Friday, June 9, 2017

A Soldier's Wife

My Maltese great grandmother Liberatta Xerri was what is now called an army wife.
In 19th century Malta her policeman husband died leaving her to fend for herself and two young children, one of whom was born after her husband had died.
She later married Thomas Anson a private in the Kings Liverpool regiment and went with him ti India leaving her two young daughters in the care of her mother in Malta.
No married quarters, wives shared the barrack rooms with the soldiers with only a blanket draped around the bed space at night.
When the regiment moved between stations it was mostly on foot and the wives and children walked as well.  
During four years in India the regiment covered a thousand miles on foot. No transport except occasionally pregnant wives could get a lift on a baggage cart, but that was actually against regulations.
If you would like to read the story it is on Amazon.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Kindness is alive and well and can be found on a Virgin train.

Arrived at Euston station last night on our way back from Slovenia just too late to catch the fast train to warringon.  Instead of waiting an hour for the next one we decided to catch a slower train but which was leaving shortly.  It was a bad decision as by the time we were on board we realised that the unreserved seats were all taken and the carriages crowded and over full.
After struggling for a while I was finding it difficult to carry the suitcase any further through the train in the hope of a seat.
A young man, say mid thirties, saw our plight and offered to carry our suitcase back through the train to find a seat in the first class compartments  "I'll sort you something out " says he.  He led the way, pushing against the flow of people still trying to work their way forward in the forelorn hope of a nonexistent seat.
Eventually we got to an almost empty first class compartment and took a couple of seats and it was only then that we realised he was a passenger as well, not railway staff.

After the first stop the train conductor came along and we showed our tickets.  He said that we would have to leave the compartment or pay extra fare.  We were still too tired to argue and asked how much extra he wanted for us to remain where we were.  He said that it would be 80 pounds each which was more than we had paid for the return tickets in the first place.

The young man who had brought us along then intervened.  "That is ridiculous.  With all these empty seats why are you insisting that they go back along the train.  If they have to go, then you carry their bag.  I carried it here so I know how difficult I was for them."  The cunductor replied that their where now plenty of seats. The young man responded, "Well I have a reserved seat in the first carriage, before they move, perhaps you could go through to the front to see if my seat is unoccupied,"
There was just a little bit of edge coming into the conversation when another voice joined in.  A younger man seating with a female companion called out "I will pay for them".  He came forward with his wallet in his hand and " I can't believe that you are even thinking of asking this couple to move knowing how crowded the train is.  I saw haw this chap was helping them and it restores some of my faith in human nature.  So I will pay for all three."

I am normally a sentimental bloke but all this moved me to tears.

We did not hear how this ended.  It appeared that the conductor relented and moved on down the train without taking any money, but the magnificent gesture had been made.

No doubt the ticket collector has his job to do, but Virgin trains collect enough revenue to allow their staff some discretion on overcrowded trains.

We allowed our Samaritans to go without thanking them properly, but they know who they are and I think they know how grateful we were, not just for the assistance but for the generosity of spirit which inspired the gestures.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What we learned doing National Service

National Service - what we learned

Every now and again after some particular outrage by a young person, student, hoodie, longhair  or what have you then some armchair colonel  will come out of the woodwork and suggest that National Service should be re-introduced instead of sending them to university.

I am thinking of writing a book about my National Service days just over half a century ago, and will call it something like "Learned to drive and learned to skive"

The Chapters will include:

How to pretend to be busy by carrying a clipboard

When in a barracks walk quickly looking straight ahead so that it would appear that you have some purpose

All the verses of  bawdy rugby songs

Swearing  in Arabic, 

 How to darn socks

Marching without kicking the heels of the guy in front so that a whole platoon is
brought down like a row of dominoes.( Never really mastered that one)

Spend long hours doing nothing either on your bed or in the Naafi if there was money left.

If it stands still paint it, if it moves salute it.

Play brag and solo

Get drunk


Fire a rifle, sten gun and pistol

And most importantly....

Bite your tongue when being given orders by jumped up little squirts with upper
class accents and no brains.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fall out for a smoke

We live near a large block of modern flats and we can see some of the mainly younger residents standing outside smoking because it is not allowed inside the building.  Makes you realise how determined a smoker has to be these days.
I didn't start smoking until I was eighteen and only then when I was called up for my National Service in the army.  After almost any training activity, there was an order "Fall out for a smoke|". Well not exactly an order but it seemed like it.  Not that I could really afford to smoke on the thirty bob a week we got in the army, less deductions of course. It was always a toss up as to wether yu bought a packet of cigarettes or a couple of pints in the Naafi.
Fags though were relatively cheap and you could even buy a packet of five Woodbines.  The fags could also last longer because they had no filter tips and more often than not there wasn't time to finish before being told to fall in again.  All part and parcel of the military mind of course.

Still  as I said today's smokers need to be persistent, although at today's prices I cant imagine how anyone on the minimum wage can afford to smoke and as for the young women, why do they do it?
I recall that the late Dave Allen was of the opinion that "kissing a girl who smokes is like licking an ashtray."  Still he was a former chainsmoker who had given up so was probably biased.  Cant say if he was right or not as its a long time since I kissed a smoker.

