Saturday, June 4, 2022

A Platinum Poem

by John B├ęchamel (the Saucy Poet)


Blessed Elizabeth, with patience she waits,
Her Reign much accomplished, her strength now abates,
Her public adoring flood into the Mall,
Our nation restoring, our thanks to the Gal’

 

David Taylor

Photo of 'Dancing Queenie' by A Mott



A Lifetime's Brushes with Royalty

It was my first experience of a sense of ceremony, the year, 1953. Aged almost six, I had climbed from the three-quarter bed, shared with my sister Linda, expecting another day of play with neighbouring kids on the street outside.

The middle of the bed was yet to be occupied by our younger sister, Gill. We had no idea that night ten months previously that the next morning would present us with a baby sister. She was still in a cot in mum and dad’s room but would join us within a couple of months, her place always in the middle of the bed.

So far as we knew, 2nd June 1953 was an ordinary day on New Parks Estate. By mid-morning, there was a buzz in the air.  We joined the crowds that had poured from each new council home to line both sides of the road. We had lived on Frolesworth Road now for eighteen months and had no idea what we were waiting for.

Out of the blue, brass band music filled the air and the Drum Major marched into the end of the road, followed by the meticulously in-step Boys Brigade Band. Three-year old Alan Pole shouted excitedly at the top of his voice “it’s the King, it’s the King”.   

The Drum Major was a boy who lived across the green in front of our house. He looked a man to me, rather rotund but probably aged fourteen or fifteen years.  He took his role very seriously and the band were well practiced at marching behind him in unison. They read the music from an eye level sheet clipped to their instruments. I did not know the name of the drummer. He was a strange looking lad with no apparent friends, but in this role, he excelled and took great pride.

His drum was as large as I, but how envious I was as he balanced it on his ample stomach and beat it with large drumsticks.

As the band exited through the other end of the road, we were taken into home to get changed. Our best dresses and shoes, stored in mum’s wardrobe, were bought downstairs. We were going out, but knew not where.

Everyone in the street was heading in the same direction. After a ten-minute walk, we arrived at what I now know was an old aircraft hangar on the golf course.

Inside, the extensive, hollow building was draped with red, white and blue flags, bunting and balloons. Long tables with white cloths were laden with food, a real treat at a time when many foods were still on ration.

Considering this was the top event in my life so far, memories are few.  I do remember being presented with a Coronation Mug as we left. We used these mugs daily, a welcome replacement for the tin mugs that mum and dad had purloined from the army.

The final treat of this day was to go into the end house. Mr. and Mrs. Dawson had purchased the only TV in the street. We were invited in to watch the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II. Through the crowd of neighbours, it was impossible to see very much of the ceremony on the nine-inch screen. The picture was many shades of grainy grey, but moved and had sound which was quite amazing.

It would be another two years before a TV appeared in the living room of number 52.

 

My royal claim to fame

When Uncle Derek came to visit, it was in a shiny black limousine which he parked outside our home looking totally out of place on the council estate. There was no question, back then, of it coming to any harm, and it awarded us a temporary celebrity status.

Uncle Derek was a chauffeur, and on his days off could use a car from the royal fleet.

This was in stark contrast to his early life. The premature death of his father found him experience nothing but poverty and neglect. Evacuated during the war, his age under five, he was sent to a Boy’s Home in Llandudno.

Derek was selected by Lord Portarlington to be sent away to an elite school to learn the art of Driving/Chauffeuring. Such was the prestige of his qualification, he was awarded a position as one of the drivers for the royal family.

We lost touch with Derek when he married and went to live in America. Here, he became chauffeur to Arthur Miller, the playwright. He travelled back to UK as part of his work, but we never saw him again. My mother did not agree with his choice of wife, an older lady, and I suspect he was another relative lost through an argument.

 

My next experience of royalty came in 1958. The queen came on a to visit Leicester. She was to visit the Corah hosiery company. The word went around that there had been a gold-plated toilet installed in her honour. The follow-up news, that she did not use it.

The route was to take her down Charles Street. Mrs. Harrison, our next-door neighbour, was taking her three daughters to watch and invited me to go along. I was aged ten years, the same age as her youngest, Sheila.

We secured a spot on the front row, close to our bus stop. We were early and waited quite some time. Charles Street is a long road, and we were at the lower end close to the Corah factory.

