Category Archives: memories

Remembering Mum

This winter (2017/18), Christmas and the following couple of weeks, have been particularly difficult for me because they have been filled with memories of my mother. January 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of her death, and I can’t help thinking back to that last Christmas, when she was so ill but so determined to have one last celebration.

Mum always loved Christmas. She loved having a big tree, as big as would fit in the living room, and every treasured bauble and length of tinsel was brought down from the loft and lavished over the tree. Next came the planning, cooking and freezing of countless treats, sweet and savoury. She was a great cake baker and pastry cook, and would make vast quantities of mince pies, sausage rolls, little vol-au-vent cases, a huge fruity cake, and anything else that took her fancy. She and Dad didn’t drink a lot, but probably spent 90% of their annual alcohol expenditure just on Christmas drinks. When I was a child I remember our treat of a bottle of wine for Christmas dinner was always Mateus Rose, the only wine, I think, that they had ever heard of! Then there was whiskey, rum, gin, sherry, port, and all the mixers necessary.


A Christmas montage; Mum and I in the 1970s, Mum and Eva fooling around, and a corner of a Christmas photo from the 1960s

About two weeks before Christmas, the round of visiting friends and family started, and we tried to see everyone in the run up to Christmas, sometimes several times, as we went to their house for drinks, then they came to ours. Small spontaneous parties broke out here and there, as the numbers of visitors waxed and then waned again. It sounds like a very boozy time, and I suppose it was. The whole process culminated in Christmas Day, when we took presents to Nan & Grandad and popped in to see Auntie Lucy and Uncle Bob, ending up at our friends Dick & Eva – all within walking distance in the village, which was just as well as none of the friends or relatives were stingy with the bottle! I remember one Christmas Day, Dad drank so much of Dick & Eva’s rum that he disgraced himself on the walk home and as a result didn’t much fancy the huge meal Mum had so carefully prepared. He was not allowed to live that memory down!


Mum and Nana Foster in the 1960s; Mum with Rocky the rescue dog and Chicko the rescued Silkie cockerel

When she was diagnosed as terminally ill, it was October 1992, the leaves were turning gold on the trees on the drive back from the hospital, and the sun was shining; it always seems wrong that the sun was shining. Sadness descended on the house, but Mum didn’t let the doctor’s diagnosis that she had only a couple of weeks to live deter her. She was certain she would live to enjoy another Christmas, and she did, although the memory of that time is painful to those of us she left behind. The meal was huge, as always, although I think I cooked most of it that year, but she no longer had much appetite and it tasted pretty dust-like to me. And she had not been able to go out to visit friends (many had by this time already left the village and moved far away), and she was estranged from a couple of her sisters so no visits there. In fact, she did not really want people to know how sick she was, and I think the only people who visited were Janet and David, friends for many years. So it wasn’t really like the Christmases she had used to plan and cook and decorate for. I hope she enjoyed it, I think she did, but it took a lot of her dwindling resources of energy. She saw in the New Year, and phoned me up to wish me a happy 1993. She had done what she had set out to do, see another Christmas, and she was satisfied. A week or so later, she went back into the hospice, and on 19th January she slipped into a coma and died.

Although I cherish all the memories of Christmas from my childhood, the memory of that last Christmas will always haunt me and colours my attitude to Christmas as a whole to this day, twenty-five years later.

Mum 1980s

See Mother’s Day and An Ordinary Woman for more memories of my Mum.


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Mother’s Day

Mothering Sunday, or Mother’s Day, is just another overly commercialised gift giving opportunity, designed to increase sales for makers of greeting’s cards and sellers of overpriced cut flowers. Or so I used to think. We start life wholly dependent upon our parents, but as we grow up (and if they have done a good job of bringing us up) we inch imperceptibly away from them, building our own lives mentally and physically elsewhere. Sometimes, we still live with or close to them, but spend our spare time with friends; sometimes, we live great distances away and see them only intermittently.

