Tag Archives: Home

Of summers and friends long ago lost

If you watch your TV analytically you may notice that on boxing day the adverts suddenly change. Gone are temptations of chocolate and wiz bang toys, and hello to those long summer nights spent on a beach with golden white sand, and crystal clear waters reflecting the brilliant sun high above.

Yes the excitement of Christmas is over and the cold weather and long dark nights are becoming less romantic as you sit and go slightly mad with cabin fever. Your mind is transported away to that dream of summer holidays. Here in the UK August brings us distant memories of our childhood as we had no school for 6 long weeks. The sun always shone and walks through long grass lasted forever. Your hands were always sticky with juice from the abundance of fruit or ice-cream.

And now decades later as you look over your now trashed living room, the Christmas decorations have been knocked over so many times that the reindeer are missing an antler, Angels heads have been glued on backwards, and the advent calendar now devoid of chocolate looks pathetic. With maybe a sip of whatever wine you have left you close your eyes and try to remember that time when on holiday you remember falling back into the pool and the water was warm, laughter was heard from all around and even though your skin was a little raw from the sun it didn’t matter.

AS a child my parents always made sure we went away for the summer, it was only ever in a tent or later in a caravan as it as the most affordable way to get away.

One memorable year I was in my mid teens ( I think it was the last time away with my parents). We re-visited Cornwall We stayed on the Lizard point. Not far from an estuary, and hours walk through some cool shaded woods led us out onto a beach with no access by road, it was always empty and we were the only ones that could be bothered to make the walk. Games of tennis were played over hundreds of yards, with multiple players swapping sides to help balance out the score as one team went into the scores of triple figures, Sand castles always became taller and larger until we disappeared behind battlements feet thick. As the day wore on fire wood was gathered from the high tide mark or the dead wood within the woods behind us, the fire was lit. My father would retrieve his pipe from the bottom of an over stuffed bag and the smell of Black Cherry tobacco would mingle with the wood smoke and salt air, food would be cooked in the embers scrapped into a pit, as the Sun disappeared over the horizon, the fire would be piled up high and any walker within sight would be drawn to it. Gatherings of 20- 30 people would collect, from somewhere food would be produced, and bottles of drink procured and shared amongst us all. Late night paddles would become more and more boisterous and swimming challenges would ensue. Buoys marking lobster pots would be used as a measure of your prowess in the water.


Back on land games of football would be played by all ages, no goals were created just a constant game of passing and tackling degenerating into one game with, many parts as Frisbees and bats were also used. Then as the fire slowly died down all were seated around gazing into the glow of logs, the conversations became more philosophical and stories were shared. Then these once strangers would slowly go their separate ways making their way back to whence they came. Laughter could be heard from retreating families, and every now and then the snippet of a song, carried on the warm breeze.





Hanging chickens, washing machines and a screaming pink smell

Many (or not so many) years ago we had the idyllic childhood. There were, my parents an older brother, and me.  We grew up on a small holding in very rural Wales, the summers were long and winters with a picturesque white blanket covering everything with an innocent sheen.

Then at the beginning of one winter our lives were to change dramatically. My father a then officer in the fire brigade was seconded to another force for six months.  The same time my Mother gave birth to a ‘screaming pink smell’. ( I was only seven and it later grew into my younger brother). Due to many complications my mother was now bedridden for a few months. Our father was away for up to six days at a time, no neighbourly help and Grandparents who lived the far side of the country.

It fell to me and my older brother (aged 10) to take the reigns of the small holding and the house. We drew lots, and then he beat me into submission, so we shared out the chores, basically he took charge of all the animals, and outside needs, I shouldered the more domestic chores. So at the young age of seven years old I started cooking for a family, doing the laundry, and general house keeping ( we did at times help each other ). My first trouble was ensuring that the coal fired stove stayed alight at all times, this was the only form of cooking, a small oven and two cast iron  hotplates. (Imagine an AGA, but a quarter of the size and a thousandth of the price). With many trips upstairs to check things out with ‘mum’ and slowly deciphering cookbooks over time I became quite a proficient cook. The top loading washing machine and I came to an agreement. We did not like each other. I hated it because I had to almost climb into the drum to reach the lone sock from the bottom. It hated me because as far as I was concerned why do four loads when it can actually fit in one load? Then there was the log fire in the living room ( a once converted barn, Have a look at my other post ‘A childhood in rural west Wales part 1-3 ‘ for more details). My brother supplied the chopped wood I kept feeding it day and night, it was our only heating. This was done while attending school.