The roar went up amongst the crowd at the top of the road, flags waving and people more animated as the procession arrived. Quick as a flash, the police escort sped by, followed by the royal car. A smiling queen’s hand was raised in a permanent wave as she passed.

All over, we headed back to the bus stop and caught the number 14 bus back home.

 

The Silver Jubilee almost passed me by.  I was a single parent with one full-time and two part-time jobs. I had no inkling of the arrangements that my neighbours were undertaking to celebrate the twenty-five-year celebration of the queen’s reign.

My now husband, and I joined in the frivolities in the late afternoon. We had missed the children’s fancy dress in the afternoon, much to my children’s disgust.

With much alcohol flowing and the celebrations continuing into the late hours, my six feet four inches partner climbed onto the trike of a three-year-old that had been abandoned on the footpath of our cul-de-sac.

Of course, he fell off and rolled into the gutter. He lay at the side of the road, refusing to get up. Unable to lift him, he was left outside to sleep it off. In the early hours, he crawled in and spent the rest of the night on the hall floor – and I still married him.

 

When Glenfield Hospital was built, I applied for, and gained, a nursing post on the Female Surgical ward. Once the first phase of the hospital was completed, it was officially opened by the Duchess of Kent.

There was a great deal of preparation for the royal arrival. Police searched all areas. Every store cupboard that had been piled high with drip stands and all manner of equipment needed for a busy Ward had to be tidied. Nothing, however, would have stood in the way of the sniffer dogs as they went about their serious business.

The Duchess, dressed in a pretty pastel blue outfit, led her entourage around Ward 26. She was shown into two of the high dependency bays, each containing six patients. Nurse preparations had started early that morning. All patients were bathed, hair brushed, clean nightdresses and smelling of Johnsons baby talc in readiness for the visit. Some remained in bed, others sat in chairs as the Duchess exchanged a few words with those well enough.

Some nurses stood with their patients within the Bay. Other Staff tried to hide discreetly outside the bay, armed with cameras to take photographs of the occasion.  I was one of them. Unknown to us, the TV cameras had spotted the line of six or so nurses, and filmed us from the rear as we snapped away. The shot appeared briefly on the local news that evening, my only TV appearance filmed of my back.

 

My final encounter with royalty came with pride and as a complete surprise. My sister invited myself and my husband to accompany her and my brother-in-law to Buckingham Palace, where she would be awarded an MBE for her services to charity.

We travelled to London, first class, by train the day before, such was the sense of occasion. Her husband treated us all to a show that evening and we thoroughly enjoyed the presentation of ‘Jersey Boys.’  Frankie Valli music had played a large part in all our teenage years and we returned to our budget hotel singing.

The next morning, Linda and I got ready in our carefully selected outfits, complete with hats. Hers a cream two-piece with navy accessories, mine lime green and purchased for my granddaughter’s wedding.  The four of us hailed a taxi to the Palace. The feeling was surreal. We had stood so many times outside, peering through the black and gold wrought iron gates, hoping for a glimpse of royalty or someone famous.  Here we were, four council house kids, strutting across the gravel inside those gates. What a thrill it was to enter Buckingham Palace.

My sister was whisked away to receive her instructions and the three of us climbed the opulent staircase into a large room where we were seated on gold trimmed red velvet chairs. Life size statues and detailed plaster work had to be marvelled at as we awaited the ceremony.

Prince Charles presented Linda’s MBE. Her curtsey was flawless, after much practice, and she chatted briefly with the future King. When I asked her what they talked about, she could not remember, so in awe was she of the occasion.

As we left and merged into the London crowds we were once again the four ex-council house kids. We found Princess Diana’s memorial playground in Kensington Gardens and rounded off a perfect day with tea and cakes.

 

Carolyn Wheatley

Photo by Edson Rosas on Unsplash

Thursday, May 19, 2022

A Rare Night Out

The postman dropped a letter through the door from Loughborough Town Hall. It listed the up-and-coming shows. Nights out are not often considered these days, but one act caught my eye.

Guitar Heroes featured three guitarists/singers and a drummer. My husband was equally interested in stepping back in time. All the music was from our teenage era. A time when we were transitioning from child to adult with raging hormone changes. This 60’s rock was what we listened to in bed on a transistor, Radio Luxemburg frustratingly fading in and out. The same tunes we learned to jive, twist, and shake to at Youth Clubs, the Palais de Dance and the Il Rondo in Leicester.  

