14 February 2010

Chance meetings


I spent a long day at the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham this week whilst my son had surgery. It’s not the first time I’ve done such a thing and so I know the drill, know when I’ll get a little time out, where to get my free coffee and that chatting with strangers in a similar position is part of the day. I am always humbled when at the hospital; humbled by various children and some of the awful diseases and accidents that have endured, humbled by their parents and carers and their incredible stoicism and humbled by the staff from porters to doctors, nurses to care assistants and the wonderful way they operate and make each and every child feel special and that as a parent I am not to made to feel stupid by the questions I ask and because I love my child and that child is special to me.

Following the booking in, the chat with the nurse, the chat with the very junior doctor, the chat with the anaesthetist and then finally the chat with the surgeon and registrar (oh that everyone cared so much for adults!) I knew I had half an hour to get breakfast and catch a crafty ciggie….yes I am still addicted to the dreaded weed. So son being settled with MP3 player and DS, off I went. It wasn’t the sort of day where you wanted to hang around outside the hospital having a ciggie it being snowy and having a bitingly cold northern wind whipping its way around the corner of Steelhouse Lane Police Station but I touched base with a woman I had noticed on the ward. The young girl with Downs that I had seen her with wasn’t her daughter as I first thought but her granddaughter. She was having grommets fitted in both ears in the hope that when she could hear properly, she might be able to start to talk. The child was 10 years old, the same age as my daughter. I thought to myself what sort of system is it that a child has to wait 10 years before this sort of surgery is done?

What is it with speaking with a stranger means you open up and talk about the most intimate details of parts of your life? Is it because you will probable never see or speak with them ever again? Is it because no judgements are made on such a brief encounter? Or are you perhaps chatting about things that are normally left unsaid, lying deep within only to be released when there is nobody else personally involved around? I have no idea, perhaps it is a mixture of all but what I do know is that I am never the one seeking the comfort, rather I seem to be able to elicit secrets that are held within without even knowing how I do it or even wanting to do so.

Soon I was hugging this woman and giving thanks for my blessings. She had mentioned that her daughter was in Germany, in the army, had done two tours of Afghanistan and I had assumed that this was why she was looking after her granddaughter. Unfortunately I was wrong. This career soldier had abandoned her daughter shortly after birth and took no interest in her daughter’s life or care. Grandmother had become mother. But Grandmother was also a daughter and her own mother was with her that day. I saw her up on the ward. She was wearing a headscarf and was thin and wan. She had recently had her breasts removed because of cancer and was in the middle of chemotherapy. No wonder my companion on the street needed a hug.

Following my son’s surgery whilst he was quiet and wanting to sleep I went to get a coffee from the parents room. I struck up a conversation with the mother of a beautiful little girl who was in the bed next to my son. The child was 4 years old and was only breathing with the aid of a portable respirator. Mom had been driving her car when that precious little girl was just 12 months old and was struck by a drunk driver. Mom walked away unscathed. Her daughter was less fortunate. She was there that day to have a full MRI scan under sedation. Four full time carers were needed night and day to help look after that child and what a beautiful girl she was with long, dark, curly locks and the face of an angel. Later I went and sat with them. That little girl could not speak but she watched everything, followed me with her eyes as I stood up and moved around and you just knew from looking at her that she was completely aware of her surroundings. Her Mom told me all about the never ending court cases and the never ending hospital stays and visits but she was happy and so, so strong.

As we left I counted my blessings once again and I reflected upon these strong women who for whatever reason had trusted a complete stranger with their stories and I felt blessed again.

7 February 2010

Food of my Childhood


I thank my friend Mark for raising this subject and provoking a copycat blog entry!

Unlike Mark’s Mom, my Mom was a decent plain cook. Nothing fancy or complicated, just simple family meals produced from a limited budget. One of my favourite midweek meals was belly draft cooked slowly in the oven accompanied by sage and onion stuffing and the ubiquitous potatoes and two veg. It smelt like a meal fit for a king and yet it was a cheap piece of meat that went a long way. Puddings consisted of bread and butter pudding, egg custard, tinned fruit and evaporated milk or my favourite, rice pudding cooked in the oven and with a beautiful thick skin on top. I always wanted that skin and would do anything to get it. The thought of that thick, creamy rice is driving me mad now!

