Be, bee

Sitting on the left hand side of George (not the Beatle) Harrison’s English Language class, I recall a grey cloudy day. Typical English weather regardless of the season. 

Individual timber desks with lift up tops and a place for an ink pot with a sliding brass cover were arranged in rows of two. Monica with long brown hair and a Mediterranean complexion sat next to me. It was unusual to have a pupil from America at Harborne Hill Secondary Modern. 

While travelling to work yesterday morning I was cogitating the word live. It brought back this happy school memory from 1979. It was the day I learned about words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. There and their is an everyday example that causes some to agonise over which to use in a sentence. 

An in-class competition of which pair of students could come up with the most examples was run. It doesn’t matter if we won or not. Even today I play the homophone identification game in my head. It brings focus to my otherwise  chaotic mind. 
I took the photograph of the bee mural while on an Experimental walk

Malibu Martini Moment

Celebrate good times, come on! It is Tuesday, two Malibu Martinis, I’m in a warm and fuzzy memory loop. On this day 16 years ago the temperature at Birmingham International Airport was a chilly 6oC. We had spent the previous week getting our apartment ready to be rented out fully furnished and hosting a family day and a kitchen clearing party. Friends and family rummaged through our drawers and cupboards sadly filling carrier bags. We were greeted in departures by our close friends and too many tears.

KLM had a special offer on its business class flights, we had 96kg of checked in luggage plus double the 18kg hand luggage allowance. As we were moving to the other side of the world we took full advantage of the deal – camera bags, handbags, umbrellas, coats, briefcases, boxes of chocolates and yes, hats with corks; 12 pieces of cabin baggage each.

The expression on the face of the of the check-in staff was priceless, as you can imagine they did not know anything about the the offer so promptly took a copy of the KLM notification we had received. It was a challenge to relinquish our trolley before clearing passport control, thankfully the lounge had plenty of storage.

The other passengers did not have much carry on baggage and the cabin crew saw the funny side of our gargantuan predicament, they assisted us onboard, up the stairs and stowed our personal belongings. On this flight we were travelling light, the furniture, pictures and objet d’arts had left the UK two weeks earlier with Pickfords.

Cheers chink, clink here’s to 30oC in Singapore.

Sore throat memory

I had managed to dodge the coughs and colds during this unusually warm Antipodean Winter until this week. My throat feels like I’ve been gargling with broken glass. The last time my throat felt like this I was 10 years old. I remember waking up lying on my back, unable to move anything but my head as I was pinned down in bed by well tucked in stiff, crunchy sheets and blankets.

I opened my eyes a fraction, the ceiling seemed so far away, the highest I’d ever seen. When I turned my head to the right a marble fireplace against brown and cream walls came into view. I could hear the sound of hard soled shoes slapping and squeaking on a highly polished brown Lino floor. To my left and opposite there were other beds in the room and the murmur of people talking in hushed tones. My throat was so sore that it hurt to speak, relief came in the form of a nurse telling me that I needed to eat ice cream and jelly for tea and cornflakes for breakfast.

Having tonsils removed is now a day procedure, for me back in 1973 it involved three days stay in the Birmingham and Midland Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital. A grand Victorian red brick and terracotta tile building in Edmund Street. The Grade II listed building built 1890-91, by Jethro Cossins & Peacock in a classical “Queen Anne” style opened as a hospital in 1891 and closed in 1989.

The image is the front of a card from my family during my stay in hospital.


Birmingham Roundabout
The Victorian Society – Brimingham
Go Historic

Harsh reality

Even though we lived in a south western suburb of Birmingham I felt a strong connection to nature. A chain-link fence ‘protected’ us from the wilds of neighbouring Welsh House Farm, it was a thrill to climb through a gap in the fence, to enter a secret world and to explore the overgrown fields and tumbledown buildings. Life in the grove was pretty uneventful, until one day I was woken up by the sound of unearthly screams. In one swift movement I threw back the bri-nylon sheet, blanket and candlewick bedspread and jumped out of bed.

Cool early morning light shone down the wall from beneath grey cotton curtains emblazoned with red, green, blue and yellow steam trains. Cautiously I peeped out between the curtains, by now the screaming had turned to an unpleasant chugging noise like an impatient lawn mower. I opened the curtains to find a scene of peace and quiet in the back garden. “Eeeeooow zzzzzow” I ran into my brother’s bedroom, the noise was louder, I still couldn’t see anything. I retrieved my slippers and ran to the front door, it was wide open. Gingerly I went out into the hallway of the building. The sounds were deafening, rebounding from wall to floor to ceiling, up and down the stairs making the painted metal balusters sing.

