Category Archives: Reminiscences

Hide Away [4]

In this piece of fiction Ruby, a young woman, has forged a friendship with Henry, a retired gentleman who lives up her street. Unfortunately Henry has a bad fall. [Read Parts 1, 2 and 3]

In this episode Ruby finds a way to say farewell to Henry and all he has meant to her.

Mabel was wearing a cosy knit jumper and I tucked my hair under a warm hat before I clipped on her lead ready for her walk. As I crossed on the common, watching my little dog sniff twigs and scamper on the grass, my mind wandered to Henry’s funeral a few days ago. 

It had been a quiet affair, held at the local crematorium and attended by a handful of people, most of whom I knew from the pub or the village shop. I suppose I had expected to see the numbers swelled by acquaintances from days gone by, friends he’d made with Audrey, from the place they’d lived when Bruce was a boy; I’d felt a little disappointed on Henry’s behalf. He was such a warm, open man, it seemed a weak representation of the connections he must have made.

The hymns were stirring. I felt confident that Henry had left instructions that we should remember him while singing something “we could get their teeth into.” I could barely stem the flow of silent tears when the pastor read the obituary which presumably Bruce had compiled. 

Henry and Audrey had been so young when they had married, but their love had stood the test of time. I could hear his voice in my head telling stories of their happy life together, he was always so respectful of the woman who’d stood beside him for nearly fifty years. When their family became three, they’d sent Bruce to school, spent summer holidays at the beach with picnics and eaten Christmas dinners together, pulling crackers and wearing paper crowns.

When the mourners adjourned to admire Henry’s floral tributes in the garden of rest I had laid down my simple posy of flowers and greenery, picked from my own garden that morning. That was a legacy Henry had left, the borders he’d helped me dig were now planted with a mixture of bulbs and cuttings from his own plot. He’d shown me how to stake sweet peas and where to site spring flowers so that they were protected from the worst frosts. I could look out of my kitchen window anytime and be reminded of my old friend. I would enjoy the year round colour from flowers and shrubs that Henry had helped me plant.

People were milling around, some offered condolences to Bruce. I wondered how soon I could leave without looking impolite. Catching Bruce’s eye I smiled weakly, before heading to my car, a weight of emptiness settled around my shoulders. As I drove to work it had begun to rain; tears for my friend, which had seemed appropriate.

  • – – –

“C’mon Mabel,” I called my dog now. “time to go.”

I was low-level dreading this. Bruce had called by earlier in the week, suggesting I go round to Henry’s house one last time, before the house clearance firm came.

“Take whatever you like, Ruby,” he’d told me. “I’ve already got Mum’s jewellery and a few things to remind me of Mum and Dad. They kept so much stuff, frugality bred from wartime attitudes I suppose. It all seems like junk to me, but if there is anything you can use, you’re welcome to it.”

Mabel was quite excited, her little stumpy tail was wagging as I slid my key into the lock for the last time.

“Henry’s not here, sweetie,” I spoke to her softly, but she shot off, investigating all the corners of his cosy living room. I unbuttoned my coat, but kept it on, along with my hat, the heating had been turned off since Bruce returned to Spain.

I gazed sadly at the shelf of photographs in their frames: Audrey’s arm round Bruce, formal in his scout’s uniform, Henry and Audrey on their wedding day, Henry standing with hands on his hips and their dog Archie at his feet. I was shocked Bruce didn’t seem to have taken any of the pictures proudly displayed – I picked up the one of Henry with the dog and put it in the cloth bag I’d brought.

Mabel had curled up on the armchair that she’d often shared with Henry, so I moved quietly round downstairs, selecting some items which held memories of my old friend. I opened a kitchen cupboard and took out the mug he always gave me when I came round for coffee, and the dish he liked to use for apple pie or crumble. 

From his bookcase, stocked with the detective novels he’d loved to read, I removed his book on mushrooms, and another he used for identifying birds – these brought back many happy memories. There were a couple of saucy books there too, James Hadley Chase with scantily clad girls holding guns on their covers. You old dog Henry I thought, and this made me chuckle.  

