On Saturday 31st August 2013 I started a new project, The Book of You, Written by Me. This project has been devised by Julie Goucher and is an opportunity to go on a journey of discovery to remember, rediscover and explore your own life and memories, with a view to recording them for future generations. My grandparents had amazing, interesting and exciting lives but now they’re gone there’s little to show for it. This is my opportunity to capture the essence of me and leave a lasting legacy for those coming after me.
The project runs for at least fifteen months and Julie will be giving participants weekly prompts to write from. Some of them may result in very personal articles, but any that I feel comfortable sharing will appear here. The idea is that ultimately I will have enough material to create a book to be left for my children and my children’s children!
This entry is prompt #15 of The Book of Me, Written by You project
This week’s prompt is – Snow!
- Do you live in area where you routinely have snow?
- How old were you when you first saw snow?
- Do you remember it?
- Did you make snowmen?
- Throw Snowballs
- Sledge Rides
- What is the image that first came to mind when you read snow?
- What does snow
- feel like,
- smell like
- how do you see snow
Living in the south of England we don’t often get snow so when we do – even if it’s only an inch or two – the whole world seems to grind to a halt. it seems like we can go several years without any snow at all, and then we’ll have two or three snowfalls in one winter. Last year it snowed before Christmas, then again in January, and I’m sure we also had snow quite late in the year, perhaps March or April, though it didn’t last long.
The first time I remember it snowing was when I was maybe 8 or 9. We had quite heavy snow and my dad disappeared into the garage (his shed) for a couple of hours and came out with a sledge he’d built from odds and ends! As a family, we went up Harrow Hill and spent a sunny Sunday afternoon sledging. People were there on all sorts of improvised sledges – tea trays, plastic sheeting, the plastic baskets used to deliver bread – but there we were with our fabulous home-made sledge! It was an extra special day because we didn’t often do things as a family because of my dad’s odd working hours etc.
I remember there being snow one winter when I was at senior school – I can mainly remember trudging up the hill to school from the bus stop, and then slithering back down again because the snow had become so packed down it was like ice. Not fun … I also remember one year when I was first working – must be about 1990. My landlord used to give me a lift to work and he always parked in a little housing estate about five minutes’ walk away. It had snowed but the main roads were all pretty clear – but this little cul de sac was untouched and I can remember stepping out of his car into snow that was deeper than my knee-high boots.
Now, of course, I am a parent myself and I’ve had some wonderful days in the snow with my children. I used to childmind and we had a fun afternoon in the back garden once with Katie and Dan plus the two little girls I was childminding. I seem to remember they all decided it would be fun to go down the slide into a pile of snow at the bottom! Another year we had enough snow for sledging but we couldn’t find any big hills. Eventually we realised that a nearby park had a sloped area in it and though it wasn’t very steep or big it was big enough to keep the children happy! I nearly crashed into a lamp post though …!
We now live in a town with a BIG hill and we have had a couple of winters where there’s been enough snow for sledging. It was great fun going down, though the walk all the way back up wasn’t so good! We’ve also had lots of snowball fights …. the best one was probably first thing in the morning on the first day of snow, and we all ended up absolutely soaked and freezing cold. A few mugs of hot chocolate soon sorted that out! Actually, that particular winter I’d not long been seeing my lovely man, Steve, and he ended up snowed in at his house. At the time we lived down a hill and the only way out was at the top of the hill. For a couple of days there was no way he could get his car up the hill, so he stayed with us. It was a really special time as it gave him a chance to get to know the children really well.
One of my favourite things to do on a snowy day is to go out early, before the world is awake, and take photos. There’s something quite magical about seeing the world covered in a layer of fresh snow, before everyone has stomped their way through it.
This entry is prompt #14 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
This week’s prompt is Special People
If you had to hold a dinner party and could invite a maximum of 12 special people who would you invite?
This week You CAN include family.
What meals would you serve and why.
Perhaps include the recipe or a photo if you decided to actually cook the items!
If I were to hold a dinner party for special people I'd want to invite more than twelve …. Because if I was able to bring people back from the dead I'd want to make it a truly family affair and invite all the family along to meet their ancestors.
So that would mean as well as me there'd be Steve, Katie and Dan; my mum and dad; and my brother and his wife and two girls … So that's ten people straight away! So I'm going to assume that we don't count, and try to find twelve other people I'd like to see again – or for the first time.
Firstly I'd invite along my grandma, Mary Stansfield. She died when she was 79 and it was far too soon as far as I am concerned. At the time Dan was only five weeks old and we hadn't had a chance to take him to Wales to meet his great grandma. She doted on Katie and was thrilled about Daniel's arrival, and I would love her to see the wonderful young adults they have become, and also to meet her other two grandchildren, my nieces. Of course if Grandma was at the party I'd have to invite Grandad Fred too – he is still with us, 96 this month, but has dementia and doesn't know who anyone is any more. I'd love to bring him along at an earlier age as he was always the life and soul of any party, and he would love to see Mary again.
So that's the first two special people.
Next would be my paternal grandparents Evelyn and Roland Thompson – Nanna and Grandad Pussies. I was ten when Grandad Pussies died and I never got to say goodbye – and as I was so young I never really got to know him either. Nanna lived till she was 94 but I really feel I should have talked to her more about her life. She was born in Canada but I never asked her anything about her childhood, and I bet there would be some great stories to tell!