Our Saturday trip to the Loughborough market found us at the Town Hall reception desk enquiring after seat availability. We were not hopeful as my husband is six-feet-four inches tall and requires end of row seats. Two artificial kneecaps and a metal hip means he cannot squash into confined spaces.

The receptionist came up with a positive, yes, she had two end of row seats.  We gladly booked them and paid up – a bargain at £20 each.

This evening performance, we both agreed, would be worth making the effort of forfeiting the usual evening of Soaps and Quiz shows on TV. Our social time these days usually involves daytime dog walks with a cappuccino at a local beauty spot – all doors locked and bolted by 6pm.

We planned an early tea so that we could leave an hour before the 7.30pm start.  The dog began to sulk when he realised we were going out and he was not coming along - practically unknown.

We arrived in Loughborough before 7pm and the ‘Parking Fairies’ worked their magic. We bagged the space as close to the theatre as it was possible to get - Bunions and Hammer toes do not take kindly to evening shoes. Slightly ironic that the show we were heading for would have been the cause, as we danced the night away in four-inch stiletto’s and winkle pickers.

Amongst the first to enter the auditorium we were able to ‘people watch’ as folk arrived and took their seats. Our two seats were on the front row. Seats we would avoid like the plague had it been a comedian appearing. Right in front of us was a bank of massive speakers - was this the reason that the seats were still available at the 11th hour?

By 7.30pm the room was full to bursting. People had filed past us. Many with one or two walking sticks, crutches, push along Zimmer Frames. Some on mobility scooters, others just hanging onto the arm of a partner.
Bent backs, crooked legs and feet dominated the audience. An assortment of long-haired lads, obviously there aspiring to a professional guitar playing level, added some youth. The youngest, a little boy about eight years with long hair, smart tapered jeans, waistcoat, and black patent chukker boots – a real dude who will no doubt be part of a group at some stage.

The lady who sat next to me arrived with her mobiliator. She was very frail and could not let go of her support to pull down the flip-up seat. I held the seat down for her to land upon, straightening her long cardigan as she descended to prevent it ‘bunching up’.

Many with obvious disabilities had to ascend the stairs to their seat. It was done with difficulty, guts and determination and everyone made it to their seats for the start of the show.
Clothing was of all types. One elderly man with white pointed toe shoes and a leather jacket struggled with the aid of two sticks, refusing the lose his ‘rocker’ image.

Most of us elderly women wore flat comfortable shoes with orthotics that enabled us to walk at all. Gradually, the area front of stage became lined with folded walking aids and wheelchairs, stored out of the way until the time came to exit. Some could not transfer, remaining in wheelchairs/scooters, parked on the ends of the row.

As the music struck up, videos of the groups and artists were displayed on a screen. Handsome young men, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Jimmy Hendrix, Mark Bolan, their birth, and death dates displaying their tragically short lives. Remembered always for their young, good looks by an audience now wrinkled and grey.

It may have been a benefit that many of us were half deaf! Three quarters of the audience were over 70 years, re-living their youth. The legs and feet that had struggled to carry stooped bodies were swaying and tapping to the music. Memories of Jiving when limbs were like rubber and stamina was endless. When the ridiculous shoes became cumbersome, they were discarded next to handbags that we danced around barefoot.

Mouths formed every word of each song. Heads and shoulders swayed rhythmically as we were transported to a time when we were clueless to limb pain. Our digits and joints had yet to grow bent and swollen, fine movement taken for granted.

No money for a drink [back then], the cost of admission and the bus fare home was all that we could afford. If desperately thirsty we would scoop tap water in our hand to ‘wet our whistle’.  Our pelvic floors had yet to suffer the traumas of childbirth and excess weight.

The Disabled Toilet lay, surprisingly ‘vacant’. Most folk almost certainly aware of the words “better to be safe than sorry.” Standing in a queue is not an option for an ageing bladder.

Many people did not remove themselves to the bar during the interval, it was just an effort too far.  We were happy therefore to find that Ice-Cream is still served during the interval.  Gone are the days where the limitations were Vanilla or nothing. Like everything today, the tubs are considerably smaller. Eight flavours were on offer, a decision too far on the spur of the moment. Without specs it proved impossible to read the small writing and the nearest two were taken, just like mother insisted. Blackcurrant and clotted cream and triple chocolate chip went down very nicely. 