I loved my Mom’s chips cooked in lard in an old fashioned fryer. We didn’t get them often but when we knew they were being cooked, we made sure we were ready at the table waiting for the moment when they were placed before us, all fat and juicy and golden.

Saturday lunch times were a treat and the same whether I was at home or at my Nan’s house; a big enormous, cholesterol filled fry up! Bacon, sausages, egg, black pudding, baked beans and lashings of HP sauce, made just down the road in Aston. To think that as a teenager I would eat all that and then go swimming in the afternoon! It’s a wonder I didn’t sink.

My favourite meal though was Sunday lunch. Nothing beats my Mom’s Sunday roasts and it was always a roast. All through Sunday morning I would risk a slap by entering the kitchen and asking when dinner would be ready. The smells emanating from the oven would drive me half insane with longing and hunger. Her gravy made from the juices of the meat was to die for and when I moved down to London, weekends home were crowned by my Mom’s Sunday lunch. My only problem with Sunday lunch was it was usually the only meal where we sat down and Dad was present. We had to eat in silence and if we dared to utter a word, he would tell us that we were missing a bite whilst we were chatting! I recall one time when I had become a very cheeky teenager as opposed to just a cheeky child, he came out with this line as usual and I retorted that how could I be missing a bite as I would eat the bite as soon as I had finished speaking! That didn’t go down well.

Following lunch on a Sunday Dad would drive us to my Nan and Granddad’s home for the afternoon and more importantly for Sunday tea. I would run up the steps to my Nan’s house and press the wind up doorbell until it didn’t ring anymore. My Nan, who had a beautiful touch when it came to baking, would open the door and a wonderful smell of fresh baking would hit you. Nan did us proud with home made cakes and pastries galore but it was sheer torture to sit throughout the afternoon, even after an enormous Sunday lunch, not being allowed to eat the rock cakes, fairy cakes, Victoria Sandwich, jam tarts and so on until tea time! Let’s face it every child has an additional stomach, known as the pudding stomach! Those Sunday afternoons were either spent in the garden if the weather was warm, well except my Dad who would make himself comfortable in one of the armchairs and snooze the afternoon away or in the lounge watching old black and white westerns. I was well acquainted with the likes of Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Audie Murphey and how the west was won.

School meals were divine whilst at Primary school. In the Infants the whole class sat at one long table with the teacher at the head. No packed lunches back then and everyone stayed for dinner. She for it was always a she, would ask if you wanted a big or a little dinner and then proceeded to put a little of everything on your plate. You had to eat everything on the plate whether you liked it or not because you were not allowed to start the pudding course until everyone had cleared their plates from the main course. If liver was on the menu my handkerchief came in handy for storing it, uneaten. I would surreptitiously wrap the liver in the hanky and then stuff it down my socks. I can’t believe that nobody ever noticed that lump sticking out of my socks as I walked to the toilets in order to dispose of the revolting offal! Looking back on that now it was a wonderful experience learning the art of communal dining at five and six years old and learning to eat what was laid in front of you. No fussy or faddy eaters (well except me and the liver, still can’t eat it now and it did call for emergency measures!) you learned how to use your utensils correctly too. It amazes me now how so few young people know how to hold a knife and fork properly!

Once in junior school we all sat at tables of eight with two fourth formers at the head who were responsible for serving the table. At least here you could refuse something you really didn’t like but I have to say that I loved school dinners, apart from liver and never refused anything. Puddings were divine, rice pudding, tapioca, sago, sponges, spotted dick, upside down cake and custard, yum yum school custard was the best and came in a variety of colours (not really flavours) including vanilla, pink, chocolate and the one I always refused because it looked like nuclear snot; green. We all waited those four years until we became the head of the table and could therefore serve ourselves more of our favourite things!