I'd also invite my Grandad's brother, Uncle Mervyn. Mervyn died when I was 18 and in some ways we were quite close – we used to exchange letters a couple of times a year. Mervyn was a very quiet, understated man but he too led an interesting life: among other things he was at Bletchley Park during the war, working on cracking the Enigma machines. I know a little about his life but I'd love to learn more.
I was lucky enough to meet two of my great grandparents – my great grandad Fred Stansfield (Mary's father) and my great nanny Jane Smith ( Evelyn's mother). Fred lived to 97, Jane lived to 101 and it would be fascinating to talk to them about how the world changed in their lifetime.
Next would be Jane's husband, Cornelius Smith. He was the last full gypsy in my family tree. It would be fascinating to find out about his life and his family culture and traditions.
One of my ancestors is Rodney Smith, the famous gypsy evangelist (photo, right). I don't know if I would like him much – I'm not hot on overly religious, preachy people and that was his job, after all – but he led an amazing life, travelling around the world preaching the word of the lord, and I would love to meet him and find out more about him.
Finally, I would invite my children's father, Ian. He died very suddenly earlier this year and while the relationship between me and him, and the kids and him, was rather fraught, we had seen him shortly before his death and cleared the air. There are a lot of questions I would want to ask him but I would also like my children to see him one last time to say goodbye. And if Ian was at the party then I rather think I'd like his parents to be there too, as I know they would welcome the opportunity to say their goodbyes too – and it would be selfish to deny them that chance.
That completes the 12.
In terms of the meal itself, I think the food would really be irrelevant when there are so many conversations to be had so it would be a simple finger buffet – sandwiches, sausage rolls and the like. And a very large pot of tea!
This entry is prompt #13 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
This week’s prompt is – Special People / Iconic PeopleIf you had to hold a dinner party and could invite a maximum of 12 special people who would you invite?You can NOT include family in this – the special people could be famous or historical people. What made you select the people that you chose? What questions would you like to ask them?What meals would you serve and why?Perhaps include the recipe or a photo if you decided to actually cook the items!
The first guest would have to be James Dean. When I was a teenager I became a massive James Dean fan – my bedroom was plastered with posters and I read every biography I could get my hands on. I’ve always felt there was a lot more to James Dean than many people thought at the time, and I think he would be a fascinating dinner party guest – so long as you could enourage him to come out of his shell a little bit.
Next would be Stephen Fry. Predictable, yes – but he genuinely does seem to be a good egg, and someone with whom you could have both an intelligent converation and a jolly good laugh!
Following on the theme of humour would be John Cleese. I hope he’d be able to do some silly walks (though age might be against him now!) and I reckon he and Mr Fry would get on marvellously.
Another joker in the pack would be The Special One – Jose Mourinho. English football is most definitely brightened up when Jose is around and I’m sure he would charm, frustrate and entertain the dinner party guests. He’d also be a bit of eye candy!
Four men so far, so let’s bring the first woman to the table – Jo Brand. I met her once, briefly, at an awards ceremony I was shortlisted for. We chatted for a few minutes about magic knickers and I’d very much like to continue the conversation.
On the topic of magic knickers, I think Gok Wan would have to be at the party. His is one of the few celebrity biographies I’ve read (ok listened to – it was an audio book) and despite his celebrity status and the fact that he seems to be everywhere sometimes, he seems very genuine, very down to earth and quite humble. I’d also ask him to take a look over my wardrobe and give me some fashion advice while he was there, as I definitely need it!
So that’s the first six …. who next? Number 7 would be Agatha Christie – my favourite crime writer. In fact, I think I’d try to speak to her in avance and see if she could arrange a good old murder mystery party.
I’d also invite Lynne Reid Banks, author of The L Shaped Room, which is my favourite book of all time. I heard her interviewed on the radio a while ago and I have so many questions I’d like to ask her. I think I’d quite like her to stay behind at the end so I had her all to myself for a while!
Neil Armstrong would be an interesting chap to invite to a dinner party. After all, not many people have seenearth from the moon …. I’d love to hear about his experiences of space and find out what he thinks about the moon landing conspiracy theories.
Number 10 would be a chap you probably won’t have heard of – Jerry Mills. Jerry is an educator, speaker and singer songwriter from America. I met him at the ADDISS conference and found him incredibly inspiring, and I was sad that I didn’t get the chance to speak to him in person. I’d love to just chat to him about life, the universe and how he has conquered his ADHD and hopefully he’d bring his guitar and give us a few songs too.
Victoria Wood would be a fantastic guest. She’d be able to tell some jokes, sing some songs (perhaps with Jerry!), get everyone laughing and then help with the clearing up afterwards over a G&T.
My final guest would be David Tennant. Yum. That’s all I need to say!
Food ….. definitely curry. And beer. Reckon everyone likes a good curry …. but if they dont, then they don’t deserve to be invited! It wouldn’t be a very elegant affair. I see us sitting round the table, making the meal last for hours, chatting and laughing and picking at a huge number of different dishes. And pulling crackers and wearing silly hats and letting off party poppers. And I wouldn’t do any of the cooking … I’d get in a massive takeaway from the local Indian restaurant!
This entry is prompt #12 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
This week’s prompt is – The year you were born
The world was a pretty unsettled place in 1971, especially in Asia, where India and Pakistan went to war with each other. Closer to home unemployment in the UK had reached its highest post-war levels and there were many protest marches and industrial strikes, including the first ever strike by postal workers.