The red address book was near the telephone, on top of some folders which were labelled as household bills. There’s a lot to sort out when somebody dies, and I didn’t envy Bruce the task of wrapping up Henry’s affairs, although I imagined he’d left things pretty neat.

I opened the back door and stepped out into the damp garden. Unlocking the garden shed I got his fork down from its place on the wall, then I put it by the garden gate so I could collect it when I left. Once back in the kitchen I returned the shed key to its hook, everything was so orderly and logical, so very Henry.

I lifted Mabel so that I could sit in her warm spot on the chair, settling her back on my lap. One last time I wanted to enjoy this room and think back on happier times.

“Fancy a coffee Ruby?” I could imagine Henry’s low voice drifting out of the kitchen while the kettle boiled noisily. How I longed for the sound of Henry shuffling around getting out his favourite ginger biscuits while telling me about the birds he’d seen in the garden.

My eyes drifted around my surroundings, the familiar pictures on the walls, horse brasses decorated the beam over the fireplace and there was dictionary to the right of the armchair where he sat to complete the crossword. His glasses lay on top in their case and his old slippers were tucked under the edge of a footstool. That was a nice reminder of both Henry and Audrey, as I knew she had embroidered the rosy pattern on its top. I resolved to take the stool home. 

Making a mental image of this room and all the comforts with which Henry had surrounded himself, I hugged Mabel before setting her on the floor. She shook and stretched, her fore-paws long and her rear in the air. It was then that I noticed some newspaper in the fireplace, alongside an empty matchbox. I guessed Bruce had intended to burn them but been foiled by lack of matches – I’m not usually nosy but my curiosity was piqued.

I bent and picked up the cuttings. Yellowed and old, they felt brittle in my hands. They referred to a court case, and Bruce’s name jumped out at me, alongside the school he’d attended. I moved to the window to better read the faded newsprint. 19 year old Bruce had stolen from the village raffle funds, helping himself to the money from ticket sales. It claimed he had access to the parish secretary’s office when he worked at her house doing odd jobs. The amount of money he’d stolen was not a lot by today’s standards, but it must have been signifcant back then.

My heart beat fast as I scoured the other articles. One interviewed the parish secretary, Fenella Benton, who was distraught, shocked that a boy from such a nice family, could be so untrustworthy. I could see her point, when you knew Henry, you hardly expected his son to have sticky fingers.

“Oh Henry,” I shook my head, “you must have felt so ashamed.”

Placing the cuttings into my bag with the photos and other mementos, I fastened Mabel’s lead and tucked the footstool under my arm. 

“Goodbye Henry,” I told the empty room before I closed the front door. It was an impossible  juggle to carry the garden fork too, so I took Mabel home, then returned to collect it. My thoughts were focused on these new facts, considering what impact they’d had on my old friend.

Perhaps that’s why, when he and Audrey moved to this town, he had kept to himself. Having been the subject of gossip would make a person more circumspect next time around. It explained why Bruce hadn’t reached out to old friends of his parents’ when arranging the funeral.

I took the heavy, wooden handled fork round the side of my house and into the back garden. With a force that reflected my anger on Henry’s behalf, I sank it deep into a flower bed. It looked as if someone, in the middle of turning the soil, had abandoned it – good. It could stay there as my own memorial to Henry.

It wasn’t until the weekend that I recalled Henry’s odd remark. I was standing in my kitchen, drinking my first coffee from the mug I’d brought from his house.

“It was you who realised that something was off,” he’d said to me when I visited him in hospital. That strange conversation where I was sure Henry had mistaken me for someone else, probably Audrey. “You wondered how he could afford that holiday.” The pieces now fell into place, his parents had their suspicions.

Knowing Henry as I did, I imagined he’d found his son’s transgression hard to forgive and forget, but perhaps Audrey had managed to gloss over, or find excuses for it. Henry had implied they didn’t see eye to eye on their son’s conduct. 

My question was why keep the newspaper cuttings when they’d done so much to put the event behind them? Bruce had obviously wanted to erase the memories. If there had been matches in the box I’d have never discovered this secret. I felt vindicated that I hadn’t warmed to him.

