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Patriotism is not enough? Is it?

1976. “The War”, of which I had been vaguely aware – on the borders, at the sharp end and generally a Long Way Away came into my consciousness. I am not really sure why I had managed to not be aware of it before – the wretched thing had been smouldering and intermittently combusting for a long time.

More young men in uniform, camouflage green and BSAP khaki and blue, some of them older brothers of school friends. Perhaps that was “it”, I knew some of  these young men by name – although I was far too shy to speak to them.

My father always collected these men, if he saw them walking alongside the roads and gave them lifts to wherever they needed to be taken. Fellow-feeling I think, as he had been a volunteer in the Royal Air Force from 1938 to 1946. Seventeen to twenty-five. Always a friendly man, he chatted easily to these boys about something and nothing. Polite,  man- talk – no stories of death or guns, unsuitable for his daughter to hear, just a gentle male conversation in the front of the car.

I listened quietly and wondered.  These boys suddenly seemed to have joined the circle of the men.

Bosom buddies

A girl must keep her friends close to her chest.

I became vaguely aware – at the age of about 12 that changes were very much occurring around me. My erstwhile sand-pit and Wendy-house friends were becoming a different shape – mentally, physically and very mysteriously. Dear mother explained “things” in a ladylike and biological manner, satisfying us both. I continued to observe owl-like, from behind my glasses.

The walk to the Rezende street bus station became more engaging, not just a mechanical wandering from school to omnibus, for there were humans to observe. Girls did not walk as much as glide and undulate, from side to side, at the hip. Boys began to strut and stumble – apparently over their shadows rather than more tangible obstacles. It was deeply fascinating. I had the great fortune to live on the same ‘bus route as C. She was tall, blonde and exotic – having “foreign” parents. I only ever saw C’s mother who was just wonderful – again blonde but beautifully dressed in lovely clothes and fully “made-up”. And she seemed to speak just like Zsa-zsa Gabor. There she was, chatting away insouciantly in some European language – one not taught at School. Gosh.

I sometimes sat next to C. It was a jolly good place  from which to observe her effect on the juvenile male population. Her glowing aura produced a fascinating array of responses……Jaw drop and dribble, to the need to express one’s manliness by thumping the next male in line.  A scuffle surely followed, as night follows day. C. maintained her poise and appeared utterly unmoved by these posturings. I observed with widening eyes and much puzzlement. Clearly C. was a glowing  blonde goddess in green school uniform, but why did these chaps not say hello, smile, nod or do something sociable? Swear-y, sweaty scrimmages and the resultant outbursts of Bad Language seemed an unusual way of making a favourable impression. Puzzling.

School uniforms were very much a victim of the late 1970s urge for modernisation. Green poly-cotton with l-o-o-o-ng white collars. Two cuts. One with a sort of saddle stitching somewhere between the waist and the hips, which suited the cigarette-figured juniors, but made any girl with a curve look much mafuta. The second had a darts-in-towards-and-curved seam-beneath-the bust affair.  More flattering , but Drew Attention to the curves beneath. Extremely. Some wag of a dress designer must have had his Lolita shades on when he penned that particular frock. Did the PTA not notice? They were supposed to be worn No More Than 4 inches Above the Knee Whilst Kneeling. Yeah, right….hot weather and the sanctions -bound economy meant that as legs grew longer (and shaplier) dresses became shorter and shorter. Topped off with a straw boater and school hatband, it made for  fetching ensemble.  And brown lace-up school shoes, with white ankle socks…….

About this time, we girls went through that rite-of-passage, a trip to the Lingerie Department of either Barbours or Saunders Department store for the first fitting of the brassiere. Exciting though this was, getting used to wearing the wretched thing took weeks…..the lace seemed to be woven from bleached barbed wire and the damn things itched and constricted. Like most minor discomforts, one became accustomed to their clutches and even the tedium of hand-washing the wretched things. They also were Never Hung On the Line Outside, Dear. Not lady-like. Instead, they were suspended from the coat-hanger with wee loops of string and clothes-peg confections and allowed to dry in the decorous gloom of the bathroom. Though I never really understood what dreadful things would ensue if these items of underwear were chanced upon and glanced upon by those who should not. They were perfectly decent, functional 32AA items, after all.