A normal day for me through that winter went as follows.


6:00 wake up dress in rough clothes.

6:30 feed chickens, ducks, geese, collect eggs

6:50 bring in coal, and fire wood.

7:10 rescue fire in stove add more coal, re stoke fire in living room, de ash, and re stock wood.


7:30 Chase and catch chicken ( or rabbit, or duck or whatever animal real peeved me of) Kill and remove feathers. Hang to bleed out and leave to chill on kitchen windowsill to chill.

8:00Wash change for school.

8:10 put more washing on and hand out to dry (indoors above stairs) wet washing.

8:30 double check fires

8:45 Go to school. (500 yards away down a very quite single track rd)


12:45 after lunch at school nip home with brother put dead meat in pot along with veg put in now much warmer oven. Check and re stoke fires. (he checked on animals)

3:30 after school change.

Bring in more coal, and wood. Help brother with mucking out.

5:30 dish up food, eat and with help from my older brother wash-up.

7:00 fight washing machine, feed dog and cats, and ensure fires are set for the night

8:00 Collapse into bed.


Before anyone goes phoning social services I am now touching forty and this only lasted for a few months.

I look back on these times now with almost fond memories, I see how I had to grow up at a young age, but in a way that has helped me. I was not abused or left to starve in a corner like so many others. Through my teenage years I hated my parents for that time, I raged that they took some of my childhood away from me. But then I saw my peers and friends struggle to turn on an iron while in University, one friend destroyed a £200 fleece by trying to dry it in the microwave. They lived on baked beans not due to financial hardship but because they couldn’t work out how turn on the oven. I realised my parents inadvertently gave me a fierce independence. I now have four children two are way past this age and the other two are bracketing it. They show interest in the cooking but only fun things, I try so hard not to tell them how lucky they are and what I had to do at that age, but it was not the norm for anyone at that time. I was a Seven year old boy who had been thrust into the boring bit of an adult world. Much of the time I was dog tired and was close to tears pretty much all the time. Sometimes I would lay in bed quietly whimpering to my self, but sleep would always come and with it the hope of another day.


The life of a kitchen table

 Hello and welcome to the world that I occupy.

In fact I never really move out of this small space that is mine.

I don’t mind, everybody comes to me constantly, I am the centre of my family’s life. I sit there in the kitchen quietly waiting for the family to wake.

Dad is always the first up, he comes in and sits down to eat his breakfast slowly waking up with every mouthful of what ever he is eating. Even as he approaches 40 he still likes the cereal of his youth, . Mind you toast is just as popular, along with the first cup of coffee.

Then the children are next along with mum always arms full of the detritus that the kids seem to shed between waking up and walking down to me for food. It seems like a well polished routine for the outsider that I imagine is looking in.

Yet here I am every day hearing all the secrets and anxieties that affect them all. I know that between getting out of bed and walking down to me, tempers have been frayed one child has already upset another, some important piece of clothing or school work is lost. It is always at this time that something last-minute is remembered. Normally the eldest, she is the perfect ditzy blonde, so clever in academic life, a straight A student, it’s just the simple things in life she struggles with.

Then there is the boy, there is only one so no need to get confused, he is laid back with most things in his life that effect him. Sweet to the bone easy-going and slightly freaky. He lives in a world in his own head and every now and then let’s us in. Counselling is probably imminent either that or world domination.

Mum easily holds the family together. Or should I say it is easy to see that mum holds the family together, I know it’s not easy to do. The way she sits down after the school run that doesn’t involve 4 different sets of PE kit three lots of homework one major project, and a bill that has suddenly been thrust through the door that wasn’t expected till this time next week. She has her cup of coffee and you can actually feel the stress exude from her. That’s before the endless rounds of housekeeping that she does with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Next are what everyone refers to as ‘the girls’ one being five the other six. They are easily indistinguishable from each other,…it’s just I can’t. They are inseparable from each other always laughing at some private joke or talking at high-speed and a pitch that would drive dogs crazy. As long as it is pink they are happy, be it clothes, toys and even food.

Dad is probably the quietest of the family, well at breakfast he is. Always deep in thought about something or other, normally something to do with one of the things, that constantly worry him, Family, or work. He is always coming up with some new hair brained idea for making life easier.