Gazing at my garden over the rim of the coffee cup, I noticed a robin with a bright red breast, who alighted on the handle of Henry’s gardening fork. He admired the garden from his vantage point; cocking his head, with bright little eyes he seemed to watch me through the window.

“You were absolutely right Henry,” I mused, looking at the robin, “the truth always comes out.”

Always a Lady

A beautiful, but poignant tribute written by my Father about his beloved spaniel – a working dog and key member of our family.

We first met when she was two years old. Her father was a famous field trial champion with similar achievements going back all down the sire’s line as far as the pedigree reached. On her dam’s side  there were one or two field trial awards sprinkled about, but mostly, there was clear evidence of a gamekeeper’s faithfuls like Jenny (no Kennel suffix) or Flikka. Anyway, her dam was a really cracking small springer who had the trick of keeping one eye on her boss however far out she seemed to be going. Her boss was one of the nicest gamekeepers I’ve ever met.

This small, 2 month old chubby chops was lent to me to try each other out. With my elder daughter I slowly walked and talked her up along the edge of one of the release woods near the keeper’s cottage: she followed with some hesitation but no attempt to break back or into the wood. When we got back (carrying some of the way, because small legs get tired) we popped her down by a likely looking wood pile and encouraged her to seek!  She gave that rat and rabbit smelling wood pile such a combing, with her fat little bottom and docked tail showing fully her pleasure in the work.

My daughter and I took her back to the outdoor run with her litter brothers and sisters who were just about to have their evening meal, as they were being weaned from their dam. Food, the most important event in any healthy dog’s life. Slurping and jostling each other with their backs to us, ‘our’ little bitch ignored the food. She sat facing us, looking unwinkingly at us with that peculiar intentness that is a gift beyond price. It was that which decided me to have her.

I left her with the gamekeeper for one more month as I had a rather jealous, stern Weimaraner bitch that I did not want to tyrannise her too much. My elder son came to collect the puppy with me and sat with her and the Weimaraner in the boot to see fair play. Within 24 hours of arrival she proved she had a memory. I had bought a rabbit skin back too and hung it in a tree for a later use as a dummy. In the night the wind picked up and blew the skin down. When I turned the pup out for early morning penny-worths and a run, she made straight for the shrubbery, where, unknown to me, the skin lay under a tree. She ate it whole and ran back mighty pleased with herself.

From then on her training was a pleasure. She had her mother’s trick of always keeping one eye on me whatever she was about. I found I did not have to bother about hares or rabbits. She would course them for about 20 yards, then return as she early found they were much quicker than her. Maybe she would not have ever reached a field trial, but she was a mighty putter up of game, quickly learning to get down-wind of bits of cover to save pushing through everything, she could also gauge content by nose. 

She had the usual particular stance and ‘yip’ when onto a rabbit. She loved water and swam quite flat with no fuss or tenseness. She played in the rubber boat with the children in the pool learning to trim to the set of a boat: anticipating its movements and shifting her feet. One of her favorite games, as a puppy, was hiding in the rubber inflatable boat on the grass with her two eyes peeping out of the top. She’d then run to nip my younger son’s bottom as he crept up, starck naked, to try and get in the boat too. Gales of laughter as this game went on for hours.

When she retrieved duck to me, she threw them sideways out of her mouth and turned back to the water. In this way I had to set her onto one or two runners that slipped straight into the reeds and had to be retrieved again. Once she realised this, she brought the duck to hand. She was always chancey on cock pheasants. On her first full working day she had a cock torn from her mouth by an aggressive labrador, one of a team of three worked by a gun’s wife; the bird spurred her in the mouth. I spent the rest of the season gentling her back to retrieving. 

On the last day of the season, our very last push through cover, I realised from the behaviour of both the Weimaraner and the young springer that a bird had drawn ahead of them down a ditch and hedge. I asked permission to follow up and set the dogs on again. Their eagerness increased each yard and from beside a pond at the hedge junction they pushed a cock pheasant. I shot it as it crossed the plough towards a wood and the springer was sent to retrieve. She had just collected it and was returning when the same black labrador rushed across the field and snatched the bird from her.