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Even after I married, I lived only twenty minutes drive from my parents, and used to visit often; sometimes calling in after work for a cup of tea, sometimes going ‘home’ for Sunday lunch. Even when I moved further away, I still managed to visit monthly and spoke on the phone (no Skype in those days!) several times a week. I still took it for granted that my Mum would always be there, as a sounding board, a source of friendly gossip, a familiar voice. I suppose, I never really thought about a special day for mothers because mine was ‘always there’. And then she wasn’t. My Mum died in January 1993; 24 years have gone by, and every year since I would give anything to have been able to give her a gift and an overpriced card for Mother’s Day. I guess I really did take it for granted that I would have her, if not forever, then at least for a lot more years.



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Farewell to Nelly

After fourteen and a half years of faithful service, it is time to say farewell to Nelly, my seventeen year old Toyota RAV4 car. It was love at first sight for me, when I bought her in 2001. I had been looking for a four-wheel drive but didn’t want a monster truck spewing diesel pollution, and the three-door cherry red petrol RAV4 was perfect for me. When I got her she had 9,000 miles on the clock and was in pristine condition. She leaves me somewhat the worse for wear, with chips out of the bonnet and rust patches on the outside of the wheel arches, and over 180,000 miles on the clock.

Nelly has got me through ice and snow, gale force winds and driving rain, driving hundreds of motorway miles to work and back each day, carrying bootfuls of animal feed and bedding, taking poorly chickens to the local vet and me to the weekly supermarket shop. I think she deserves a rest.

I was very upset when Phil, the ace car mechanic, told me back in February that she would be unlikely to pass another MOT without considerable work being done on her suspension and gear box, and she has been telling me for some months now that it is time to go. I have put it off for as long as possible, but winter will soon be upon us, and I need something I can rely on up here in the wilds.

So today, I hand her over to a garage in part exchange for a Mitsubishi ASX four-wheel drive. It is not exactly what I want – it is diesel (yuch!), it is black, and it is bigger than Nelly. But I need four-wheel drive, and the choice is limited at the smaller end of the market. I intend to keep it only until the next Mitsubishi Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV) is released because that is what I really want. Nelly will be sorely missed, but seventeen is a good age for a car these days.

Goodbye, Nelly.


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An Ordinary Woman

Today would have been my Mum’s eighty-seventh birthday. Thelma was born in Islington Workhouse Hospital, on 15 September 1928. The workhouse had long been closed as a repository for the destitute of London, but the hospital still provided facilities for the local area.

At Mrs South's, 1929

At Mrs South’s, 1929

Victoria and burgeoning family outside their home in Vegal Crescent Englefield Green

Victoria and burgeoning family outside their home in Vegal Crescent Englefield Green

She and her mum, Victoria, moved around a bit in her first year or so, eventually fetching up near Guildford at the house of Mrs South. Thelma always referred to the lady as Auntie South, but I don’t believe there was any relationship other than friendship between Victoria and Mrs South. When Thelma was about eighteen months old, Victoria met a widower, Henry, a gardener and groundskeeper at Wentworth Golf Club, and they married in 1930. Henry already had four children, two the result of his first marriage, and two his first wife’s children. Thelma was suddenly part of a large family!

The family expanded, with four more daughters added in the next few years, Thelma grew up, went to school, and wanted to become a hairdresser. Unfortunately, Henry saw no future (or useful income) in her training as a hairdresser, and so she shelved her dreams and trained as a secretary instead.

While working at the tank factory at Chobham Common in 1948, she met a handsome young man, recently demobbed and trained in draughtsmanship. She always said that she thought Bill looked like the actor Danny Kaye, with his wavy fair hair and twinkly blue eyes! They married in 1951, and had one daughter.

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Over the years, Thelma worked as a cleaner of other people’s houses, a secretary to the hospital pharmacist, a homemaker and a supporter of Bill’s self-employment. They took holidays – two weeks in Mrs Fudge’s bed and breakfast in Poole Dorset, or touring around Cornwall, or renting a cottage on Exmoor. They never went abroad, never even had a passport. Thelma’s life may have seemed dull by today’s standards, but she was content. She baked delicious cakes, cooked simple meals, knitted, sewed her own clothes, visited friends in the village, and occasionally, when Bill fancied a day away from work, she would pack a picnic and load the dog and the food into the car and off they would go for a ramble.

