January 2022

A Happy New Year to the group and to everyone who reads and enjoys this website.

Sadly, we have to start 2022 with a return to Zoom. We had managed to have three face-to-face meetings at the end of 2021 but with high numbers of Covid cases (Omicron variant) now rampaging through the community, it was thought wise to distance ourselves once again.

To cheer us all up, Julia, who will be leading our January meeting, has sent in an amusing poem to begin the year.

Garden fever

(with apologies to John Masefield)

Julia Powell  2022

I must get into the garden again, my trusty tools to the fore.

All I need is a spade and a fork and a barrowful of manure.

Sun on my back and the smell of the earth and I’m in gardener’s heaven.

Bulbs poking through, a promise of spring even though the ground is sodden.

I must get up to the plot again where calm and peace reside.

All is well with the world up there where our cares are put aside.

A chat with the folks and a welcome cuppa then back to the job in hand,

Pruning and planting and making plans for the goodies we’ll get from the land.

I must go into the shed next week and give the mower a clean.

My packets of seeds await my attention, they must know I’m really keen.

Alas, I know I have to be patient and shelve my plans for right now.

It’s only January, just turned new year, but I’ll get through this month somehow.

In January’s meeting we went back to the beginning by looking at biography and autobiography. Julia had been working on the story of her grandmother during lockdown and she showed us how she had collected information on her and then changed it into a novel.

We also tackled some practical writing about names we have used or been called in our lifetime. Home completed pieces were requested for the website.

Nell

There’s only one person who calls me Nell and that is my husband.

In my teens I was passionate about drama. It was acting in school productions that saw me through my years at my boarding school in Somerset. At the age of nineteen I was accepted at Bristol University to take a BA Hons in Drama, English, and Art History but, for me, the Drama was my priority.

Murray, my husband, and I had met in the summer before I started that degree course, so he had to put up with this drama mad girlfriend. I can vividly remember an incident that happened on the Downs at Bristol one hot afternoon. We had been trying ‘trust’ exercises in our drama practical. One, in particular, I had enjoyed where you trust your partner to catch you when you fell backwards. The aim was to see how you could end on the floor safely with your partner’s help. I was explaining this to Murray whilst we walked on the grass and decided to give a practical demonstration. Unfortunately, he had not realised that I was going to throw myself backwards immediately and, therefore, was not there to catch me. I landed flat on the ground. Amazingly, there were no injuries as, putting my trust completely in his hands, I had totally relaxed and just landed softly on the grass.

My parents had chosen the name ‘Helen’ as they thought it could not be shortened but Murray did – to Nell. The name was linked to Nell Gwynne the actress. Many years later he bought me a delightful model of the lady herself who sits proudly, to this day, on the shelf above our fireplace.

 I do like the name Nell, but Murray is the only person who calls me by that name, and I have never encouraged anyone else to do so.

Helen

Erica

I’ve always liked my name. I was going to be called Lynne, until my father whilst listening to the radio heard the name Erica. So, my parents changed their minds. My father’s name was Eric, so they thought Erica was a good choice for their baby girl.

My younger sister Cheryl was given Lynne for her middle name. I would have liked a middle name. My parents told me they couldn’t think of a name to go with Erica. As I grew up, I never heard anyone else called Erica. I was the only Erica in the three schools I attended. Occasionally one of the boys would call me Eric, which I didn’t mind. After I left school, I began to hear my name more often. I’ve been called many names throughout my life including Erica, Eric, Ricky, Mum, Mother and Nanny.

I have two sons. If I’d have had a daughter, I’d have called her Heather. I love my garden and plants. Erica is a type of Heather that is also called Winter Heather. I have one in my garden.

Erica is a baby name mainly popular in Christian religion. It is a strong Germanic name with old Norse beginnings. Its meaning is the female derivative of Eric, meaning brave ruler, ever powerful. My name is spelt with a C, unlike some countries where the name is commonly spelt with a K. Erika is the preferred spelling within Germany, most of Scandinavia and Slavic countries. Erika is also a popular name in Spain. The female version was introduced to England in the 18th century. Erika has very closely shadowed her more popular sister Erica on the American female naming charts for about the last sixty years.