At secondary school I stopped having school dinners because the queues were horrendous and if you were on last sitting you would have no choice as to what you got from the canteen, it was what was left or nothing and you would have precisely two minutes to eat it before the bell rang for the end of lunch. That was when I started with packed lunches although in those days lunch was a bit of a misnomer; it was a paste sandwich of some sort and a wafer! The beauty of a packed lunch was you could eat it whenever you liked and then get outside to go and torment the older boys who you fancied like mad but whom thought you were stupid little girls not worth bothering with.

On the whole my food memories are good. Totally different diet to the one I have now but I still love all those teatime favourites such as cheese on toast and beans on toast and remember fondly so called invalid food; you got this when recovering from illness or an operation and my favourite invalid food was poached eggs on toast. It was almost worth getting ill for because it was the only time I got it!

6 February 2010

Descended from aliens?

Those who know me also know that I have a passion for family history. I will not go into the whys and wherefores, just tell you a story about how I finally found my paternal Grandfather.

My Dad doesn't really remember his Dad, John. John died way back in 1937 when my dad was just 5 years old. All I knew of John when I was growing up many years after his death was that he was buried in the local cemetery and that he was much older than my Grandmother. I became aware at some stage that he had been a farrier.

Years later when I started researching my family history I asked my Dad if he knew where John had been born. He didn't. Actually Dad said he didn't know anything about any of his family. This I have always suspected as not quite true because if you're in a car with him travelling around the local area he will tell you unprompted who lived in what house where and who lived there afterwards and also throw in a character assignation or three just for good measure. As I became more frustrated over the years because I wasn't getting anywhere with the Mason branch and questioned him again and again, risking wrath of the sort of proportions that would have me running for underneath my sister's bed when I was a child, he made it clear that they were all dead and buried and what did it matter? He has never understood my curiosity concerning my roots.

I found John's death certificate. Poor man was 55 when he died of pneumonia. So now I had a sort of base year in which to search for his birth, sometime around 1882/3. I had his Father's name from his marriage certificate when he married my Grandmother. Easy I thought.

John Mason; there were literally thousands of them and hundreds born in those years and besides I didn't know where he was born, not really. My Dad said John had been born in the Black Country but that's a pretty big and populated area. I went through the 1891 census with a fine tooth comb but couldn't find a John living with a William for a father. I waited for the 1901 census to be released in 2001, thinking it might hold all the answers, after all, John may have been living in Aldridge by then and I could finally track him down. It was so disappointing when he wasn't to be found.

I began to think that possibly John had just been dropped off on planet earth sometime around 1882/83 and lived as some sort of shadow until he married my Grandmother. Was I descended from aliens? There's many who would answer that as I'm so weird I probably am. Well they're wrong!

In 2001 I returned to Aldridge having spent nearly 20 years in London and turned towards more locally available records. The burial record didn't give any further information however, the monumental inscriptions from the village cemetery did offer a tantalising morsel. There was an inscription for a Mary Mason, wife of John who had died in 1929 and with her was their beloved son, Jack who had died aged 22 in 1928. I knew John was a widower when he married my Grandmother but had never thought about the possibility of my Dad having step siblings. I returned to the 1901 census but still nothing.

Then one day when looking in one of Mom's cupboards for something I came across a WW1 Victory medal, 1915 Star medal and a Silver War Badge, awarded to John. Eureka! I now had a regiment and a service number. Perhaps the army records could provide the pathway to John's origins. I berated my Dad for not telling me about these medals to no effect. I found his medal roll record. Corporal John Mason had been a farrier in the ASC but had been pensioned off in April 1915, hence the Silver War Badge. And that was as far as I got because John's service records were part of those burned by a Mr Hitler's minions during WW2 so I will know why he was pensioned off.

Over the years I would return to the 1891 and 1901 census and search again for John but although there were many possibilities I could never find the match I was looking for.