Bill and Thelma on their wedding day

Bill and Thelma on their wedding day

She had always had a love of birds, and had been a member of the RSPB for many years. She started keeping birds in a small way, with a couple of canaries; Bill built her a large aviary, half under cover and half outside, and she filled it with zebra and other decorative finches, lovebirds, and more canaries. The zebra finches bred like rabbits, although the canaries only ever managed to have one baby. She loved watching the birds flitting around the in the aviary from the comfort of the living room, as well as enjoying the sight of the wild birds at the strategically placed bird table.

When she was in her late fifties, she was diagnosed with cancer. The operation and subsequent radiotherapy was deemed successful and eventually she was told she was in remission. Bill and Thelma celebrated their Ruby Wedding Anniversary in 1991, a fun evening party for which she made all of the food – none of your M & S party packs for Thelma!

Sadly, the remission was short lived, and by the time the cancer was diagnosed again, it was too late for treatment. She died quietly in Windsor hospice in January 1993, aged just sixty-four.

I suppose most people would deem such a quiet life rather boring. Thelma had no career to involve her, she did not have a lot of money to indulge extravagant tastes. She didn’t drive a car, or go out partying, or travel widely. She made a home for her family, cooked and cleaned for them, looked after the pets, worked in fairly menial jobs, and took up and enjoyed a few harmless hobbies. Like, in fact, millions of other ordinary women.

Happy birthday, Mum.

Thelma in 1991

Thelma in 1991

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An Ordinary Man

Today would have been my Dad’s ninetieth birthday. He was eighty-six when he died, a good age as they say, and at least a decade older than either his father or his grandfather.

Nan and Grandad with Socca the golden retriever sometime in the late 1940s

Nan and Granddad with Socca the golden retriever sometime in the late 1940s

He was born in 1925 to William (always called Bill) and Lucy Ellen (always know as Mum, or Nan, or Nell – in fact I did not learn her full name until after she had died). For the first couple of year’s of his life, Dad lived in a small cottage on Crimp Hill Road, but by dint of saving and scrimping granddad acquired the wherewithal to buy a brand new semi-detached house on Straight Road, named Rosebank. This house had a long narrow garden, where granddad grew vegetables, three bedrooms, a parlour and a Sunday best sitting room that no-one ever went into! The house cost £370 in 1928.

Aged 3 years

Aged 3 years

Granddad worked for the Post Office erecting telegraph poles, Nan preserved the fruit and vegetables from the garden, made jam, chutneys, and the most delicious cakes, all in a tiny galley kitchen that would fit into my own kitchen five times over! I especially remember her lardy cake, spicy bread pudding, and my favourite Victoria sponge.

Mum and Dad on their wedding day

Dad was not academic, but he was technically minded, and in his teens he studied to become a draughtsman for small instrument manufacture. He was taken on as an apprentice by Hawker Aviation, and since he was in a reserved occupation did not serve during the Second World War, instead he worked on the Hurricane plane. In 1945, he was called up to National Service and, like his father before him, served in the Royal Signals in the immediate aftermath of the war. After demob in 1947 he went to work at the tank factory on Chobham Common, where he met my Mum.

I never asked him why he switched careers from designing instruments for military machines to watchmaking, but around the time of his marriage in 1951 he went back to college to learn watchmaking and was afterwards taken on by Dysons of Windsor, a well respected local jewellers, as their in-house watch repairer. He worked for them until 1968 when they finally closed their workshops and helped him set up as self-employed in the garden shed. He became well known in the village, and beyond, and there was a steady stream of work in the years that followed. Dysons continued to supply him with their repair intake, but his reputation was such that he had plenty of other work. He told me that Michael Caine’s chauffeur had brought watches to be repaired on a couple of occasions! And that the odd royal watch had passed through his hands. He treated them all the same.