1971 was a year of firsts … including the first One Day International cricket match, played between England and Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground. The first ever pocket calculator was invented by Texas Instruments, Intel released the first single chip computer microprocessor, and the first CAT scan was done. 1971 also saw the invention of internet chat rooms, email, floppy disks and Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) – it was definitely all a sign of things to come. Other debuts in 1971 include the NASDAQ, FedEx, Greenpeace and the Morris Marina. 1971 was also the year of the first ever Reading Festival “of jazz and progressive music” …
During 1971 Mother Nature demonstrated her power, with earthquakes in California, Peru, Italy and Turkey; tornadoes in Mississippi; tsunamis in India and Japan; and “the century’s snowstorm’ in Quebec. Mount Etna also erupted during this year.
Space exploration was a hot topic in 1971. America sent Apollo 14 to land on the moon, and the crew of Apollo 15 explored the moon’s surface in a lunar buggie a few months later. The Russian space project was not so successful though, as the crew of Soyuz 11 died when the air supply ran out because of a leak.
Britain was getting to grips with a new currency in 1971 as decimalisation came in. School children were also having to cope without their midday milk because “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” took it away (though many local authorities continued supplying it for some years to come).
Trouble in Northern Ireland escalated during 1971, including a huge bomb blast killing 17 people and injuring several more. The IRA also bombed the Post Office Tower in London.
In sports news, Arsenal won both the FA Cup and the Football League in 1971. In better news, Chelsea won the European Cup Winners’ Cup (hurrah!). There was a football disaster this year though, when 66 fans were killed in a stairway crush at Ibrox, at a game between Rangers and Celtic.
Finally, in 1971 Blue Peter presenters Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves buried a time capsule in the Blue Peter Garden, to be dug up in the year 2000. Must have seemed a long way away at the time!
Political Leaders in 1971:
- UK: Edward Heath
- USA: Richard Nixon
- Russia: Leonid Brezhnev
- India: Indira Gandhi
- France: Georges Pompidou
Films in 1971:
Ryan’s Daughter, The Aristocats, The Andromeda Strain, The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Books of 1971:
The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty), The Day of the Jackal (Frederick Forsyth), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S Thompson), Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C O’Brien), Maurice (EM Forster), The Lorax (Dr Seuss).
UK TV Debuts in 1971:
Crystal Tipps and Alistair, The Two Ronnies, The Onedin Line, Upstairs Downstairs, Old Grey Whistle Test, Parkinson, Budgie, The Generation Game, The Persuaders!
Music in 1971:
The most popular bands or singers in 1971 included Bob Dylan, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Mungo Jerry, Jackson 5 (and Michael Jackson), Marvin Gaye, The Osmonds, Tina and Ike Turner, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones. Number one on the day I was born was Dave Edmunds with I Hear You Knocking – but if I’d been born four days later it would have been Clive Dunn’s Grandad!
Notable deaths in 1971:
Jim Morrison, Coco Chanel, Igor Stravinsky, Louis Armstrong.
Notable births in 1971:
- TV presenter Jayne Middlemiss (my birthday twin!)
- Gary Barlow of Take That fame
- Comedian Patrick Kielty
- Sports presenter/writer Clare Balding
- Popstrel Sonia
- Actor and one-time X Factor judge Amanda Holden
- Melinda Messenger, page 3 girl, actress and Swindon-ite
- F1 driver David Coulthard
- Actor Ewan McGregor
- David Tennant – the best Doctor Who!
- Future Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
- Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of Ali G, Bruno, Borat etc
- Singer Dido
- And me!
This entry is prompt #11 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
This week’s prompt is Military (timed to coincide with Remembrance Day)
Did you join the military? Were you encouraged or discouraged?
Did a family member? Regular or for a particular incident?
Did you or your family serve overseas in the line of Service either during a war or a posting
Any thoughts, photographs, memories relevant
This will be a very short entry as I have never served in the military, nor have any of my immediate family – in fact we’re a family of pacifists and if my brother or I had ever been called up we would have been conscientious objectors. And my son has flat feet and a disability so he’s safe too!
There have been a few family members who have served, though I’m pretty patchy on the details. My maternal grandfather Frank Herron was called up for WWII and in fact met my grandmother while he was stationed at barracks in Halifax. He was then in action in North Africa and, towards the end of the war, in Italy.
Both my grandmother’s brothers – Harry and Walter Stansfield – were military men during and (definitely in Harry’s case) after WWII. Walter was part of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and worked undercover with the French Resistance for quite some time, during which time he was incommunicado. I did hear of how that he was parachuted into France on a secret mission and he damaged his leg during the operation but I don’t know more than that. He rose to the rank of Major. Harry had a successful career in the RAF, travelling all over the place and reaching the rank of Group Captain before he died far too early at 42.
My step grandad – my grandma’s second husband (and cousin) was a wire drawer so was not called up as it was a reserved occupation. He was also a part time professional footballer, playing for Cardiff City, and he spent the war years playing regional football as league football was all stopped. I don’t know about my paternal grandfather – I’ve never heard anything about him being in the military.
Perhaps the most interesting military (ish) connection in my family is with my great uncle, Albert Mervyn Thompson. He was stationed at Bletchley Park during the war, working on the Enigma project. When he was a child we wrote to each other occasionally and in one letter he told me a little about his time there, how they thought they were wasting their time trying to decode these things but in fact their work was quite probably what won the war. After the war he was in Germany, though I’m not sure in what capacity, and he told me about seeing Himmler’s right arm through a window in the men’s toilet! Apparently journalists were queuing up to get a look.
