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Monday, 30 September 2013

She is still making me smile !

Wellies, can you imagine teenagers wearing wellies now-a-days ?
I think there would be civil war, . . . . . . not fashionable.

My trusty Wellington boots and woolly scout socks pulled up as high as they would go to cover my bare knees, a three quarter inch piece of elastic gripped the top making a permanent mark on my skin of the ‘knit one pearl one’ of the sock rib. Trouble was, when it rained there was nothing to prevent the top of the sock from getting soaked, which made it heavy, there was nothing for it but to turn it over the top of my wellies, stretching the sock as I did this to become a good three inches bigger than was intended.
I dreamed of a longer raincoat, I have always loved the rain, I wanted one that hung down past my knees and over the top of my boots, so when I entered the senior school persuaded mum when she took me into Winters the outfitters in the King street for my new school uniform, to buy me a longer raincoat that did just that, it came down a couple of inches below the tops of my wellies. I don’t think she quite understood why though, but to me it was the heaven I had often dreamed of. Silly really when I think about it now, but back then it was the ultimate luxury for me.
I could now walk along the beach in the winter, waves crashing and spraying me without my precious knee’s getting wet at all. (The reason for this is another story) The wind and the rain on a winters day walking along the waters edge with my constant companions woolly mittens holding my hand, the smell of her hair mixed with the salt spray from the channel has never left my senses to this very day.
She had pink ones, (wellies that is) which didn’t go very well with her school raincoat, also navy like mine, but what days we had back then, the music of the sea that inspired both of us, the hard sand that had been beaten by the tide sometimes had ripples of water that danced the waltz’s of Strauss away back to the depths, as the tide receded. Then on another day would explode and crash in a majestic crescendo of noise trying its hardest to soak us both, Neptune obviously angry we were invading his territory, out there all alone on an empty beach, two very young people that had the nerve to defy the Gods of the sea and the elements.
We were eleven years old with the minds and imaginations of individuals twice our age, discussing the compositions we would compose in the future, how the representation of what we felt could be expressed, and all around us was a vista of splendour, the magnificent white cliffs towering above us, the ocean with all its moods, then on a calm day, sometimes sitting in the middle of the sands not saying a word, just holding hands and listening to the peace and quiet, revelling in the tranquillity of an empty beach. 
Because of our enthusiasm for music it set us both aside from others in those days, and each of us before we met were perhaps rather lonely because I suppose of our unusual childhood passion, the joy we both found in each others company cannot be over estimated, and the silly things like the ‘wellies’ we wore were a constant cause of hilarity to both of us. In our teenage years we bought new ones when we outgrew the old ones, but as no doubt you can imagine, hers had to be pink.
In that brown office type envelope that I emptied onto my desk that day
amongst the many photographs was one of two pairs of ‘wellies’; one navy pair, and one pink pair, nothing else in the picture, just the wellies. Can you even begin to imagine perhaps the memories it stirred in me that morning after sixty odd long eventful years had passed?
But I had to laugh, along with the tears, I ached, and as I type this out I cannot prevent a smile when remembering her really wicked sense of humour and of course her pink ‘Wellington Boots’.
Thanks so much for stopping by.
Please call again.

The Joy of growing old.

I had to post a part of an email I recieved, each word ringing so true to how I feel these days, I hope it brings a smile to many, like it did me.


As I've aged, I've become kinder to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend.
I have seen too many dear friends leave this world, too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.
Whose business is it, if I choose to read, or play, on the computer, until 4 AM, or sleep until noon? I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 50’s, 60’s & 70's, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love, I will.
I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set. They too some day, will get old.
I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some things in life are just as well forgotten. I eventually remember the important things, sometimes.
Sure, over the years, my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break, when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when a car hits somebody’s beloved pet? But, broken hearts are what give us strength, and understanding, and compassion. A heart never broken, is pristine, and sterile, and will never know the joy of being imperfect.
I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning grey, what’s left of it, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face.
So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.
As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don't question myself anymore. I've even earned the right to be wrong.
So, my answer to the question; I like being old, it has set me free. I like the person I have become, I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be, and I shall eat my apple-pie and custard, lick my lips after a cream cone covered in sugar every single day (if I feel like it). It’s been a wonderful life, and I always look forward to tomorrow as I close my eyes before sleeping the sleep of peace each night.
Thanks for dropping by.
Chin up !






Sunday, 29 September 2013

No R164

A Seafaring Sketch of a Ramsgate fishing boat.