In the army, 1946

In the army, 1946

By this time, we had moved back to live in my grandparents house, they having found it too much to look after and having moved into a ground floor flat in the village near to my Aunt. Dad remodelled the garden, removed the lovely Victoria Plum tree that had been damaged by lightning, and turned much of granddad’s vegetable garden to lawn. Weekends were spent digging a pond, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, tending tomatoes in the greenhouse, much like millions of other people. As well as dogs, Dad liked keeping fish – the pond in the garden was for goldfish – and the birds my Mum loved, such as canaries and zebra finches. He was good with wild creatures, befriending an injured jackdaw, and adopting other birds that no one else wanted, such as the Silkie cockerel Chicko and his sister’s budgie Freddie.

Just as he was about to retire and enjoy a well-earned rest, he instead spent a year caring for my Mum during her last illness, so he never got to experience the sightseeing, the country walks, the quiet companionship, all the things that they had promised themselves they would do once he retired.

He lived a further seventeen years in the house granddad had bought for £370 until age and ill health forced him to move to a bungalow. The day he left the old house where he had lived for almost his entire life, I remember he turned the key in the lock and walked down the path without a last glance back.

So, today would have been his ninetieth birthday. His was a quiet life, no great deeds, nothing really to be remembered. Eighty-six years as a son, husband, father, draughtsman, watchmaker. An ordinary man living an ordinary life. Happy birthday, Dad.


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Knitting with Memories

I do a lot of lace knitting. I also knit a lot of fairisle. Both types of knitting are characterised by repetitive patterning across each row, typically following a chart to use the correct lace stitch or colour. On any one row, one may be required to repeat a specific sequence of stitches 20, 30, or more times, and keeping track of where you are in the pattern can be difficult without some assistance. I use stitch markers to help me work such patterns.20150404_074556

There are many kinds of stitch marker available, from a short length of coloured yarn twisted into a loop to an elegant silver charm. I have bought a few markers in the past, but when I realised how simple they were I decided to make my own utilising my jewellery making experience and skills. I had been sorting through my jewellery box with a view to pruning my collection of cheap and cheerful earrings, when I had a lightbulb moment – dismantle the earrings, attach them to new 8mm silver jump rings, and turn them into stitch markers. This worked surprisingly well, each pair of earrings yielding 7 or 8 markers. My hubby applied his electronics soldering skills to close the gaps on the jump rings, making them perfect for trouble free knitting.wpid-20150402_143331.jpg

My idea had been successful, but I wanted (and needed) more markers for large complex shawls, so I again raided the jewellery box, this time looking at old unworn pendants and charm bracelets. Mum and I each had a charm bracelet back in the 1960s,  when such things were fashionable, but neither had been worn in decades. Some of the charms, such as the silver scooter, were too spiky to be useful in knitting, but most of the others were perfect. I cleaned them all in silver polish, and made them up as for the cheap earrings. They are great to use, but I was unprepared for the emotional side effect. Each time I used one of the silver charms or pendants, it triggered memories of mum, of my childhood, our holidays, celebratory meals out.

In use on my latest shawl is a filigree ball, a St Christopher,  a pair of engraved teardrop earrings,  and half a dozen silver bracelet charms. Every one brings back strong memories and adds an extra dimension to my knitting. I am literally knitting with memories.wpid-20150401_221157.jpg

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The Jackdaw

Many years ago, my Dad used to walk the dog, a lemon Labrador named Jason, every morning in Windsor Great Park. Most mornings, Jason would chase the odd squirrel, or just run after sticks. One morning he found a baby Jackdaw with a broken wing; the bird was alive but would not be for much longer, so Dad took it home, set its wing, and fed it warm milk mashed into bread and hard-boiled egg. To his and Mum’s great surprise, the jackdaw thrived, grew stronger and bigger every day. He was very friendly, even towards me although I was only home at weekends from college. Jacko (my parents were not very imaginative when it came to naming animals!) would sit on Dad’s shoulder while he worked in the shed-cum-office, kept Dad company when he was digging in the garden (hoping for a worm to appear no doubt), and hopped into the kitchen to beg scraps from Mum. He was a thorough house-bird, and came and went through the patio doors at will. At night he slept in the aviary in the back garden, with zebra finches and lovebirds; by day, he came and went where he pleased.