(I have the letters from him somewhere in the garage and one day I’ll dig them out and add his exact words here.)
So that’s all I have to say on this subject … (And thanks to my mum for giving me some additional information!)
This entry is prompt #10 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
This week’s (Week 10) prompt is Unexplained Memories
Do you have an unexplained memory or memories?
Things and times you can remember, but you are not sure where they fit into your past
I have been mulling this one over all weekend and genuinely haven’t come up with any unexplained memories to write about. My memory is shockingly bad anyway, but I do have lots of glimpses of things from my past – odd flashes of images, scenes, smells, sounds – but nothing that I can’t explain or that doesn’t fit into what I know of my family story.
However, I was talking about this with my mum and she came up with her own unexplained memory so I thought I’d mention that – and perhaps if any family members ever read this they might be able to solve the mystery for her!
Mum has a very strong memory of being a young child and either being in a room, or walking into a room, where a very old lady was sitting up in bed, wrapped in a black shawl. She didn’t think much about it at the time but has since wondered who it was. Mum thinks it was probably one of her her great grandmothers but when she asked her mother about it she was told that there was never a time when she would have seen anyone matching that description ….. so it’s a real mystery!
(Update: Following me adding this post Mum had a long chat with her cousin Michelle, who is a few years older than her. Michelle said that their grandma’s mother (GG Turner)came to Halifax on occasions and stayed with their Grandma and Grandad at the baker’s shop. Michelle remembers an occasion when she and my mum were at the bottom of the stairs – Mum was about 2, she thinks, – and their great grandmother appeared at the top of the stairs, a very stern looking old lady dressed in a black dress with a high collar. So Mum feels it is likely that she was taken into a room where she was at some time as well.)
While I’m writing I want to add a couple of stories my dad told me about his grandparents. I’v never really spoken to Dad much about family but we had a long chat yesterday and I found out all sorts of things, including these two stories, which I know don’t fit into the topic at all but I wanted to record them somewhere! So here goes …
My dad’s grandmother (his father’s mother) was a professional cook and till the day she died she swore blind that she had cooked for the Sultan of Zanzibar. In fact the “Sultan” was actually a Cambridge undergraduate and member of the Bloomsbury Set, Horace De Vere Cole, who set up an elaborate hoax. The real Sultan of Zanzibar was visiting the UK at the time, and a telegram arrived with the Mayor of Cambridge saying the Sultan would be visiting Cambridge the following day and could arrangements be made to welcome him. On the day the Mayor and a group of dignitaries greeted the swarthy-looking “Sultan” and his entourage from the train, showed them round parts of the city and university and offered them refreshments, cooked by my great grandmother. All seemed fine until a couple of days later when one of the people who had met the “Sultan” read in the papers that he was actually in another part of the country that day. In fact, the person he had met was Horace Cole and his friends, blacked up and wearing turbans and robes! Cole sold the story of his hoax to the Daily Mail but despite it being national news, apparently my grandmother refused to believe it and remained convinced for the rest of her life she had cooked for the real Sultan of Zanzibar!
My dad also tells stories of a couple of occasions when he was sent to stay with his grandmother because of illness in the family. The first time she took him to the cinema to see Pinocchio. it was the first time he had ever been to the cinema and while they waited for the film to start he was fascinated by the Art Deco mouldings round the ventilation shafts – he thought they were there to see something dramatic and the shafts were involved. He was quite disappointed when a curtain opened and revealed a flat screen …. not nearly as exciting as he expected. However, he watched the film, and his grandmother fell asleep as soon as it started, snored all the way through it and then declared it “very good” when she woke up at the end.
Another time he was staying with her she promised him a day out to see “sailor work and a wreck”. At least, that’s how he heard it. He was really excited about seeing ships and treasure and shipwrecks …. in fact what they went to was a “sale of work” (crafts, mainly) and the rec … the local recreation ground. Apparently he was very disappointed!
This entry is prompt #9 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
I should start this post by saying I'm not a fan of Halloween and I'm not a fan of fancy dress either … So this is likely to be a short post!
When I was a young girl growing up in London we never did anything for Halloween – in fact I don't even think I knew it existed. We certainly didn't do Trick or a Treat or anything like that. When I joined the Brownies I seem to remember we had a couple of Halloween parties – seems a bit weird now, given that (at the time) it was fundamentally a Christian organisation, and Halloween is closer to the devil! One time I dressed as a broomstick – I wore a brown top and made a skirt from lots of twigs. The other time I was Dracula, with a black cape, vampire teeth and a black plastic top hat with a cardboard bat stuck to it.
We were introduced to Trick or Treat by the mum of one of my daughter's friends, who had grown up in America. The first year we did it was, I think, about 2001 or 2002. I was very concerned about not annoying our neighbours so during the day I went to see them all to explain we'd be coming round and I gave each of them a bag of sweets to give back to my kids! I can't remember what they dressed as – I'm pretty sure Katie was a witch, and at that time Dan probably went as a Tellytubby! We did the same thing every year after that, just visiting the five or six houses nearest ours to collect the sweets I'd left earlier in the day. We used to get a few kids knocking on our door but really it didn't seem to be very popular.