Then early in 2009, the 1911 census was released. Unfortunately only available on one website that charged arms and legs to view images and whose search threw up (again!) far too many possibilities meaning arms and kegs would not be enough to track him down, I would need to start selling vital organs, I sat back and continued to wait. Until that is said web site introduced a cheaper subscription and then I was in and within ten minutes I had him! He had been born in 1882 in Hednesford Staffs, a mining village not far from Aldridge.

Quickly and with a fervour I returned to the Birth indices and there it was, right name, right quarter, right district and so I applied for the certificate and finally got the proof that I wasn't descended from aliens!

And yes, with that information I was able to revisit the 1891 and 1901 census and find him and his siblings and his step siblings and his wife Mary and his son, Jack.

It took nearly 20 years but I got my man in the end. And now I have a whole new branch to pursue in earnest.

If you were wondering how I chose my blog title, after reading this to the end, you now know!

3 February 2010

Here's one I wrote earlier......

I posted this originally as a note on Facebook last October. It came about as a result of the friend suggestions I was getting on my Facebook home page. I'm still getting them!

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I've been having some mighty peculiar friend suggestions just recently. They're not something I normally notice, glossed over like all the ads however I am wondering where on earth and how on earth these suggestions some about?

Sure, those who are friends of friends I can understand. For example my son has recently joined in with FB. He refused previously because it was something his mother used and was therefore meh, confined to oldies but now he has succumbed and is by all reports annoying the poop out of everyone but not me. Oh no, he will never be friends with me or any other members of his extended family because we are family and therefore not worthy of his teenage attention! Fortunately not all teenagers are so infuriating and I am friends with one of his lovely female friends who is totally adorable and a male friend who likes a Mommy hug now and then(you know who you are!) and so of course as Baris is friends with she and he, I get the suggestion because we have a mutual friend.

Then there are the suggestions of people who happen to live in the same town as me. I can understand where those come from but hey, this town isn't that big and if I'm not friends in real life why on earth would I want to be an FB friend with someone who lives around the corner and has probably reported me to social services or the police or the ASBO peeps at the council or even all three?!!!

Some of the others though. I keep getting suggestions that me and Jonathon Ross could be good buddies! Why? I mean he's OK but I wouldn't say I was a fan and I don't ever recall uttering his name on FB. And Lisa Tarbuck? For goodness sake! Have I slipped onto some celebrity 'Z' list that Lisa is on too? John Cleese? Well OK I spoke to him on the telephone once and yes he was lovely and so polite but I don't think he really wants to be my friend....does he? Well if he does I could end up with a friend list of celebrities as long as my legs on the basis that I once spoke to them but then I happen to have had one of those jobs where famous people are ten a penny and to be quite honest are no different from the rest of us mere mortals and no I don't want to be friends with Jarvis Cocker or Holly Johnson or even Jasmine Le Bon and Liz Hurley and I definitely don't want to be friends with Marti Pellow after what he proposed!

I digress....

The one suggestion that has had me laughing off my chair and across the office floor has been for the woman my Ex had an affair with, proposed to before he even let me know he was seeing her and had split up with before he even left me. I mean! It's not as if I ever saw her profile...for obvious reasons lol.

So what programme comes up with these suggestions? Any information would be gratefully received.

Back in Blog World once again

Once upon a time in a life long ago, I blogged regularly. Then something happened and for a time the blog and the friends I had made through it and message boards became an outlet for my pain. Gradually I mended and as we all do when something shatters your world I became a different woman; perhaps a little more cynical but also much more aware of how life should be grabbed by the short and curlies and that I did have a great capacity for happiness, something I had forgotten about over the years.

Several times in the last 6 months or so people have asked me why I don't blog anymore and encouraged me to do so once again and other people, who never knew about my alter ego 'Mags' have asked if I had ever considered blogging. So I'm back.

This isn't going to be the warts and all that Mags had. I shall try and keep it more diary like plus lashings of rants about whatever might be annoying me that day if the karma and meditation aren't working!

Welcome to my world :-)