His broken wing had mended well; after a few months he took to flying up onto the shed roof and then swooping down onto the lawn; if I happened to be sunbathing on the lawn, I was targetted! Jacko was very chatty, into everything, curious and very intelligent. He got to be quite famous, and had his picture (sitting on Dad’s shoulder, of course) in the local newspaper.

One day, when he must have been nearly a year old, he disappeared for some hours. He flew off to survey the surrounding area, but returned before nightfall, and hopped back into the aviary. These sorties became more frequent, and he stayed away for longer each time, until eventually he did not return one evening at all. Mum and Dad worried that he had been caught by a cat, or hit by a car; they worried that they had made him too tame, and that he could not fend for himself in the wild. Jacko returned a few days later, still full of beans, and eager to be fed. One day, he flew off in the morning and did not come back for a week or more, but when he did he brought another Jackdaw with him, a female. She was not prepared to come down onto the lawn like Jacko; she stayed on the shed roof but she ate the food Mum threw up there for her. Jacko was still as friendly as ever, sat on Dad’s shoulder and fed from his hand. Eventually, the two jackdaws flew off, probably to the Great Park where there was a colony of jackdaws. They visited several times more that year, sometimes Jacko came on his own, sometimes he brought several others with him, but eventually he did not return, and although flocks of jackdaws would fly over the house and garden from time to time, none showed any special interest in Mum and Dad’s garden.

It seems that Jacko had been successfully integrated into the wild after living with humans for over a year. Perhaps his great grandchildren still fly over the house and garden before swooping back to roost in the Park.

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The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things

Few words this week, just pictures of the things I value.

Sailing into the sunset

Sunsets at home

Happy Chickens

New life

Family - our nephew Jake

Homegrown Harvest

Homemade Bread

Warmth on a cold day

The comfort of knitting

Walking with my beloved

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Forget Me Not

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Rhubarb Jam and Lovage Wine

We had a productive weekend; as well as finishing the chicks’ new, bigger, pen, we also had time to rack off our latest batch of Turbocider, make jam, and set another demijohn of wine going. Both the jam and the wine were made from largely free ingredients.

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

I love Rhubarb and Ginger Jam; it was a particular favourite of my Mum’s. I remember going on a shopping trip to Reading with her when I was about 10, and the only thing we came back with was a large jar of the said preserve – but she didn’t feel that the trip had been wasted! The rhubarb I used was growing in the front garden border of my Dad’s bungalow; there are a mass of rhubarb plants there producing lots of good thick stems. I acquired 1.8Kg of stems last week, we had a jar of crystallised ginger in the cupboard and plenty of sugar, so I dug out a recipe from Maggie Mayhew’s Jams Jellies & Marmalades and set to work.


1Kg  rhubarb cut into short lengths

1kg  sugar

25g  fresh root ginger, bruised

115g crystallised ginger cut into small pieces

50g  candied orange peel


1. put the rhubarb chunks in a glass bowl layered with all of the sugar and leave overnight (this really brings out the juice in the fruit)

2. next day, scrape the fruit and sugar into a preserving pan, tie the bruised ginger root in a muslin bag and hang in the fruit in the pan

3. cook gently for 30 minutes, or until the fruit has softened

4.put jars and lids in the oven at about 100C to sterilise them

5. remove the root ginger from the pan, and add the orange peel and crystallised ginger to the rhubarb

6. bring the mixture to the boil and cook over a high heat until setting point is reached (I use a plate pre-cooled in the freezer, drop a little of the jam onto the plate and see if, after a minute or two, the jam stops moving on the plate; if it doesn’t, cook the mixture for a little longer and retest)

7. one setting point has been reached, fill the sterilised jars with jam (I find a jam funnel is a good investment, save blobs of jam all over your work surface!)