Breakfast is over quickly. Dishes are put in the sink ready for long-suffering mum to get to. Plates are replaced by shoes, bags the girls have shoes put on quickly. Dad then always has to empty everything as he looks for his ever lost keys or wallet or his poor mobile phone.

Then silence as the front door closes, and the family is of to their places of work or school. Soon mum comes back in normally loaded down with some shopping to replace the bit of food that is already running out that the children devour with ravenous appetites. Or another new item of clothing that has been destroyed or grown out of. She puts them on me with a sigh as she takes in the carnage that has replaced the kitchen she spent ages cleaning just twelve hours before hand.

It all waits for the cup of coffee. In another new cup to replace the one that got broken in one of the boys experiments. Mum soon returns to the never-ending task of housework. 3 floors 4 bedrooms 2 reception rooms, a study, and the small utility room that is forever full of half repaired bikes, boots that are coated with layers of mud, coats steaming constantly from the never-ending rain showers, and the poor washing machine that is constantly churning away, along side is the tumble dryer with its door held shut with the broom propped up,against a pile of boxes that still sit unpacked from the move seven years ago.

After a quick respite cup of coffee, mum dashes out the door to collect the kids from school. Then I am alone again until the family returns at varying times.

The noise signals who comes first. The girls and boy return home with mum behind, with arms full of empty lunch boxes, coats and another letter asking for some money or a tin for some event at the school.

The oldest girl is next, both tired from big school and full of life from time spent with friends. She slowly empties the fridge of fruit as she shares the latest gossip of her school friends with Mum, who listens for no other reason than to hear a human voice that can string a sentence together.

It’s a little while until dad comes through the door shattered and a little frail after work, he puts some coffee on and slowly sinks into the chair. The girls climb onto his lap both talking at high-speed and holding three different conversations, then a few minutes quiet, and chat with mum about the latest bill or broken item, as the children return to their previous employ.

Then, the mayhem begins, home work of 4 different types are being discussed and another papier-mâché lighthouse is slowly taking over everything, dinner is being cooked by Dad while he also slowly repairs the dishwasher, Mum folds the laundry on me in a small space amongst a socket set, reams of paper and half full glasses of juice and cups of coffee. As homework is finished the family comes and goes and each individual brings their own piece of life to the melee. Then the call goes out that food is almost ready. Everything is cleared from me, and down go place mats, cutlery, glasses. Drinks and food are set down, and ten seconds of absolute stillness is experienced by all, no words are spoken for the first five minutes as food is savoured, and consumed sometimes a little escapes of the plates and makes its dash for freedom as it gets pushed around until it’s scooped back up or drops to the floor.

As the eating slows down the volume rises again as the days exploits are played out for everyone to share, several conversations happen at once, laughter is shared by all, some times tears. Then everything is cleared away the last of the spills cleaned. The Girls go up to bed, the boy and the eldest disappear to their own rooms, cups of coffee are made a newspaper is spread out on me ready to be read but mostly forgotten or doodled on, as lunch-boxes are made and set out ready for tomorrow. Another load of laundry folded another lost toy found. And finally just before the lights are switched of dad puts his keys and wallet on me so not to lose them the next morning. Then darkness and the beeping of the distant washing machine telling nobody that it has finished its final load for the day.

Macchiato Anthropology

People watching, or to give it its proper title ‘anthropology’. Unlike many proper anthropologists I am not keen on spending hours hidden a jungle eating rice and gnat testicles, to study the behaviour of a tribe hidden from the modern world.

No I much prefer to sit down in a comfortable chair sipping a macchiato, and perusing those who pass the plate glass windows of my local ‘Café Nero’. (yes I know my dear wife has written about this subject in her blog, but we were there together and the subject interested us both).

While we both like to give the passing persons a fictional life back story, normally becoming more extreme as the time goes by, (and the caffeine takes hold of our neurone receptors). I also like to look a little deeper at the behaviour of the individuals and groups.

I am a keen walker and enjoy heading of to the hills and spending time hiking through the wilder areas of this small island we call Britain. While walking over yet another rise on my way to the journeys end, if anyone else passes there is always a few spoken words of greeting, nothing probing, nothing personal just general niceties to pass those fleeting moments.

