went back to school nearly two weeks ago. Last Monday, T had a mini-meltdown. When I say meltdown, he was mildly stressed out. T doesn’t do meltdowns. He does calm and laid back so when he gets stressed it is unusual but not insurmountable. He doesn’t have to tell me when something is worrying him, it is obvious – he goes quiet and in turn becomes argumentative. And anyway, I just know. Before I had kids, I didn’t really believe the whole “mum spidey senses” thing but it is actually a Thing. Anyway, we had a chat after the argument and he admitted he was feeling a bit pressured by the whole GCSE thing and the pressure to do well. We had spoken at length during the summer about how much effort he has been giving so far and how it is not enough to just do the bare minimum. The failed RE GCSE seemed to spur him on, but have I created a monster? Have I made too much of it and now he is stressing out? Anyway, we talked a bit more and it transpired that the homework app wasn’t working (see, technology is NOT always a good thing – what was wrong with writing things down into a homework diary?) and he didn’t want to get behind with his homework………….because he wanted to watch the Apple Conference live the following evening. I don’t need to worry, he clearly still has his priorities in a different place.

Social. On Saturday night, A went to a friend’s birthday party. I am finding it increasingly hard to keep up with her social life and the way it is organised. There’s no invites any more. Parents don’t contact parents any more. Your child gets a text (or Whatsapp message, or Instagram DM, or Snapchat PM….etc) invite from their friend and they ask you if they can go. You say yes or no and if in the affirmative the details get passed to you as and when your child gets them. You don’t have to text a parent or call a parent to say that your child can attend and “hi” I’m J, A’s mum”. None of that. On this particular occasion I had not met the girl whose party it was, or her parents. I just knew she lived in “the big house on the corner of the road that goes down to the school”. She was being dropped off by another friend’s step-dad (again all organised child-to-child but at least we know the friend in question and have met the mum and step-dad) and we were picking them up later. I had an address and a time and the knowledge that they were going to watch a movie at the house and then dinner out at a local pizza place. That was all. Now, I don’t know how you feel reading this, but I felt a little lacking in my parental duties. However, knowing that I could see her whereabouts on my lovely app, I felt slightly less nervous than I could have done. And I knew two of the other girls she was going to be with who are both pretty sensible. She was being dropped off and picked up. Nothing to worry about. And there wasn’t, it was all fine, she had a lovely time; they were even left unsupervised in the restaurant while the birthday girl’s parents went to the chip shop (it’s classier than it sounds) and so she felt very grown up (which I suppose she is becoming). I went to pick her up at the designated time with K as chauffeur. The idea of the “big house on the corner” made me slightly nervous. Meeting a new person made me slightly nervous. Meeting a new person who lives in a VERY big house…you get the idea. I was nervous. Especially having had ZERO contact with her previously. She was perfectly nice, they had all “been fine” and so after collecting all their belongings (why do girls have so much stuff?) we left. I have no idea what the mum’s name was. We made small talk while they were getting their stuff but other than that she has 2 older children and one younger one and that her house is MASSIVE I know nothing more than that. It’s not a problem, it just feels weird. Up til now, I have pretty much known the parents of A’s friends, because I have seen them at school and probably chatted to them in the playground. I haven’t had to worry about this stuff with T, he still hangs around with the same mates he had in nursery. He has other friends, new friends from secondary school, but boys don’t really do the whole “tea” at each others houses thing. Or parties really. Well, T doesn’t anyway. It’s a whole new world and one I am finding hard to adjust to. We have a “new friend” coming for “tea” tomorrow and another one for a sleepover on Saturday night (I have met her before so it will be fine) – I might need therapy by Sunday.

So, that just leaves Smooth. I have not been sleeping brilliantly for a few weeks. When I say not brilliantly, I mean I can get to sleep no problem (in fact probably too easily, i.e. in front of the TV most evenings) but I have started waking up around 4am again. I don’t know why but it is annoying. What is even more annoying is that when I am lying there awake all I can think of is a bloody song that I can’t get out of my head. Not always the same song, but normally one that I don’t even like. I have realised that it is probably down to listening to Radio 2 all day.  It’s not their fault but they do play the same records over and over again – their playlist is pretty limited – and it can get a bit repetitive, and one of the songs will get stuck in my noddle and at 4am it decides to start blasting out. So, I have decided on a change of station. I started out this morning with Classic FM – no lyrics, no catchy tunes, was my thinking. After ten minutes I couldn’t take any more. I need lyrics. I need a catchy tune. I scrolled through the list and Smooth caught my eye – billed as “your relaxing music mix” I though it worth a go. Ooh I like it. So far not one repeat of a song. Nothing current, I grant you – I’m not in danger of being Down With The Kids – but nothing repetitive that could get stuck in my head, not so far anyway. Some old classics, actually only old classics; DJ’s whose voices are not too annoying, so far; a few adverts, could get annoying; but mainly just easy listening background noise with a few “oh I LOVE this one”s thrown in. Let’s see what happens tonight.