Relations of her ownership and the men who crewed her still, no doubt, reside in Ramsgate; No 164 motor fishing vessel, I remember the number quite clearly coming and going, because it was the same number as my friends house, and I have, since drawing this boat, discovered its name to be the ‘Jack and Eric’
There are no doubt people that can find fault with the sketch, but it was drawn one afternoon from memory to give credence to a story I was telling, so please forgive the omissions and put it down to artistic licence and ignorance of the subject matter.

My Aunt ‘Min’ and Uncle ‘Tom’ were a small part of the fishing fraternity, but because of the smell of the fish, that my dear mum couldn’t abide, I had to be very careful when they tied up with a catch. This didn’t deter my enthusiasm, boarding their boat many times in the harbour when they returned from the fishing grounds with a catch.
I remember one such time slipping and falling down the wooden steps only to be caught by Aunt Min who was gutting some of the catch for herself. She was a big round lady with arms that completely engulfed me with an ample bosom to match; of coarse she wreaked of the sea and the fish and smothered me in it. Fearing the worst when I reached home that day from Mum’s wrath, I tried I remember, creeping in the back door without being seen. No such luck though, that particular day she just looked at me with those big blue eyes of hers, the faintest of a knowing smile on her lovely face; she knew, she always knew what I’d been up to, and bade me strip right there in the scullery before coming any further into the house. The funny thing was we were brought up on a steady diet of fish, mum didn’t it seemed, mind cooking it, but the smell on our clothes evidently turned her stomach she told me in later years.

Hope you like the sketch,
Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Ugly Duckling

An Ugly Duckling?

As many of you know, and many have commented on, my lifeblood is music and one such instance in my past ‘came to roost’ one night while attending a concert in the far north of our country, quite unexpected it gave me a thrill that has rarely been or I doubt will be ever be surpassed. 
To go back to a time in my life when I was in charge of a small number of staff and had through illness of one of them requested a replacement. What I was presented with by her father one morning shortly after, was a young girl that had just left school; timid is not a strong enough word to describe her, she was terrified, so much so that she was physically shaking. I learnt afterwards her family had just moved to the area from a farm that I was told was at the back of beyond, and then some, completely isolated from the rest of the world, an only child, she attended a school whose sum total of attendance on a good day was six pupils, she being the oldest. To relate to such a life to us mere mortals takes a bit of understanding of what it must have been like for her, but I duly took her on not thinking any more about her, leaving her in, what I thought was the capable hands of the rest of my staff. It was, what must have been a couple of weeks later, by chance I overheard her being referred to in a very unkindly manner, ‘an ugly duckling’ was one such comment along with a few choice words of a kind I am not at liberty to print.

Not wanting to cause any trouble with what was normally an excellent group of workers, I made it my business to take this young lady ‘under my wing’ so to speak; I could use another pair of hands and the cause of her employment in the first place had since returned to work.

So started an episode in my life with a young girl who was well over half my age, any male that has been in that situation knows only too well the difficulties it presents but with the help of her father that I knew quite well by now, we persevered. Slowly, so agonisingly slow was our progress, but each day things started to get better and it was obvious to me her nervous disability was diminishing gradually, so much so that one day after a couple of weeks under my supervision I received a quite cheery ‘Good Morning’ from her, it was the start of something quite extraordinary.

I remember it was a breezy autumn afternoon and after bringing me my afternoon coffee I had the desire to get a bit of fresh air, so I grabbed my coat and was about to venture outside to the senior staff area when I stopped and watched my young protégé busy at her desk, how different she looked to when she first entered the building all those weeks ago, and my goodness hadn’t she become an excellent secretary.
“Take a brake my dear and come and join me in the garden with your coffee” I think was how I put it. There was a reluctance, she knew it was out of bounds for the rest of the staff, and there was hesitation and a little of her nervousness showed for a brief moment, but something I suppose in my request and the way I had said it made her put aside any misgivings.
It was a windy afternoon and to put her at ease I gently raised her coat collar up round her neck and sat down wind to protect her while she drank her coffee. I can’t actually remember how the conversation started, but I remember asking what she did at night knowing there would be very few, if any, friends in the area that she knew.  I remember her reply so clearly now as she turned towards me and looked me straight in the face, so confident, daring me to even smile at her answer.

“ I have my music Sir, my music is my life and always has been and I suppose always will be.”