But here the as concrete, bricks, and shop displays shout for attention our willingness to acknowledge each other disappear. I am sure that many will argue that there are far too many people to say hello to, and that we have nothing in common, unlike the ramblers who are all doing the same thing hence have a connection. And yes I will agree with you that even in our small Welsh town as you walk from one end to the other, you could pass hundreds of people and to say hello to each would be a laborious task at best.

It is the fact that most people just seem to ignore each other as they pass within a few feet. Being British we hold our faces with composure and no emotion showing. But what if that person you are just about to walk past is about to get hit by a bus, and yours is the last face they see, do they see a face of indifference? We all dream that we will die on our beds with our families beside us peacefully going to sleep for the final time.

Looking back at those people who pass by the windows (it really is a good place to people watch by the way). You can divide them into many groups. You have the old widows that pull a trolley behind them, looking at windows full of ‘things’ that they could not even dream of when they were children in war torn Britain.

Then there are the retired couples, whose clothes slowly start matching as both start wearing beige slacks with elastic waist bands for comfort, enjoying their shopping day.

Next you have the business type. Now we don’t have the city type here, but there are the suited and booted who are glued to there phones and looking harassed.

As transport is getting better and technology is now so cheap we have an abundance of the ‘rich young and hip’. They can not afford to buy a house so they live at home still, and spend their money on clothes and fashion.

Then there are the young mothers, who prowl around with their pushchairs in packs. This is the most diverse group as the backgrounds are separated from each mother/child coupling. The wealth of each can be seen in the clothes of the coupling. One will be wearing ‘Baby Gap’ and ‘Boden’ while the other a sports top paired ‘Primark’ Jeans, and an all in one baby-grow with slogans printed on it.

Then you have the Parental group, those old enough to have children in school or college. Not quite old enough to look forward to retirement but a little too old to be going out Saturday nights. This group spends its time in town not out of necessity but to enjoy window shopping for a new ‘thing’ to replace the old ‘thing’ that has finally given up the ghost after fifteen years of faithful service. To while away the time they will sit down and sip a macchiato and watch people go by.

With an observant eye you can see within these circles they do acknowledge each other in their own manner. The young mothers steer towards each other start talking from twenty yards away and don’t pause in stride as messages about toddler groups are given. The business types will raise their hands in greeting and use a simple form of sign language to communicate to each other that they should phone, while still on their phones to other business types arranging meetings. The old widows will stop and discuss the latest ailment affecting them or their neighbour then continue on holding their coats around them even tighter. The retired couples are the ones that stop and will have lengthy discourses about the state of the world and how it was so much better way back when. The ‘rich young hip’ will greet by giving a smile and one will always give an astonished look at the others news. But the parental group don’t make much effort they will pass each other and give a small nod.

It is almost never that these groups will acknowledge each other, as they pass each other in a chaotic ballet played out for time immemorial. Passing etiquette between groups are passed down from generation to generation. Younger shall always take the higher pass, pushchairs have right of way through crowds and if you pass within three feet of each other you must move you arm out of the way and twist slightly at the waist.

If you have to squeeze through a gap the uttered sentence ‘I am so sorry can I just squee…’ must never be completed before the manoeuvre, and the ‘thank-you’ has to be louder than the question.

But the one group that has the highest authority are the elderly widows. They will plough on head down.

Woe betide you if you are caught between an ‘elderly widow’ and ‘pushchair toting young mother’. You know you are going to upset one and you have to choose quickly.

Within that two hundredth of a second you judge your opponents. First the old widow she is four feet nothing and weilds a four wheeled trolley full of tinned cat food and fresh bread, then the young mother the child is asleep and there are no piles of shopping falling of the pushchair, then with an apologetic smile you side step the pushchair and hop over the back wheel twisting in mid air and apologising for there not being enough room. If the pushchair contains an awake baby that is grubby from sweets the mother has used as blackmail just to keep it from screaming, and there are enough bags hanging of the back of the pushchair to keep the local landfill site busy for the next six weeks. A quick look at the mother whose hair is now auditioning for the next yeti film and there is look of exasperation on her face and her eyes are wet from tears of frustration then, you flatten yourself along the wall wishing you could become like the chalky emulsion that you know has just covered your coat. And pray that the two passing will leave you enough room not to loose you toes.

Of course watching this from the comfort of a heated coffee shop, only weakens your resolve to go out and join the fray, and that third cup of coffee already beckons, besides the chores will always be there later.