8. leave to cool and then enjoy on toast, as a sauce over cake, even as a cake filling

Lovage Wine

Lovage is a beautiful, stately plant, but can easily get out of hand if it is happy in its position. I grew mine from seed some years ago, it was ridiculously easy and before long I was thrusting my many spare plants on neighbours and friends. The three plants I kept for myself went into the herb border. The warm April combined with a bit of rain made the plants shoot up from nothing to over six feet in less than a month. That is a lot of herb to try to use up, and I needed a recipe that would require a lot of lovage, so I thought of wine. Coming by a recipe for the said wine, however, was not easy. There are some lovely food recipes on Old Fashioned Living but they use only minuscule amounts. I came across the suggestion that lovage could be used as a substitute for parsley in a Parsley Wine recipe, so out came CJJ Berry’s First Steps in Winemaking and there was a suitable recipe.


500g fresh lovage leaves (stems are OK too in moderation)

1.75Kg sugar

2 oranges, thinly peeled and juiced

2 lemons, thinly peeled and juiced

1 tsp grape tannin (for its preserving qualities)

4.5 litres water

packet of yeast

1 tsp yeast nutrient (I used a champagne yeast but any white wine yeast will do)


1. boil lovage with the orange and lemon peal in all of the water for 20 minutes

2. put the sugar into a large bowl and strain the lovage water over the sugar, stirring well to dissolve the sugar

3. when lukewarm add the citrus juices, grape tannin, nutrient and yeast, stir and cover

4. leave to stand for 24 hours, then pour into a demijohn and insert an airlock

5. leave in a warm place until fermentation has finished and the wine has cleared

6. rack off into bottles and leave for a few months before (hopefully) enjoying!

I will let you know in six months or so how it turns out!


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Packing up and moving on

Today, I have been sorting and discarding. It is 4 months since Dad died, and two since we cleared the last box out of his bungalow. Since then, the boxes and bags containing the remains of his life have been sitting in our hall, collecting dust. A cold frosty January morning seemed an appropriate time to make a start and deal with them.

Some of the contents have gone straight into the bin – why on earth did I not throw them away months ago? Some have made me smile – photographs of long forgotten holidays with Jason the lemon labrador, the jackdaw Dad saved and reared, the Silkie chick he took in and looked after as a pet. Some have stirred painful thoughts – finding among a pile of papers my mother’s death certificate and the clinical definition of her last few months and eventual death, carcinoma of the colon.

Much of the crockery – tea sets, cake stands, mugs – is all going to the charity shop next time I go into town; I repack those things in paper and re-box them. Some pieces – Mum’s favourite Cornflower dinner service, a few decorative bowls – I will keep as they hold many happy memories of the special occasions when they were brought out of the cupboard for Christmas and birthday parties, wedding anniversaries, Sunday lunch. The Cornflower set was expensive to buy, but Mum wanted it above all things, and it was bought piece by piece until she had a substantial dinner service. Every breakage was mourned, especially when Alfred Meakin stopped making that design. The plates (in three sizes) have survived surprisingly well, the cups and saucers less so. The gravy boat has been very useful, as we are partial to homemade onion gravy and we use the plates for our toast in the mornings, so I suppose the service has now been demoted to everyday crockery. But that’s OK, I believe that things are made to be used not left out of sight and mind.

The most moving discovery has been a cardboard Callard and Bowser chocolate and candy box from the 1940s. It contained every card – birthday, christmas, anniversary, baby arrival – my Mum had received plus quite a lot of the ones she had sent both to Dad and to me when I was a child. Everything from her 21st birthday in 1949, right up to the early 1990s. The box is full and so I cannot add my own considerable collection of cards from (and to) loved ones.

One day, our hall will be empty again, and we shall be able to get out our front door without tripping over another box. The memories will all be tucked away in cupboards and drawers, and we can move on with our lives. But not just yet.

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