In 2005 we moved to Oxfordshire to a small village and to my surprise Halloween and Trick or Treating suddenly seemed to be a big deal – and not just for the little kids, either. It was a easy to tell which houses were taking part, because they always had pumpkins on the windowsill or on the doorstep. For three years I and the kids joined in, going only to the houses that had pumpkins. I never really enjoyed it though – the idea of demanding sweets from strangers just doesn't sit well with me really. We then moved house again and the kids just seemed to outgrow it, much to my relief. Nowadays I turn off the lights and ignore the doorbell on Halloween!
This entry is prompt #8 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
Prompt #8 is Time Capsule
1. You can choose who to create the time capsule for as that will influence what you put (or would put into your time capsule)
2. The creation of a time capsulea. you can do this in the literal sense orb. you can simply write what you would place into your time capsule and why. It is much more fun to create though!
* You may choose to create a time capsule for your children, or a niece/nephew, for grandchildren – A physical item that you will give to a named person.
*Why have you chosen that person and when do you intend for them to have it?
*You may choose to create a time capsule of your home and leave it for someone in the future to find.
*You may want to create a time capsule relating to an actual event or anniversary
*If you create a physical time capsule, what did you choose to use as your capsule and why?
Hmm now this one had me flummoxed for a while. I've been looking on this as a writing project so the idea of making something physical was a bit daunting. But I've been thinking about it this evening and have come up with a cunning plan. I won't be able to make my (first) time capsule for a few years yet – in fact I have no idea when I'll start making it, or how many I'll need to make. Because I am going to make time capsules for each of my grandchildren – assuming some come along some time!
I want the time capsules to be a record of my life, and the world in general, on the day each of my grandchildren is born, so on the day (or around the day) of their birth I'll be adding things like:
- Photo of me and whoever I was living with at the time
- Photo of my home
- Postcard or leaflet about the area I'm living
- Newspaper of the day
- CD with the number one on the day, or perhaps the top ten
- DVD with some TV programmes including the news and adverts
- Best selling book
- Fashion magazine
- Some sort of catalogue – IKEA, maybe, or Argos
- A hand written letter
- Sweet wrappers/ chocolate bar wrappers etc
- Technology magazine
- Some things from nature – pine cones, leaves etc
- An item of clothing for my grandchild to wear on their 18th birthday
- An 18th birthday card
- A piece of jewellery or some special little thing of mine
- Something I've made/painted myself
- Coins minted the year of their birth
- Souvenirs from any special events that year eg Olympics, World Cup
- Any other bits and pieces I think of!
Once I've created the time capsule I'll label it with the child's name and the date of their 18th birthday, and give it to their parent with strict instructions for it not to be opened until then. And I'll create one for each grandchild …
Photo: Flickr CC / Charles Cartensen
This entry is prompt #7 of The Book of Me, Written by You project.
The prompt for week 7 is GrandparentsWhat were their names?Where were they from?Were they related? – Cousins perhapsWhere were they born, another Country or state/areaPhotosWhat did they do?Did you know them?What was your relationship with them?If you didn’t know them have you researched about them?
My Maternal Grandparents
Mary Stansfield and Fred Stansfield (Grandma and Grandad Fred)
Eileen Smith and Frank Herron (Grandma and Grandad Yorkshire)
Let me tell you a little story …
Yorkshire, shortly before WWII. Frank Herron, a Londoner who’d been called up and was based in Halifax, meets Mary Stansfield, a good Yorkshire lass who works in a bakery over the road from the barracks. They marry and a baby is conceived. Then Frank is sent away to fight the war, leaving Mary to deliver and bring up the baby alone. Linda is four when she first meets her father and she doesn’t understand who this strange man is; in fact, after a week of him being home she asks her mother, in earshot of her father, when “that man” is going to leave. The relationship between father and daughter is never good and though he provides for his family, Frank is never really a proper dad to Linda.
After the war Frank works as a commercial salesman and Mary works in retail, in another bakery and later in a ladies’ outfitters. When their daughter is 12 they buy a business – a florist’s shop. Mary’s best friend Eileen trained as a florist before her marriage and she teaches Mary everything she knows, and Mary, being the creative type, picks it up very easily. Mary owns and runs the business but Eileen also works in the shop.
Spool on some years. Linda has a place at Exeter University to study German. However, her mother has become very ill and the day before Linda leaves for uni Mary goes into hospital to have an operation, a heart valve replacement, one of the first operations of its kind in the country. Surgery goes well but she is very weak for a long time afterwards. Eileen takes over the running of the florist shop while Mary is recuperating.
Two months later Mary receives an anonymous letter. It says that her husband Frank and her best friend Eileen have been having an affair. Mary confronts Frank, who admits that they have been conducting the affair for five years. Next day Mary wakes late to find Frank gone, along with all his possessions, the money from the joint bank account, even the contents of the red tin where the bill money is kept. All Mary has is the money in her purse – a £5 note and a few coins. Later that day Eileen’s husband calls, concerned that Eileen has disappeared … she’s gone as well.