 

 

 

 

Soul train

Faster than fairies, faster than witches…how I loved to travel on the railways, and still do. Even now when the magnificence that was the railway of Great Britain has been somewhat reduced to a disconnected, much reviled, but still puffing bravely on service.

I was blessed by being born in Africa. The Federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland to be correct. Ndola, then Salisbury, but not so far to Blantyre – although I have plans and putative connection.

Annual holidays happened by calender, but long leave only every four or so years. The PTC permitted Pa to exit, stage left and take more than 2 weeks (I think) and take his whole family down south. To The Fairest Cape. For months he would weave his magic, drawing heavily on Lawrence G. Greene and his own fertile imagination and have my sister and I agog with the joys of anticipation.

When The Day arrived we would arrive, bathed, but in play clothes at Salisbury Station, it was vast – (or were we small?) and echoed to the roars and snorts of the engines, the staff and the sounds of the night. The smells were the most evocative, coal-dust and engine, and the hurly-burly mixed. I either clung to Pa’s hand or rode his shoulder, depending if my sister was in the pushchair or not. My mother – I presume , followed, a combination of lady-like sheep-dog, nipping the heels of the pack or directing the activities of the portering staff. No nipping here (that was reserved for the husband and children)

She was and still is very much the lady. And the only one of the family to be able to communicate, politely in the lingua-franca of the time. I thought all mummies addressed the indigenous help as if they were doing her the most enormously appreciated (and undeserved) favour. Much as she spoke to the butcher, the minister and the GP.

Once installed within the breathing iron behemoth and almost sick with excitement, Pa was ejected to hang from the window and chat in the corridor. Small sister and I were called to order, blinds pulled brisky Down! and deprived of play-clothes, inserted into pyjamas, teeth-cleaned and between the rough clean sheets before we could protest. Much. Pa was then readmitted to net me into the top bunk. I lay there, rigid with fright, lest I fall the great distance to the floor and Break My Collar Bone. Lovely Pa – aware (how?) of this neurosis made from strong parcel string a fish net, which he somehow attached to the 4 corners of the top bunks’ suspensory/supporting superstructure and allowed me to sleep through that first whirling,  4-4 time night until Bulawayo.

Bulawayo- the fantastical place, where mother had worked as a “young lady” and the small lilac soft back indigenous local history book told tales of Lobengula, Mzilikazi and Shaka – Zulu. This was the only time I really remember setting foot upon its’ blood-soaked soil. Mother took blood and analysed it in the Native Health Service and those terrifying men let blood spill, profligately. Perhaps I confused the two. Dear Mum, despite your lady-like demeanour, you could be very, very scary. Lovely Pa only proposed to you at the end of the needle, when he attended Umtali Hospital Out-Patients Department with a frankly “septic” arm. Miss B. summoned from her laboratory,her sputum-stove and daily routine to venesect this Entirely Irresponsible Young Man Who Really Should Have Known Better, succumbed.

Cordon bleu. Gh

Cooking. Provision of vittles for one’s offspring and its’ sire. Or filling one’s own trough, thereby fulfilling the desire to insert one’s trotters and eat. Lots. away from the cod-regal one-ity.

It is most, most important to be able to apply ingredients (raw) to source of heat to achieve nutrition without enteritis. The notable exception being lettuce, where heat application = slime worthy of the most horrid sinusitis. Grooh.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Philosophy is also splendid. I can spellit but that is about all. I can cut and paste Nietzche, too. My magnificent octopus was a Chocolate Cake. Not for the joy of producing a lovely cake, but in competition with the New-ish, potential -Mother-out-law. She had 30 years of pearl-encrusted cake-creation, so should have been a cake-walk in the park. So I thought. Hubris is a Good Word.

hu·bris

/ˈ(h)yo͞obris/
Noun
  1. Excessive pride or self-confidence.
  2. (in Greek tragedy) Excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.
Synonyms
arrogance – hauteur – haughtiness – pride – insolence

this is also Wiki, notme.

It was the 1990s, so, armed with my trusty 1980s Delia book I sallied forth into Sainscos in Edinburgh and collected a new recipe card for a new and (personally) untested cake of chocolate. It was very prescriptive (is this correct? Castor oil+orange juice+ bicarbonate of soda= greatbigpooh) and listed, very clearly and sternly:

1. ingredients

2. Equipment

3. Method

A wee bit like my DomiSci teacher. She was stern. But absent in ’90s Ed.