Far from the thrupenny cornet the ices were £3 each - £6 for two ice creams! That was two weeks wages when I started full-time work. When we eventually sussed out where the spoon was hidden (in the lid), it was too short to reach the bottom. Sticky fingers were therefore endured for the second half.

We were seated for three hours. Pressure sores could have formed in less time. Hopefully the movement prevented such a price being paid, the exhilaration keeping our circulation moving.

Exit from the auditorium was a re-run of difficulties, backs, legs and feet stiffened from sitting. Once up and moving, I suspect everyone left with a song in their heart and a wealth of happy memories.

Far from our halcyon days, the only ‘Jump’ that night was from the young Van Halen.

CW
May 2022

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev 
on Unsplash.com



Saturday, April 23, 2022

A Trip to Stratford-upon-Avon

My parents took my sisters and I on a coach trip from Loughborough to Stratford-Upon Avon in the late 1950s, about the time that I was 14 years old. Much was made of the fact that we were going to see Shakespeare’s birthplace and that we would also see the theatre and other related sites.

We climbed out of the bus on what was probably the hottest day of the year, and the place was crowded with tourists. I remember walking along the side of the River Avon, with its resident swans and ducks, and returning to the town over a very old stone bridge.

In the town, wooden timbered houses lined the streets, taking us up to the famous theatre, and past a pub appropriately called The Swan.

The next place we visited was Holy Trinity Church, where the famous William Shakespeare lies buried below the High Alter. I remember looking at his gravestone with its threats, curses and consequences to any person ill-advised enough to move the interred bones!

We sat and ate our packed lunch on the town green close to the old bridge. I seem to remember a troop of Morris dancers performing their traditional capers with sticks and jingling bells. I was quite worried that I might, at any moment, be expected to join them.

Dad went off to join a queue for some bottled drinks. The heat from the sun was getting unbearable and we were all extremely thirsty. He was gone for a very long time and when he finally returned with the drinks, the contents of the bottles were disappointingly warm. My small sisters were, by now, getting hot and a bit fractious, poor mum was trying, unsuccessfully, to keep sun hats on their heads.

I was very glad when the time reached 5.00pm and we returned to our waiting coach, and home!


David Taylor



The Visitor from Australia

It seems outrageous that I live less than an hour from Stratford-upon-Avon and have only visited this beautiful, notoriously historical place once.

My niece came for a visit from Australia. Her mother had considered that getting to know her relatives and the English way of life/weather would be character building. I suspect that it was also considered a safer option (and cheaper), to be here with relatives rather than with girlfriends in Thailand or some such exotic paradise.

Mary was aged seventeen and recently finished in full-time education. This was to be her gap year, though, as she did not attend University, we did wonder - gap between what?

The slender, spindle legged, Betty Boop lookalike teenager arrived in the most minimal of skirts.  A shock of bright red hair the first thing that came into view.

Known as a challenging child, I suspect her mother welcomed six weeks of relief from the rants and huffs of her eldest daughter. Perhaps it was the outdoor lifestyle in Australia that facilitated this overconfident child? She was certainly a far cry from our quieter children, who were positively shy in comparison.

It was arranged that Mary would stay with her grandmother. Within a week of arriving however, she upset her to such an extent that she was no longer welcome to stay in her home, the responsibility too great for an almost 80 year old.

Mary’s welfare, therefore, became ours - her aunt and uncle. We provided bed, food, and taxi service. We also had to try to keep her entertained, not so easy in an English winter. We knew we could not compete with the outdoor summer she had left behind in Sydney. Mary was used to a swimming pool in the garden and access to Bondi, Manley and other beautiful beaches, not to mention the lifeguards.

 Our Christmas was spent inside with the heating on. The curtains were drawn by 4 pm to block out the frosty nights. Electric blankets were a new phenomenon to Mary, an artificial heat source she quickly grew very attached to.

For New Year’s Day, a trip to the seaside seemed a good idea. After a two-and-a- half hour drive we pulled onto the car park in Hunstanton. Before us, just visible on the horizon, lay the brown, choppy sea. Half a mile of brown sand and mud stretched before it, the tide right out as it always seems to be in Sunny Hunny.

With earphones removed, an Australian twang rang out from the back seat - “Is this it, do people really come here for pleasure?”  Mary refused to get out of the car into the infamous East Coast wind. The offer of a brisk walk along the beach was dismissed out of hand.