One of the neighbours was standing in the doorway to the front of the flats, I squeezed past her to join my mother and younger brother standing among a disorderly group of onlookers with silent faces gawping at the source of the noise. Just beyond an army of battered, yellow, monster JCB diggers, that weren’t there yesterday, a man wielding a smoke breathing chainsaw was slicing into the bark of my beloved horse chestnut tree. With wide movements he was making cuts into the side of the defenceless tree that had provided tons of conkers for us to collect, pickle, skewer and thread onto strings. In what seemed like a few moments a gruff voice told us to keep back. Obediently we shuffled back a couple of inches. There was a creaking and groaning followed by “snap, whoosh, thunk, rustle” as my friendly giant lay gracefully down.

By tea time the tree’s tangled branches and strong protective trunk lay lifeless on the ground, ready to be loaded onto trucks and taken away. On the following day the diggers removed the stump, churning up the surrounding grass in the process. By the end of the week calm had returned to the grove, however the diggers stood ominously in the spot where I used to evade capture in games of hide-and-seek. A foreboding washed through me as I wept for the loss of my friend.

Five images of Welsh House Farm by Nicklin, Phyllis (1961) (Unpublished images) University of Birmingham: Welsh House Farm

Evolution of my accent

In world terms my closest family are from a tiny area on the planet. Dialects within the United Kingdom are diverse and can vary dramatically within a short distance. My father’s family were from Shropshire and Kent. My mother’s from Birmingham and the Black Country.

My accent is heavily influenced by my relatives from the Black Country and Birmingham. I can still hear my mother saying: “Stop pithering about”, meaning “messing around” or “wasting time” and my grandfather saying “Ar” meaning yes as in “ar I am”. A popular method of transportation in Birmingham is the “buzz”.

One of the many sayings that originate from the home of my ancestors is an actual place. The Wrekin is a hill in East Shropshire. It gave birth to a popular phrase used in Wolverhampton and the West Midlands: “All around the Wrekin” meaning to take an indirect route to a location or to more commonly avoid getting to the point during a conversation.

In secondary school I landed the part of MacFarlane a Scottish Doctor in the play Hobson’s choice. A combination of not being able to master a scottish accent and having such a strong Brummie accent led the director to rename the character Dr Stonehouse, after a pub in Birmingham so that I could play the part in my native tongue.

I didn’t consider my accent a burden until in the last year of secondary school my family moved 25 miles south to Droitwich Spa, in the county of Worcestershire. This was the first time I was teased about the way I spoke. As if it were yesterday I remember the moment in a French lesson when In a broad Brummie accent I read Marie-France et Jean Paul vont en vacances en Espagne. I was rewarded with the waste paper bin bouncing off the back of my head much to the delight of my peers.

At the first opportunity I left home, to go to college in Blackpool. My studies took me further north on work placement to a Lake District hotel. This time my nemesis took the form of a Geordie, (person from Newcastle). They thought it was hilarious to repeat what I was saying with an exaggerated accent. “I’m going to the shall-eyes”. The chalets were two demountable buildings out the back of the hotel serving as staff accommodation.

I find it amusing when people realise I’m from England. I tell them how long I’ve lived in Australia and they say “you haven’t lost your accent”. I have no intention of losing my accent, but it is inevitable for me to pick up a bit of the local twang, “fair dinkum mate”.

The foundation of my accent was laid by my family; softened in response to peer pressure and has evolved by moving county and country.

Pet fish have featured for most of my life, Mozaic is featured above.

The Grove

I am going to try something new; in addition to posting photos, re-blogs and poems I will include bits about my past. I’m inspired by The Temenos Journal to write about my childhood and my family. I am relying on my memory as I am not organised enough to have kept journals. Here is the first instalment:

My delusions of grandeur started early in life; we lived in what my mother described as a “masionette”. It was the left hand of two ground floor, three bedroom, council flats, in a 1950’s block of six. There was a central entrance leading to a common hallway and stairs to the upper floors. My bedroom looked out over our back garden, while my brother’s had a small loggia which faced a common lawned area with a horse chestnut tree. As I stood with my back to the trunk looking up through the branches the tree appeared to go up into the clouds.

Out the back of the block of flats there was a narrow corridor formed by sheds to the left and the right, this led to dustbin area, a chain-link fence and a hedgerow beyond. Former tenants had been thoughtful enough to loosen the fence from it’s posts so that we could crawl underneath. This was fine in the Winter months, however during Summer our escape to the “countryside” was blocked by the evilest stinging nettles known to man.

Our home in Birmingham, UK was located in a “grove”; as a child I associated this with the fancy sounding, cul-de-sac, end of the road and no through traffic. Our grove was by no means quiet, there was a constant stream of vehicles delivering everything from milk, bread, pop, fish and meat to dry cleaning and coal. Luckily we were still on the map as far as Mr Whippy and the rag and bone man were concerned.

The delft houses above were gifts from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines when we emigrated to Australia in 1998.