Linda, away in Exeter and enjoying university life, is blissfully unaware of what is going on. At Easter she goes to Germany as part of her degree course, and at some stage she stays with some family and her mother comes over for a few days – and finally tells her that her father has left. Mary tries hard to find Frank – and finds out via the bank that he and Eileen are living in London. A divorce is arranged and the marriage is over. Linda doesn’t hear from her father for three years – no birthday cards, nothing. Eventually she receives a letter from him, which she throws away. Another letter arrives and she reads it and agrees to meet him – by this time she’s left uni and is about to go to Finland for a year to teach English, so she stays over at his house in Stansted, with him and Eileen, by now married, the night before she sails. As you can imagine, it’s a difficult evening. The relationship between Linda and her father deteriorates to the point where she doesn’t even invite him to her wedding. Once she has her own children she keeps in contact, believing that her children deserve to know their grandfather regardless of what he’s done. To his credit, though he doesn’t see his grandchildren often, he does a reasonable job of being a grandad. Frank and Eileen eventually move back to Yorkshire and stay together, happily, till their deaths a year apart in the mid 1990s.
Back in Yorkshire in the 1960s Mary is finding life difficult. With Eileen gone there was no one to run the florist shop while Mary was ill so the shop closed and the lease was relinquished. The shock of Frank’s affair brought on depression and Mary was prescribed Valium, but after a few years of feeling like a zombie she decided she’d had enough and threw away the pills. Now she doesn’t really know what to do with her life … until a letter arrives from her cousin, Fred Stansfield.
Fred’s branch of the family live in Cardiff. In his youth Fred had been a footballer; at his peak he was player-manager for Cardiff City and won a cap for Wales. He married Vera and the couple had a baby, Janet; it was a tricky birth as Vera suffered pre-eclampsia but fortunately the baby, Janet was born tiny, but alive. A broken leg put paid to Fred’s playing career and after stints as manager at Newport and Barnet he and Vera opened a newsagents in a small village near the city. All was well till Vera died suddenly of a blood clot in the brain, when Janet was 18. Fred struggled to run the shop on his own but he had no head for business … hence the letter.
In the letter, Fred invites his cousin Mary down to Cardiff to help him run the shop. They’ve always been close and he’s heard from other family members that Mary is at a bit of a crossroads in her life. It’s just what she needs to get things going again. She moves into Fred’s bungalow – sleeping separately at first, but the couple soon realise that the closeness they have always felt is actually love. In fact, they are soul mates. After a couple of years they marry. Janet finds it hard to accept – she feels that Mary is trying to replace her mother. However, Linda is thrilled as she knows her mother deserves some happiness in her life.
They run the newsagents shop together till their retirement and then enjoy some quality time together. They’re a perfect match – they never argue, they’re always happy. Mary’s health is not good – she has further heart surgery, arthritis, osteoporosis, sciatica – but Fred is always there for her. Mary and Fred enjoy a very happy life together for nearly thirty years, till Mary dies, suddenly, on 12th December 1997 – Fred’s 80th birthday. Fred spends the next ten years mourning for Mary until loss of memory through Alzheimer’s, curiously, takes away the pain. He’s still with us now, approaching his 96th birthday, though these days he doesn’t know who he is, let alone anyone else.
Meet my maternal grandparents – Grandma and Grandad Yorkshire (my grandfather and step-grandmother) and Grandma and Grandad Fred (photo, left) – two of the happiest, loveliest people you could ever meet.
I was never close to Grandma and Grandad Yorkshire – as a child I thought it was just because they lived so far away, but now I know the full story the reasons are obvious. On the other hand, I was really close to Grandma and Grandad Fred. Because of the newsagents business they were rarely able to visit us but we often used to go and stay in the school holidays and we had great fun “working” in the shop! Grandad worked incredibly hard – up early to sort out the papers for delivery, and usually the last to leave the shop at the end of the day. He was a bundle of fun though, the kind of man who was always laughing, singing or whistling. Grandma worked hard too but when we went to stay she usually managed to get some time off to take us to the seaside for the day. As a teenager I went through a period where I was a bit embarrassed of my grandma, with her flapping slacks and funny fur hats, but as I got older I became much closer and taking my baby daughter to visit her was one of the highlights of my life. She was a fabulous Great Grandma – or GiGi, as she became known – and though she died when Katie was 3 (and Dan was only 5 weeks old) there are many lovely memories of her to carry on through the generations.
My Paternal Grandparents
Evelyn Smith and Roland Thompson (Nanna and Grandad Pussies – because they had two cats!)
I’ve always been very proud of the fact that I am descended from gypsy stock. My great grandfather Cornelius Smith was a full Romany and the great nephew of Rodney Smith, the famous gypsy evangelist. Cornelius’ father Ezekiel was from the last generation of the family to be tent dwellers. In fact, the story goes that Rodney bought Ezekiel a house but when he came round to visit one day there was no sign of Ezekiel. He was camped out on Ely Common, complaining that the house was too cold to live in and he was much more comfortable in his tent! Anyway, Great Grandfather Cornelius was a builder and bricklayer – apparently a very skilled one at that. He was doing some work at a house where he met chambermaid Jane Sparrow, my great nanna (who died at the grand old age of 101 in the early 1990s) and they fell in love and married. They had one son, Douglas, and then emigrated to Canada, as so many people did back then, to find a better way of life and make their fortune. I can only imagine that the streets weren’t paved with gold after all, for they returned a few years later, now with a daughter too – my nanna, Evelyn.
The family lived in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and Cornelius continued in the building trade, working for the same construction company until he was 70. As far as I know Jane was a housewife. Evelyn left school and became a tailoress for one of the official Cambridge University tailors, and that was where she met Roland Thompson, my grandad.