I followed the protocol, slavishly until the bit where the “key ingredient” was listed. It was rather a pity that Sainscos (Ed) had been mobbed by eager women keen to impress their men/guests/rellies with their Choc.Cake. they were also less tardy than I. So all the key ingredient was gone. Ever adaptable, I made a substitution and marched steadily onward. Stuff bought (tick) cake made (tick) and rested on wire rack (tick) for the requisite time (small insect which lives in Scottish heather and grass and bites and can provide nasty disease). It was NOT a success. Not At All. J – raised on mother’s CC manfully ate it, swallowed and pronounced “mm, interesting”

And the relevance of the substituted ingredient?

The substituted ingredient was “mayonnaise”

Delia’s was without

Garlic. Moop. 😦

Arty-farty

I really cannot draw. At all. Could give a weapon a try, but might fall over backwards and land in the dust, as I feared in Mushandike in 1972, when I was given the offer but huku-ed out. Cindy Spring sprang forward, fired mightily at the oil drum and retired, lip a-tremble and massaging her shoulder, ruefully. So a wee bit desolated to realise that I am Not the last in my line (if you pursue the matriarchal line) but on the paternal one – Pa – 1938-1946 RAFVR, Grandad 1914-1916 (Looks like Royal Berks, until Gallipoli- need to check), Great-grandad (Blackwatch? – but he was not re-known for his veracity) Great-great grandad ? Crimea.  All volunteers, I think and all bore arms in the Service Of King/Queen and Country. Mayhap one or two mercenaries along the line, but Pa avoided the French Foreign Legion after the luscious Marlene (temporarily) “broke his heart” – also the Red Locust Patrol and the Palestine Police. Me – wrong gender – right year – Had my gender been male, I would have been conscripted.

Neither can I make love or war with a pen/pencil/chalk/charcoal/all/anyof the aforementioned. It used to bug me – less so now and I can still enjoy the creations of others..

But I can scratch out a few words and manipulate wool and fabric to my own satisfaction. Which makes me smile.

School was an entertaining place – senior school, I mean. See Per Ardua, (if you wish)… The Art Room was rather lovely – along from the fears of Room 5 and extending for much more space than the average classroom. High ceiling-ed and corrugated iron roof. The Quadrangle was built when the ambient weather conditions were sensibly assessed and worked with, in collaboration, not in the face of and in (apparent) desire for modernity and too much window, not enough ceiling and facing the setting sun. Brother-out-law says: “Doctors bury their mistakes, architects have Other People live in theirs”.

It was an ideal room in which to paint, draw, sketch. My confidence and efforts were of such poor quality that I did not really enjoy it, one bit. There were moments of interest that alleviated the gloom. A bit like wee peaks on an E.C.G. which did trick the unwary and hope-riddled into thinking, “no, not the death agonies of a completely knackered myocardium..” I dropped grey paintwater onto Jane’s Disney-perfect Sinderelloid princess, coach and horses. Greywater and tears flowed, until the brisk art mistress brusquley mopped the puddles and bustled me out of the way. Perhaps with her buttocks. Can’t remember, but I enjoy alliteration, always, almost. Oh bugggrt.

There was a lovely box in mid-room, about 2 meters/yards square, 8 inches/no idea high. And full to the brim with scraps. Lovely scraps of fabric. We were to embark upon “Collage”. Oh yes.

col·lage

/kəˈläZH/
Noun
  1. A form of art in which various materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric are arranged and stuck to a backing.
  2. A composition made in this way.

Is wikipedia. Not me.

But fabric, not paper. I spent a period of time delving in the depths of the box, exhuming all sorts of lovely stuff. Natural, fake, fur, “David Whitehead – Lulu” range. As I say, more allsorts than a bag of Bassetts, but less flatulescent. I spent so long digging that I cannot recall what I stuck to which with whose adhesive. So yet Another “E” for effort. Knickers.

However – S.. managed to create a collage according to remit of a camouflage-clad person. Artyfarty teacher was most impressed. I was less so, smarting with a combination of pure unadulterated envy and cotton fibres up the schozz from too much digging and too little sticking. Just to redeem my Id, I did did snurk up my sleeve when I noted the label. “A Troppie” One “o’, two “p”s. Which provided me with a moue of malicious mirth. Horrid, I was. But a mo’bettah spellah. (and voracious reader) Thank you James A. M. and the 222.