I read recently about a notorious Nazi military marching song called Erika, first composed in the 1930s and used widely during World War Two. The lyrics are ‘On the heath a little flower blooms and it’s called Erika. Hot from a hundred thousand little bees that swarm over Erika, because her heart is full of sweetness.

I smiled when I read the characteristics of Erika are authoritative, powerful, tough, tenacious, wealthy, problem solver and achiever.

Erica

362 words

‘LANK’

(Lank -Name-Meaning-English: nickname for someone tall and thin, from Old English hlanc ‘long’, ‘narrow’.)

MY UNWELCOMED NICKNAME.

It happened in junior school.  I must have been about 7 or 8 years old.  This was a new school to me.  The council had moved my family out of a city centre slum into a council house in Southmead, Bristol, a council estate with a bit of a reputation – like many others – mainly because the council housed troublesome and criminal families within ‘blocks’ of streets on their estates, as was their policy.  It aided the police to some extent, so they liked it too.    

Our new house was just outside of this block and my new school, Fonthill Rd Junior School, was only some 400 yards or so away from my new home, but it had many pupils from those ‘troublesome’ families within its catchment area, and I got to meet quite a few!

I’d always been tall, and on my first day I entered the classroom at my new school with my teacher, Miss Pollock, to be introduced to my new class mates,  This was necessary because I was joining the class mid-term due to the City Council’s slum clearance relocations not being aligned to the school year, nor its terms.  I could hear the gasps and sniggers from the pupils as soon as they saw how tall I was when I entered.  I felt like a freak!

After my introduction I was allotted a desk and told to fill my inkwell.  This was a new experience for me and I overfilled it causing ink to run onto the desk.  Miss Pollock went berserk, shouting at me, slapping my knuckles with a ruler, and demanding, much to the amusement of the whole class, that I clean up ‘this mess!’.

That was my first thirty minutes at my new school.  I became frightened, lonely and fearful, but although my eyes were wet, I did not cry.  Boys did not cry in the 1950s.    Most adult men had served in the war and bestowed that ideal of ‘always keep a stiff upper lip’ upon their sons.  ‘You have to be tough to survive!’ they would say.

After a little while I made a few friends.  I was a naturally shy person, and I didn’t make friends easily.  This was partly due to my very early years when I’d been a lone boy in the Georgian slums of Bristol for the first 6 or 7 years of my life.  These slums were a group of 10 or so terraced houses tucked away from the ‘decent’ folk nearby, by the lie of the land.  No one came down our ‘pedestrian only lane’ unless they had to.  It wasn’t dangerous nor nasty, just out of the way, and only useful to a few people as a short cut. 

There were just two boys of my age within these slums.  One was Jewish and his mother forbad any contact with me because my mother was Austrian.  The other boy was a little older than me and didn’t much like being a ‘baby sitter’ so I was left to my own devices until I went to school at the age of 4+, amusing myself in play with my own imagination, and not really developing any interactive social skills before I got to school, because there was no one of my own age to interact with; there were only my parents and other adults.

Anyway, back at Fonthill school I remember a history lesson about King Edward the first, and how he was very tall and had the nickname ‘Longshanks’.  Mr Dennis, the teacher, then told the class that this nickname was often shortened to ‘Lank’!  Well, that was it!  I was given ‘Lank’ as a derogatory nickname by all of the other pupils, and playtimes were merciless as gang after gang of boys – and girls – teased and taunted me about my physique, chanting ‘Lank’ incessantly, and pointing and laughing at me in a very unkind way.  The teachers on playground duty took no notice.  It worsened.  Some gangs of boys threatened to ‘get me’ on the way home from school, and I was scared of being beaten up, and too petrified to say anything to anyone, so I ran home as fast as I could every single day, getting my breath back in the garden before I would calmly go indoors.  I didn’t want my parents to suspect something was wrong.  They might go to the school and report the bullying, and then I’d really be in for it! 