The next task on this not-such-a-good-idea was to find an open Fish and Chip shop. No an easy feat during the closed season and on a miserable New Year’s Day. Challenge achieved, we devoured our lunch hidden from view behind steamed up car windows, the car heater still pumping out heat.  

All that remained was the return two-and-a-half-hour trip back to Leicester. An unimpressed Mary still in the seat she had left only briefly to visit a public toilet.

My days off from work were now taken up with trips out for Mary. Her love of history was a saviour. Castles and stately homes are not in short supply around the Leicestershire area.  Personally, I see no excitement in viewing a pile of derelict ruins but if there was furnishing and artefacts displaying the way people lived in the house, I enjoyed the visits immensely. Had history lessons at school not centred around battles and dates, instead covering social history, I could have greatly enjoyed the subject.

Towards the end of her holiday and running out of places to go and money to fund it, we headed out to Stratford. We saw signs for William Shakespeare’s birthplace and made our way there.  My education at a Secondary Modern School never ventured into the realms of Shakespeare or his works. The gardens were of greatest interest to me, even at this dormant time of year. This proved too cold for Mary and proved very short lived.

The house was interesting to us both. As we entered the kitchen, the floor space was consumed by a polished dark wooden baby seat. This was attached to a long pole, which in turn was connected to a pivot. With a child installed, William could have run around in circles like a pony on a lead rein. His mother could then complete household chores unhindered, apart from stepping over the pole that consumed most of the kitchen. Unable to venture further than the ‘turning circle’ the child was safe, if not a little bored with the repetitive view.  

I doubt my fascination with the device was of interest to Mary, but we both enjoyed the visit for our different reasons. We had a nice lunch overlooking the River Avon. Mary warmed up considerably and became more content with a glass of red to hand.

It was a long and expensive six weeks.  The money her mother had provided for her keep was kept firmly in Mary’s charge and she happily spent every penny. The responsibility for this seventeen-year-old weighed heavily. My sister-in-law was on the phone daily enquiring after our trips and seemed satisfied that we were fulfilling her wishes to expand her daughter’s education, if not her family roots.

The return trip to the Airport was a relief for all the Blighty contingency. Smiles of relief replaced the usual shedding of tears as the Singapore Airlines Boeing 747 lifted to the skies above Birmingham, thankfully heading back to Sydney.

CW

Jester, Stratford on Avon
Photo by A Mott


The RSC

Back in the 1980s I was an associate member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the main benefit of which was being able to book for forthcoming productions about two weeks before tickets went on sale to the general public. At a cost of £5 a year I thought it was worth the money but resigned my membership when the cost increased substantially from one year to the next.
 
Living thirty miles or so west of London and an hour’s drive from Stratford-upon-Avon meant both RSC venues were relatively easily available so I would go fairly often. Cymbeline, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard the Second, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Plantagenets, Henry the Fifth, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth (with Derek Jacobi), and others – not always Shakespeare!
 
In the mid-1990s I took my younger daughter Jane and husband Colin to the Barbican to see As You Like It. During the interval we were enjoying a drink at the bar when I mentioned one of my long-held ambitions at the Barbican was to be having an interval drink when I would unexpectedly see someone I knew. It had never happened in any of the many times I had been there, but within two minutes of mentioning it to Jane and Colin a minister friend from Cambridgeshire came into view.
 
He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him though we didn’t have long to chat as he was attending an orchestral concert in the Barbican Concert Hall, their interval was just ending, and he was hurrying to get back in time for the second half of the concert. Nor, in the years since, has such an unexpected meeting ever happened again.
 
David Parkin

In honour of Shakespeare's birthday ...

The Morris Dancer

He was a Morris dancer
it was obvious to see
with his white attire
red ribbons of fire
upon his elbow and knee.

You knew when he was home
it was impossible not to hear
the bells on his shoes
which would jangle in twos
Sweet music to one’s ears.

But the highlight of the night
Was when the door went ’click’
And he danced around
both feet off the ground
then bashed you with his stick!


The following piece was written with the prompt of 'fusty dull-brained Malmsey-butt', a phrase created at random from insults Shakespeare used in his plays.

I am old now and feeling quite fusty
(dull-brained as polite folk would say)
But I do like to strut my rotund Malmsey butt
as it shows not a sign of decay!

JT



A Platinum Poem

by John B├ęchamel (the Saucy Poet) Blessed Elizabeth, with patience she waits, Her Reign much accomplished, her strength now abates, Her publ...