Let’s party like its 1989….

Ah, the 1980s, that decade of excess and ebullience, I remember it well. A starter for 10 – shoulder pads. Clearly they had a role in 1940s black and white films, where wasp-waisted and willowy women spoke passionately through red lipsticked and tense with longing lips….but that which was spawned on the shoulders of glamorous oily soap operas went above and beyond the call of any duty.

Jutting like aerilons of some fantastical plane they swooped outward and upward, only just avoiding the lobe-stretching lug-chandeliers and the rigid lacquered pelmets of Bighair. Balanced by ankle-fracturing and toe-tormenting “matching, co-ordinating, accessorised” (boke) shoes- (and- handbag) in royal blue, cerise, apple green or turk-oyse leather/plastic* (*please select and delete, according to taste and budget). Was this not a sight for sore eyes? Viewed by the myopic through unseemly huge owlspecs.

All with me so far? Splendid. Being in possession of a small-ish frame, I found, to my dismay I possessed, also, square-cut shoulders. Not sloping, stooping or gently rounded. Squarer than a Regimental Sergeant Major’s moustache ends….squarer than a thing of great squareness. Woe, was very much me. I tried, oh how I tried, to find something, anything with the requisite upholstery and “lines de jour”. Well poohbumpissbellydrawers!  I resembled, in those b.awful communal changing rooms, nothing less than a very small, but pugnacious American Football player. And it was not just the assessing-my-own-reflection scowlface. It was those (padded)shoulders. A master carpenter could not have set his square squarer. Even drooping dejectedly (as I divested myself of Yet Another attempt to play with the big girls and emulate Alexon, Swellen or Kryspakkit ) failed to improve those bunker-sided lines.

Clearly I was then and still am a Woman Out Of Time With High fashion. Just as well, really. The local sights of megamuffin tops overspilling spray-on jeggings (a true bastardised hybrid, if ever one was concieved) topped off with an umbilical piercing, would land me in jail. And quite right, too.

 

Doll’s House

I had a doll’s house when I lived in Africa. I think my father made it – from hardboard and panel pins and painted it in pale pastels. It was fairly robust and I have no idea where it ended up after 1976. I hope it went to the “Children’s Home,” which seemed to be the place where things were donated and the Freemasonry, I seem to recall, made contributions. Pa was for a time, the “charity steward” when he trotted off with his little case on masonic meeting missions. No particular mystery – he went and ma went on “Ladies Nights” – from whence she brought home pretty blown glass animals. And every Christmas we went to the Christmas Party. Games and a parcel and something to eat. Not a hint of arcana or corruption – sorry anyone who disagrees, but a child’s mind can be simple – mine was.

One Christmas, my sister and I received among other things and not from the aforementioned party, sheets and sheets of printed cardboard which you “pressed-out” and made up into furniture for your doll’s house. I spent hours creating the 3D tables, chairs and armchairs and then even longer arranging them in the house. I found dolls a complete waste of time and left the poor things, eyes poked askew (“Dolly Grace” – a life size baby doll from some generous English second cousins). I also misappropriated her “Triang’ pushchair and got magnificently stuck in it when I thought it would be a place in which to ride. The combined tugging of my mother and Veronica freed a downcast and wailing me, the cotton seat ripped  and was repaired with some unbleached material which was referred to as “K. sheeting” and usually used to line curtains. I almost felt guilt when I chanced upon the repaired pushchair with its’ wall-eyed occupant, but not for long. There was always a Wendy House and the swing in the mulberry tree.

Yesterday morning I spent my time allegedly “tidying the landing” when small and large male had gone to the Lothians to fence. A larger proportion of my time was spent damp-dusting and exhuming furniture, also editing out colouring pencils,string and odd bits of Lego which had made their way into the rooms of another lovely doll’s house. Adopted, this time – from my sister-in-law, who seemed not to want it.

This one is firmly from the 1970s Britain school of design and is none the worse for it. The attendant box of “things” were an even better find – 1930s bendy (?lead) figures, wee plates and saucepans – also metal, a yellow bathroom suite, G-plan plastic living room storage and all sorts of other bits. A thoroughly enjoyable hour or so…although my knees fussed a bit when I stood up – that didn’t happen in the 1970s- and relived the minutiae. Delightful.