She adored wildfowling, starting at 18 months when she picked her first pinkfoot: a beautifully proportioned half-sized mutant. Even that was big for her at the time. If I was cross with her and swore at her (which I did I regret to say – having a low flash point and hot temper) she would not look at me for a while. She’d sit, back to me and very still, with her cheeks sucked in. All the family loved her dearly and if I or my wife had to scold the children, particularly the younger two, they would go and sit with the springer, resting their heads on her til they felt better. The Weimaraner accepted her and, latterly when I found my springer dog on Liverpool Street Station (nobody ever claimed him) he doted on the springer bitch, as did my wife’s grand little rough coated dachshund.

Sadly, all good things come to an end, and with tragic suddenness for the little springer bitch. She ran, as she thought, after me towards a road behind a sandy beach in Northumberland. My wife and younger son had just crossed, but I had stopped to watch a bird. I whistled and called but the noise of an old banger with three tearaways in it drowned my calls; with a sickening foreboding I thought “she’s going to be hit by the car”. I ran as fast as I could towards the road and heard the bang of the impact. My wife and younger son saw her turn to try to get back to me when she realised I was still coming from the beach. My younger daughter saw it all from our caravan. Lady died quietly while my wife and I stroked and talked to her. I knew she would never leave that Northumberland beach.

The children chose her name, Lady, which always seemed so opposite to her playful nature. As my younger daughter said to her mother: “When Daddy can bear to think about it, Lady was 10 years old and she had just had her most full and successful season. He would have hated seeing her getting gradually older ‘til the Awful Day.”

They say each man deserves one good dog in his life, and I believe in Lady I may have had mine. All I know is how much I still miss her.

4Thoughts

The #4Thoughts_Fiction meme is hosted on a #NSFW site, so be warned if you follow the link, but I’m no prude The prompt is currently ‘Longing’.

The Cowboy of Laredo

As I rode down thru’ the streets of Laredo,
As I rode into Laredo one day,
I see’d a poor cowboy wrapped up in a blanket
Laid out on a blanket and the colour of clay

“I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,”

These words he did say as I boldly stepped by.
“Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story;

I was shot in the breast and I know I must die.”

“Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin

Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song,
Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod o-er me,

For I’m a poor cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”

“It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,

It was once in the saddle I used to go gay.

T’was first to drinking and then to card playing,

Got shot in the breast and I’m dying today.”

“Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,

Get six pretty girls to carry my pall

Put bunches of roses all over my coffin

Put roses to deaden the clods as they fall.”

“Oh beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,

And play the dead march as you carry me along.

Take me to the green valley and lay the sod o-er me,

For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”


I can’t say why my father had saved the words to this song, but a typed copy was amongst his paperwork which I recently cleared. It struck a chord with me, because it seemed to relate to my father who was a very principled man. It conveys that, as a counterpoint to his playful, teasing side – he enjoyed a drink with friends or a joke of a saucy nature – his code of honour was very strong.

I know he felt the imprint of any mis-steps he’d taken for the rest of his life – I think plenty of us do. He took some wrong turns with his career, he could be hot headed and outspoken when he should have kept his own counsel. Right to the end of his life he beat himself up over moments where he lost his temper, hadn’t given enough support to loved ones, or failed to guide them in the best direction.

I know my father had regrets but in my opinion it’s too harsh to judge yourself for shortfalls in how you nurture or advise others, because the result’s very quickly out of your hands. In the end a person can only take charge of their own life, the decisions they make and the paths they take.

No matter how true the concept: “what other people think of me is none of my business,” I think we are all haunted by our past mistakes.

This post is submitted to the writing meme #4Thoughts_Fiction hosted by the site IfSexMatters – if adult content doesn’t offend, why not visit to see what others have linked up : the prompt is Haunted.