Roland’s family were mainly farmers and railway workers – his father had been an engine driver – and his mother was a professional cook. Roland tried but failed to get a job on the railway himself and he found work as a tailor. After meeting Evelyn they married and had two children – John (my dad) and Janice.They lived in Cambridge, first in Coldhams Lane, then in a university-owned house and finally in Harvey Goodwin Avenue, named after a Cambridge academic and clergyman. At some stage Grandad got an administration job at the Cambridge Union, and Nanna worked in the Union cafe. However, Grandad’s career took him through the ranks and eventually he became Chair of the Union and he felt it was unseemly for his wife to be working in the cafe, so he made her give it up. Apparently she really enjoyed the job, she was very sociable and loved meeting people, but she was also an obedient wife and she took on the role of full time housewife, making sure the house was spick and span and dinner was on the table when Roland arrived home each night.
We used to visit my grandparents in Cambridge two or three times a year – I almost feel like a traitor, living as close as I do to Oxford now – though I will always prefer the lush riverside parks of Cambridge to the dreaming spires of Oxford! We almost always saw my great uncle, Roland’s brother Mervyn (actually Albert Mervyn … But I don’t think anyone called him Albert). He was a teacher at an all-girls school and a talented musician, a bachelor and a bit of an eccentric. The story goes that Mervyn was also sweet on Evelyn but was a very shy man – and Roland stepped in and asked her out first. Interestingly, my dad is much more like Mervyn than Roland …. I’m sure it’s all just genetics but it does make you wonder …..!
Grandad died when I was 9 so my memories of him are quite vague. He retired from the union in May, when he turned 65, and died six months later, one Saturday in December; he had a massive heart attack and literally dropped dead on the bedroom floor. I remember Douglas phoning to tell us … We were watching Swap Shop on the TV, Dad was (unusually) home and Mum answered the phone. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t go to his funeral … My parents though my brother and I were too young.I remember Grandad as a lovely man, very entertaining and always smiling. He smoked a pipe and the smell of pipe tobacco always reminds me of him. Perhaps my most vivid memory is of him rubbing balloons on his jumper and sticking them on the ceiling, all the time laughing his head off! However, my dad says he was very strict,a workaholic with no hobbies or interests outside work, so obviously I didn’t know him properly. I have fond memories of Nanna and Grandad’s ruby wedding party – my cousins, my brother and I were allowed to decorate the cake and we used every single decoration we could find – including Father Christmas! Of course Nanna and Grandad loved it.
When Grandad died everyone thought Nanna would fall apart because she had been devoted to Roland. They were also a very traditional couple and he managed the finances while she kept the house nice – until his death she had never even written a cheque! But she amazed everyone by coping really well with his death. She stayed on in Cambridge for a few years and then moved down to Somerset where my aunt lives. Despite having all sorts of problems with her back and being in pain a lot of her life, Nanna was a dear, and she played a big part in my life. She’d often come on summer holidays with us and I can picture her now, sitting on the beach at Cromer with her headscarf on! There are many “nanna phrases” that bring her back to me – “Husky, dear” and I’m easy, dear” will always bring a smile to my face. She was quite a saucy character, with a wicked sense of humour and a penchant for lacy underwear, even in her old age.
Nanna lived in her own house in Somerset till she was almost ninety, when she went to live in a care home. We threw her a surprise party for her 90th birthday. I’m not sure if it’s wise doing that to someone at that age but it was a lovely event and she seemed so thrilled to have all her family, including her great grandchildren, with her. Nanna had a stroke the following year – my cousin and I went to see her and she couldn’t speak to us but scribbled on a notepad “Not dead yet!” – and later she fell and broke her hip. She was pinned back together and was soon back on her feet but sadly her health started to deteriorate quite quickly from there and she died in 2011, aged 94.
I think I’ve been truly blessed to have had such lovely grandparents, and to have been given the opportunity to get to know them. Grandma and Grandad Fred and Nanna played a huge part in my life and I feel their influence and heritage every day. I’m actually shocked at how little I know about my paternal grandparents in comparison with my maternal ones …. time to do something about that!
More photos to be added.
This entry is prompt #6 ofThe Book of Me, Written by You project.
Do you keep a journal or diary?
How far back do they go? What do you record?
Where do you keep them?
Do you always buy the same one or vary them?
Have you inherited any?
Do you intend to pass along your journals or destroy them?
Do you have a favourite?
What do you use to write with – biro, pencil, ink or fountain pen?
The subject of journals is one that leads me to one of the biggest regrets of my life …
When I was a child – maybe nine or ten – I started my first diary – or “dairy’, as I carefully constructed on the cover, in letters cut from the Guardian. I wrote a few bits in it about things that were happening in the world at the time – I can remember writing about a boy who got stuck and later died in an artesian well, and about Maze prisoner Bobby Sands’ hunger strike. Strange things for a young girl to be writing about, admittedly! I also had several of those little diaries with a padlock and key, often for birthday presents or in my Christmas stocking, and I sometimes started writing a journal but never kept it up for long.
However, once I became a teenager my diary was hugely important to me. I wrote in A4 lined notebooks, normally in blue ink but sometimes in other colours too, and I wrote pages and pages about my life – the boys I fancied, the tiffs I’d had with friends, the things I’d done, places I’d been, songs and films that were important to me at the time. I must have had half a dozen books completed by the time I left home at the age of eighteen. Most of them I kept in the wooden box my brother built me for my birthday one year. However, I knew the lock was easy to pick so I did have an extra secret diary hidden under the carpet under my bed!