Monday, October 3, 2016

To the woods

I am not sure why, but if I think of the countryside these days I don't visualise rolling fields and all that, but of woods.
Perhaps I was because woods figured quite a bit as a young evacuee from the east end of London living in Surrey.
There were woods on the way when we made our weekly visit to the school allotment to grow vegetables to be brought back for school dinners. In the autumn we went into the woods to gather up sackfulls of leaves to be dug into the ground in the pre-winter digging.
The same woods skirted the edge of the park where we went to play and roam.  In the summer time there was an old tramp living in a kind of shelter in the woods, cooking over an open fire.  We used to spend time talking to him and he spoke of his travels to places we had never heard of like Birmingham and Manchester.  He was cooking a hedgehog one day wrapped in a layer of clay and offered us a taste insisting that it tasted just like rabbit.  I was not game to try it, but my mate did and said that he like it. One day we asked if he was a swagman as we used to sing "Waltzing Matilda
There were also woods up on the South Downs where we went to gather rose hips on a school expedition.  I assume the school was paid for our endeavours, we weren't but it was an afternoon out and some of the older boys and girls disappeared into the woods whilst the younger ones carried on working.
There was a different kind of wood above the river Wey at St. Catherine's mount. It was actually a small bamboo plantation at the back of a big house.  It was quite a climb up from the river level but it was worth it to be in this jungle where we could cut down canes with our penknives (all boys owned penknives then) to be used as arrows in the incessant war with boys from the neighbouring school.

All highly dangerous stuff which is frowned on today and yet there were not that many accidents. The only one I can clearly recall was when we were on the allotment and throwing garden forks like javelins and I managed to spear a boy through the foot with a misaimed fork.  He was carted off to hospital, not by ambulance but on the teacher's bike.  And don't recall any repercussions on me, perhaps it was all part of life, after all there was a war on and worse things were happening.
If you think about it, in many school sports which are encouraged today like boxing and rugby there is more chance of injury than of being speared through the foot by a garden fork

Monday, September 5, 2016

September,Hop-picking,blackberries and scrumping

First week of September, a little cooler and mostly damper, a whiff of wood smoke in the air, blackberries in the hedgerows apples on the trees.  All this makes an old eastender remember  the  days gone by when September was hopping time. Our family made regular visits to the Kent hopfields from the East End of London between the wars.
  Up early when it was only just beginning to get light to be in the fields to start work at seven oclock. The bines were nearly always wet either from the rain or early morning dew, so the pickers were showered when pulling the first few bines.  Even the kids went early to the fields  despite the damp and the cold.  English autumns are rarely warm until the day is nearly over so it was a question of being wrapped up and wellies every day.

For those who dont know it,  hops used to part of the making of beer.  Hops then were picked by hand before the invention of machinery for doing it.  There was not a sufficient population in the Kent countryside to gather in the harvest so workers were recruited mostly from the East End of London who regarded it as a kind of working holiday in the country.

It was certainly a big change from the council flats and small terraced houses of the east end.  All that fresh air!  Living in a wooden hut for two weeks sleeping on mattress covers filled with straw. 
It was mostly fun for the kids even though most were given a target of hops to be picked or buckets of water to be collected for the washing and cooking before they could go and play.  And play we did.  Whilst at home we were not all that restricted, it was still different though to roam the fields, paddling in ditches, finding stuff to eat in the hedges and so on. 
Food was different too.  Lunch was cheese sandwiches almost every day and the evening meal was cooked on a camp fire.  Quite a lot of stews because they were easy but there was always roast dinners on Sunday followed by spotted dick or jam pudding, all cooked on the fire.
Evenings for the kids was spent sitting around the camp fire, roasting potatoes or apples scrumped form an adjacent orchard.  All good clean fun.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Banana prawn

There is an Australian expression of calling someone stupid as being a prawn, or even worse a raw prawn.


I was made to feel a complete prawn shortly after arriving in Australia.
I was living in a small flat in south Brisbane before Jean and the family came to Australia and my neighbour was a young French man who worked for eight months of the year in the mines at mount isa and spent the other months in Brisbane spending his savings.

Just after Christmas we decided to go together to Surfers Paradise to see the new year in.

We went to one of the posh hotels for dinner as he offered to pay.

The starters were the usual thing but included "banana prawn salad"
My only previous experience of this type of starter was "prawn salad"  . Prawns served in a bowl with a bit of salad and covered in dressing.
I quite like sea food but served cold with pepper and lemon and I couldn't imagine what a banana prawn starter would be like.  Prawns with bananas?  Queensland was the "banana republic" after all so I thought they would have some strange combination that I wouldn't like.
Anyway there wasn't anything else that I fancied so I asked the waitress if I could have the prawns without the bananas.

Naturally she almost fell about laughing at the stupid prawn before explaining that Banana Prawns were a local prawn that were called that, she assumed, because they were sweet and were shaped like bananas.  Well I had already had a couple of glasses of wine so I did not take offence.  I didn't even point out that most prawns were shaped a bit like a banana.