Now, before that afternoon I was just trying to be kind, trying to coax her into the big wide world fate had it seemed unkindly thrown her into, but I’m sure my pulse missed a beet in that moment, naturally I wanted to know more of this rather sheepish little creature sitting next to me. I looked closer for the first time, beauty had missed her passing her by, the wind over the moors where she had grown up had hardened her skin, but the one true God of gifts had given her was what many in this life I have found lacking, the very love that had resided in her soul was her music that completed her life. I had to know more and we talked a language that afternoon till home time sitting there on the seat in the garden, undisturbed by the bustle of business. That shell had been broken, she opened up her soul to me, trying in her limited way to explain the joy she found when she could be alone with her violin, at night time when everyone was asleep living her dream, playing the melodies of the masters she secretly adored.

For a long time afterwards we played our respective instruments in many a duet, but if I was honest all I wanted to do was listen to her play, I cannot ever remember her disappointing me with anything she took on however difficult it may have seemed to me.

Over the years I had become well acquainted with many well connected musicians in orchestras in this country and one wet Saturday afternoon I saw her off on a train with her parents, for an audition in the big city, wishing her well but also knowing it would be the beginning of a career for her she well deserved and would perhaps never see her again.
It must have been at least ten years later, attending a concert one night in Manchester, I was on this occasion sitting quite close to the conductor about two or three rows back. I had a program, but hadn’t bothered to read it, content just to listen and enjoy.

I didn’t even hear her name mentioned, just automatically clapped with the rest of the audience when the guest musician was announced.
My eyes were closed, literally . . . . . 

Niccolo Paganini ‘s Concerto No.1 in D for Violin. Op.6

‘The Rondo’


The joy of that piece of music opened my eyes; there was that ‘Ugly Duckling’ so fine in her evening gown, she had turned into a beautiful swan playing with ease the difficult piece that brought the house down, everyone to a man giving her the standing ovation she so rightly deserved.

As I said, I was thrilled beyond belief she had made it, right to the very, very top of her profession, to play what was in her soul on her beloved violin!


Thanks for stopping by

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A promise I made.

A Promise

There was a murky, misty light coming from the moon as it briefly showed itself between the angry clouds drifting across its face, it was all that I had to see the numerous uneven well trodden ruts, but it was enough, my feet adequately found the well worn path along the cliff top. There were very few walkers out exercising their trusty four legged pals; a storm was brewing out there beyond the bay in the channel.

Rounding the corner of the path down onto the beach level I faced the inner regions of the bay where the eerie flat calm of the water was covered in scum and flotsam from the incoming tide, bobbing gently up and down it eventually deposited it self onto the flat greyish brown expanse of the sandy beach in front of me. A steep rise in the shingle from the waters edge and then a flat plateau that reached right up to the path, this rise in the shingle held back the water, but each small wave deposited all manner of debris that was now covered in the awful yellowish froth coming in from the channel. Not a pleasant sight for the holidaymakers, and that, along with the smell of what seemed like rotten fish that reached my nostrils made me walk just a little faster than usual, the legs that had served me well over the years started to ache as I neared the end of the path that took me to the stone makeshift jetty, it had hurriedly been built many years previous for the troops returning from the conflict across the channel. I was grateful for the smooth, flat tar-mack that had been laid that summer by the corporation.

Small fishing boats were huddled together as if sheltering from the impending battle with the elements, the lapping of the water slapped their sides between them with increasing vigour each minute, the storm out in the channel was getting closer and the once calm water was increasingly being disturbed as I neared the end of the pathway that skirted the little harbour.

The wind and rain was gusting over the crests of the small waves in front of me and they were now getting bigger in the bay, picking up and adding to the spray, it drifted in sheets of fine mist that resembled a net curtain blowing almost horizontal on the water.

Lightning lit up the distant horizon for a couple of seconds; there then followed a crack of thunder that nearly split my eardrums. Turning the corner, the raging waters of the channel in all their furry faced me, the wind, now full in my face, took my breath away and the full force of the storm wrapped itself around me trying to force me onto the pile of debris that it had by this time cast aside, unwanted it seemed, returning to the depths to collect more. There in front of me was the north-facing beach, stretching for what seemed miles into the distance. The dark brown sand reached the distant rocks in isolation out into the channel and I could see through the spray the reason for my appointment a few hundred yards away, the only living being out on the beach that night, bar for me, she waited, looking out into the channel, a figure standing firm against the buffeting wind, I had no illusion to know who stood there, braving the elements on steady legs as if rooted to the spot.

A few days previous to this sojourn out into the winter night the postman disturbed me while I was wading through a couple of toasted doorsteps soaked with butter and marmalade, a large brown envelope labelled ‘DO NOT BEND’ was irritatingly put in my hand when I opened the front door, a brown office type letter that was written by hand in a bold confident manner, not typed or franked as official mail. I was immediately curious, and discarded the remaining junk mail in the bin in the kitchen, proceeding to my little office to open this rather strange correspondence.