Once I was out in the big wide world of adulthood I didn’t bother with writing a journal – I reckoned I was too busy living life to write about it! Eventually I settled down with my children’s father, who was quite jealous about the fact that I’d had a life before I met him. One day I went to my parents’ house without him. They were clearing out the attic and wanted to know what to do with the contents of the box, which had ended up there when my brother took over my bedroom after I left. I was worried that if I took the diaries back with me my partner would read them and cause a scene, so in a moment of madness I said they should just throw everything away – including the diaries. It’s probably one of the biggest regrets of my life and I have dreamt of searching the local rubbish tip looking for my diaries … I’ve often felt like I lost a part of myself the day I lost those diaries, and as the mother of a daughter myself, I have often longed to be able to read them to remember what it was like being a teenager. Nothing I can do about it now, of course, but I will go to my grave regretting my decision that day.
Roll on a few years and life with my partner was not good. In fact life had been decidedly not good for a long time but I had shut away the horrors of everyday life to be able to survive. Eventually I felt that I had to get those thoughts and feelings out of my head, and I knew that writing a diary would be the way to do it. So I found a red exercise book that my daughter had brought home from school one day, and I started writing. I was terrified my partner would find it so I hid it behind the tumble dryer – but I was constantly worried it would be discovered. My mum used to save the Guardian “Editor” section for me every weekend (How I miss that bit of the paper!) and one week there was mention of an online diary site: Open Diary. By this stage my partner was working nights and I had every evening to myself so one night I logged on, just to see what it was all about, and I quickly found myself creating an account so I could browse the site and read other people’s diary entries – the idea fascinated me. At the time I did an evening cleaning job and that night the car had broken down and my daughter and I had had to walk the last bit of the journey home, so my user name was easy … Sapphire, after our car, which was a Sierra Sapphire. A few days later I wrote my first entry:
I am so glad I have found this site! I have been starting diaries on and off for years, simply to soak up my frustration and anger at this thing we call life, but Im always so afraid that the MOG (miserable old git) will find them that I throw them away after a couple of days. So at last I can express my dreams and fears, my hopes and my anger whenever (well, kind of) I like, weithout fear of being caught! Its great!
Anyway, can’t write much today, the kids are having a late dinner after a fun afternoon in the paddling pool, and the MOG will be in from work soon, in one of his usual wonderful moods I suppose (ha ha). I was debating whether to make this diary a private affair, like they are traditionally meant to be, but then I thought, hey, what the hell? If anyone is mad or sad enough to be interested in my rather tedious ramblings, they must have an even worse life than me, so their welcome to any light relief I can provide!!! Anyway, better get going before he gets in. Been a good day today, I want to savour the happy feeling as long as I can!
I was hooked. Whenever I could I’d log on to the diary site, catch up on my favourites, leave a few comments and write my own entry. At first the entries were about day to day stuff …. what I’d been doing with the kids, my childminding job, the weather. But gradually I started talking of the hidden things in my life – the violence that had happened earlier in my relationship, the fear I lived with constantly, my wish to find a future for me and my children that was safe and secure. People started to respond, telling me I needed to get out and do what was right for me, and as more and more people started offering support I opened up more and more. Eventually I felt confident enough to tell a couple of friends the truth about my life, and then my mum. Mum was obviously horrified to hear that I had been the victim of domestic violence and she resolved to help me and the children escape.I found a house, she helped with the deposit and in April 2001 we moved out to start our new, safe life. If it wasn’t for my online diary I don’t know where I’d be now…
Over the next ten years my diary was the holder of all sorts of news and emotions, from my son’s diagnosis with ADHD to my daughter losing her virginity, from dates good and bad with men good and bad to my ill-advised marriage and subsequent divorce, from holidays to Norfolk and Portugal to day trips with the kids. I poured out my emotions day after day to my diary; it was my safe place, the one place I could vent about life as a single parent, about the dating game, about the constant battle I had with schools to support my son, about every little thing that was going on. But then life suddenly got good, and calm, and content – and I found I didn’t really have much to write about. Every now and then I dip back into it, write an entry or two when I’m going through a difficult time (recently I’ve written a little about the death of my ex-partner MOG, as he was known in the diary), but I don’t sit there writing for hours every night …. and in some ways I wish I did because I’ve lost that reminder of so many memorable aspects of my life.
I recently wrote a book about life with a child with ADHD and my diary helped provide much of the content for that book. It also showed up just how many holes there are in my life story – I have this amazing document detailing my life for the last fifteen years, but it’s incomplete. Perhaps writing this piece now, for the Book of Me project, will be the catalyst for me to start keeping a diary again. I have a feeling it might be.
Keeping a journal has changed my life, more than once. As a teenage it probably kept me sane. As an adult it helped me escape from a controlling relationship, and I haven’t looked back from there. And this year it helped me write a book, which has changed my life in all sorts of ways, including my initiation as a public speaker! So it seems crazy that I no longer do it, don’t you think?
Oh, I do still keep a diary of sorts, though – a physical diary, not a virtual one. My daughter bought me a special five year diary for Christmas last year. Every day has a question and the idea is you write a short answer every day, and then answer the same questions in a year’s time, two years, three, four, five. I’ve kept it up to date all this year and am looking forward to reading my responses on the same days next year and seeing how little – or how much – I’ve changed.