4Thoughts

Emotional Rescue

[3 minute Read]

When I read Mrs Fever’s post for this prompt, as well as enjoying her narrative I was in agreement with her opinions regarding rescuing pets which have been abandoned by their original owner(s) for whatever reasons. I currently have a rescue dog but I’ve also been a regular supporter of a local dog and cat rescue initiative. I began volunteering when I lost a beloved dog to cancer and felt so wretched with that I hadn’t seen the early signs. In memory of her, I wanted to give back to the dog community.

My role was an ‘Auntie’ at this dog kennels, because my function was pastoral care. I was one of many giving rescue dogs love, while acclimating them to socialising with new people. I would pick a slot off the weekly rota (there was an 90 minute slot in the morning and another in the afternoon available) and come to the kennels in scruffy, warm clothes to sit with a rescue dog.

The kennel staff would either welcome me into their tea room, or the summer house (depending on the rota) where the surroundings were dog friendly. I usually brought my Kindle, a hot drink and some chopped up dog treats for my furry companion.  I’d wait for the dog in question to be brought out to me. Having been told the dog’s name and a little about them, I could then behave in the most appropriate way. The door was shut and I’d be left for an hour and a half in their company.

The sofas and chairs were dog friendly, there was also usually a crate in the room. The purpose of a dog spending time with an ‘Auntie’ such as me was to gain a soothing respite from their potentially ‘jangly’ kennel situation where they were, of necessity, kept in close proximity to other barking and pacing dogs. 

I was allowed to play with the dogs or read to them, strokes and cuddles were, of course, encouraged, but some dogs were not ready for that. Some sat by the door, or got into the crate, waiting for the kennel staff to come back for them. Even in those situations, I felt that I had at least helped the dog have a change of scenery and a rest from their usual noisy environment.

Can you imagine a well loved pet, used to living in a home with its owner, but their owner had to go into hospital, or worse still died, leaving nobody to care for the pet? It’s not cruel to be given to a rescue, but it is still distressing for that dog, because everything familiar is stripped away. Some dogs end up at rescues if they have been taken on by people whose situation changed – new baby, a move to a property where dogs were not allowed or the dog could not get along with another pet. 

The rescue I worked with was also a boarding kennels/cattery, led by a passionate owner. It had a wonderful team of kennel staff dedicated to walking the rescue dogs and playing with them, as well as carrying out regular duties of cleaning, feeding and training. It employed a full time behaviourist, plus someone qualified in animal reiki to soothe the dogs holistically. In fact the rescue encouraged Aunties to learn the technique so I’m now trained in reiki too. Other volunteers helped by joining a rota to walk the dogs and a team of us utilised Facebook. We created a page for each dog, which was updated regularly until each rescue found suitable people to adopt them.

Some of the dogs were cute as a button and wanted to snuggle, some mugged me for the treats I’d brought or tried to help me eat my biscuit and drink my coffee too! Others jumped from sofa to chair to sofa, like a monkey in the treetops. The greyhound breeds often wanted to rifle through the bin or stand up tall to the counter in the tea room, sniffing for food. Some dogs were old or injured, but all deserved love and care.

It was important to be mindful of the dogs’ state of mind, some dogs had traumatic experiences before landing up in rescue. Bending over a dog, even to make a fuss of them, can seem threatening. It is better to crouch down so that your eye level and theirs are similar, then they can assess you. It’s quite ‘personal’ to touch a dog on their face or the top of their head, in a wolf pack this would be seen as asserting dominance. Most dogs prefer a new acquaintance to stroke their back or rub behind their ears; if you’re getting on really well, many dogs love having their chest rubbed or scratches to their neck/ chin area.

On the topic of eye contact, this can feel like a challenge to some dogs, not intense like a cat staring contest but along the same lines. Hence me reading my Kindle: I didn’t seem to ask or expect anything of them, which usually worked well. When they settled down somewhere in a relaxed way, I would reward them with a treat. 

One staffie-cross rescue dog, whose previous owner had been a homeless man, preferred to approach me backwards, avoiding eye contact. He’d reverse his solid little body towards me and sit, watching the door like a sentry, his rump almost touching my toes. I was glad to hear he got a happy new home. Living on a remote farm, following his owner as he made his rounds of the fields and sheds of livestock each day sounds far preferable to watching over a homeless man’s sleeping bag and possessions, in all weathers, while he sleeps.