I remember tearing open the envelope with a little excitement that stemmed from curiosity, emptying the contents onto the desk, recognition brought on a prickly feeling at the back of my neck as I looked intently at the yellow ‘sticky note’ that was attached to one of the items, those words I think will be imprinted on my conscience for the rest of my life, the memories that they evoked I’m having difficulty describing,    “Remember Al’ when we were young, what you promised.” 

A sheet of music scribbled out in a hand that was unmistakably my own ‘I’LL WALK BESIDE YOU’ the last verse was underlined in red, something I hadn’t done.

Those words we had intently listened to as Josef Locke sung them to us with her little hand gripping mine so tightly all those years ago; My God yes, I remember! However could I forget? The fifty odd years had flown by, but I remember that evening as if it was only yesterday, and, without any doubt I remember the promise we made to each other.

The everyday existence of getting up, washing and shaving, working in the garden and tinkering in the workshop were forgotten; In that instance I was propelled back to the fifties, all the years that have been so full of wonderful things and events, seem to pail into an insignificant jumble in my mind as I remembered our promise to each other.
And I was amazed that she also had remembered that day!

The promise was to go back from where ever we were and sit together again on our bench up on the cliffs facing the channel in Ramsgate, watching the sun disappear over the horizon in our old age like that glorious sunny day all those years ago, to tell our story to each other of the life we had experienced, a life that had started out with so many days full of joy together. We both couldn’t believe that any life could be better than the experiences we had lived through at that time, and wondered what the future held, so we promised, swearing to remember and return to our bench up on the east cliff when and if we reached our seventy years.

I wonder now if others had the start in life that we had, the music that was centred round everything we did and the joy it gave us both, setting us up for a life so full of joy and laughter for the future the way it did. As we went our separate ways, which inevitably we had to, the feelings for each other has never lessened, through many loves over the years, two marriages and the arrival of children and grandchildren those teenage years have given me so much to live by, to honour your partner, to be honest with each other, to trust and show a kindness to others whoever they are and what ever they have done. Now, because I suppose the excitement of that promise that I made, I could not or ever want to renege on it. To see and perhaps hold her hand again gave rise to the exhilarated anticipation that resembled my youth, long ago forgotten, I desperately, desperately wanted to hear her story.  
Evidently she had confided in her daughter of our teenage years; nobody else knew of the past and it was only recently that she had thought it prudent to past on to her the desire she had, to honour the promise we made. Hence the envelope and its contents with her daughter’s phone number who co-incidentally lived quite close to me only a few miles down the coast.

I could see the resemblance from a distance, her desire to keep her mothers secret forced this clandestine meeting, to try to arrange for both of us the fulfilment of our promise to each other being certain the family would never understand. The human emotions I have often thought restrict the fulfilment of a full life, jealousy and mistrust, the domineering by one or other in a partnership often prevents so many of us from enjoying what each has to offer. I began to realise quite early on when a telephone conversation had to be cut short this was one of those occasions, but her daughter persevered finding common ground for us to meet. The ominous weather, with thunder and lightening and the lashing rain on a deserted beach brought on an ill-omened feeling as I approached, turning towards me I could see there were tears in her eyes, those eyes that replicated her mothers that spoke volumes to me when we were young, now told me, without saying a word that we had left it to late. She held what was obviously a heavy canvas bag for me to take.
“My mum’s life is in her journals Alan, she wanted you to have them, her way I suppose of keeping her promise. I know you will treasure them.”
She turned away leaving me alone with her mothers life in my hands, I have never felt so empty, so let down and sad as I did in that moment, a sense of extraordinary loss completely engulfed my entire being as I watched her disappear round the headland in the distance.

I returned to shut myself away from the turmoil of life around me, and it was a couple of weeks before I could bring myself to open the journals I now had in my possession, a whole life was spread out on the desk in front of me. Beautifully and painstakingly written in long hand with pen and ink, numerous photographs of motherhood and family life with captions of the circumstances at the time they were taken. Stories of days out and the happy times, of sad times and confusion but all culminating in a sense of humour that had seen her through the bad times, the wicked sense of humour that I remembered her by.
No fame or fortune had blessed either of us it seemed, a normal life had passed, but what a life, so full of appreciation for the world around her, that character of the young girl I knew had never been dented it seemed, and as each year passed every episode had been so full of wonder of the creations around her she was seeing, marvelling at the beauty we have all of us been blessed with.

Thanks for stopping by.