It did quieten down after a bit, and I kind of got used to it, but never liked it, and I didn’t lose the moniker until I left school and started a full-time job.

(excerpt from ‘life’s Memories’ © Bob Reader January 2020)

Settling the Bill

“I thought you were dead?” My four year old brother quizzed our grandad. Probably 1956, shortly after the death of the other grandfather. William still had a couple of years left. Maybe he’d laughed. His was a life truncated by the machinations in the so-called Great War. He was left with a hole in his nose and a lifelong habit of smoking role-your-own cigarettes. He was of medium height, with a thin bony body, large blue eyes, aloof and bald. His exclusive territory was an armchair, by the fire in their Dagenham council house. An odd place for a man who loved gardening.

Try as I do, with my passion for family history, I haven’t been able to fully tell his life story. What I have gleaned from pestering the family is minimal, perhaps unworthy of his life. A life of puzzles.

Born in London, William was a fourth child of a pianoforte technician. Kentish Town was heaving with piano factories in 1900. His father lived his life opposite the piano factory which employed him, he hated it. Perhaps artier than his dad, William was saved from a factory career and started his career as a silver polisher in March 1906.

 Any family historian will know there’s something fishy here, you didn’t usually start a shortened six-year apprenticeship in March. The silver polishing paused for William’s episode as a Rifleman in the Flanders killing fields. The war in which he lost 2 brothers as well as part of his nose. Inexplicitly, the military turned him down when he volunteered for World War 2.

The good news was that he married in 1915. Why William married Edie, a lively but penniless ticket collector from Mornington Crescent, nobody knows. She thought his family drank too much. He never let Edie help with his business paperwork.

Five children later the silver business was exceedingly hard. The family survived with quiet backhanders from the brother-in-law. Why then did they have a piano? What happened to the bicycle scholarship one of the five attained?

For me, the old girl of the grandchildren, there is an outstanding but unanswered question. What was he called? He wasn’t ‘William’. Was it Bill, Will, Willie or Billie? My surviving aunt doesn’t know, William’s sister called him ‘Billie’. Willie was a nonstarter. In the house everyone called him Dad.

We settled on Bill. What’s in a name?

408 words

Margaret Christopoulos, January 2022

Maternal Grandma

My family was based in Rochdale, Lancashire. My mother was one of four children and her parents owned a hotel. During the early twentieth century a certain Thomas Robinson arrived from Ireland and stayed at the hotel and fell in love with the owner’s daughter and they went on to have four children. Sadly, the eldest daughter died of tuberculosis but they proceeded to have three more children, my mother Catherine (Ena), Tom and Pauline.

I was the first-born grandchild and apparently was doted on by my grandad, Thomas. He was a fast living, ambitious character who built up several small businesses in the town. Unfortunately, his fast living extended to his social life and around about nineteen fifty he died and my grandmother made the decision to return, with her unmarried children, Tom and Pauline, to his town of birth in County Mayo, Eire. It was a small thriving town, with an impressive Catholic cathedral, called Ballina and lay on the beautiful River Moy. Grandma was a devout Catholic and when myself and my brothers paid our annual pilgrimage during August each year, we would often accompany her and the treat was to see salmon being caught from the river immediately outside the Cathedral.

Grandma’s two children, Tom and Pauline ended up having very different lives. Pauline married a fast-talking auctioneer and went on to have thirteen children whilst Tom married a local councillor, Nellie, couldn’t have any children but they bought a small farm and had two lovely collie dogs called Bing and Ben.

My mum and dad owned a Post Office and newsagents in Rochdale and when the shop closed for the annual “wakes” holiday they would fly out and join us in Ballina. The contrast between idyllic Ballina and suburban Rochdale, with its clusters of cotton mills and other thriving factories, was immense and a real treat as myself and my brothers ended up helping on the farm, bringing in the hay and spoiling Bing and Ben.

Childhood memories are very special and whilst it is human nature to forget the bad bits and dwell on the good parts, I can safely say we were very blessed with the opportunities that those post war years gave us. Grandma Nellie was a lovely person, kind, compassionate and a true mother figure to this wonderful extended family.

Pete