This reminiscence is submitted for Mrs Fever’s Memoirs prompt #8 Animal Click on the link to see what other’s have posted.

My Lockdown Survival Essentials

I suspect my strongest advantage in lockdown has been that my family enjoy being insular. It has meant that we have rarely felt limited or hemmed in by the requirement to stay home and avoid personal contact. I have not tackled food shopping – my husband deals with that.

Life felt rather pressured at the beginning of lockdown, trying to do my job remotely was intense and impractical. Once I was furloughed, I had plenty of time and opportunity to try writing. I set up this blog intending to populate it with the fruits of my labours. It’s seemed a good time to record family stories, lockdown caused me to look fondly back on times that were simpler. I don’t think that I’m the only one, television shows, music and sports have had to embrace ‘old favourites’. There’s a category for reminiscences on my site.

Reading – my number 1 tip!  I’ve always found fiction a great ‘escape valve’. Any time in my life when I have been stressed or needing distraction, reading fiction provides a healing activity. When my world is small, a book can take me somewhere else. Now I cannot mix with other people, I meet instead characters within a novel. If being in my own head is unsettling, sad or stifling then reading a book which is in the first person puts me in someone else’s headspace and takes their problems to a solution, which is a calming concept.

Exercise, this I let slide, but it’s necessary for surviving lockdown! Firstly I gave up my regular class. Despite on-line sessions, I lost the inclination to do them. My flesh now looks more spongy, less toned. I also lost my 2 daily walks with our dog, because he fell ill. My negative experience here was twofold: a combination of feeling ‘wrong’ walking without him and guilt, because he howled his frustration if I left the house without him. Knowing he was distressed resulted in me furtively taking 2 brief walks a week, a significant reduction in my regime.

While my family are quite introverted, I enjoy talking. I’ve used Whatsapp to catch up with friends, which provides a refreshing influx of news; using instant message or having a face to face chat. I have a book group of sorts with two friends, one is very busy so she listens rather than reads. We take it in turn to pick the books, concluding with a Whatsapp meeting to discuss the books once we’ve all finished. This has given my reading a productive outlet and pushed me to immerse myself in books I would not have chosen. It’s fun discussing different viewpoints, why we have/haven’t enjoyed a novel, comparing/ contrasting it with another our group has read. 

When lockdown restrictions eased, I joined my neighbour for walks. We’ve also had coffee together in the back garden, in the past we would have popped to a local coffee shop. I have also been able to gradually resume walking my dog, who is on the road to recovery. 

While I don’t miss eating out, or clothes shopping, I do miss having the occasion to dress nicely. I’ve tried to maintain a normal routine, but it’s too easy to wear leggings or tracksuits. I was despondent to have to defer our holiday and it’s frustrating being unable to plan ahead. Although I want to meet up with people, still feel wary, I value my family members’ health above the UK economy. I know it’s pessimistic but I’m braced for a second wave of the pandemic.

This post is linked to a meme I recently discovered where the topic is personal growth. It’s host, May More is a fascinating blogger but if you wish to follow the link, be warned that her site is very frank and often #NSFW

Shoe Boxes

[2.5 min read]

I don’t remember having any dress up shoes, nothing plastic and pink with sparkly or feathered embellishments. I don’t even recall trying on my mother’s heels to walk around. My obsession with boots started pretty early though.

I hadn’t started school when Nancy Sinatra recorded the hit song “These Boots are Made for Walking.” It was full of so much sass and attitude that it was a favourite of mine. At home we referred to it as ‘boots’ and anytime it came on the radio, turned the dial while I stomped round the house. This soon morphed into me wearing my mother’s leather boots to move to Nancy’s anthem of refusal to be the underdog.

The boots I borrowed then had a small heel and a pointed toe, the kind to be worn with the stirruped ski pants popular in the sixties. My mother felt it was very important for a child to wear well fitted shoes while their feet were still growing, so I was always taken to Clarkes to be measured for width and length for my school shoes. 

Towards the end of primary school, however, I began to long for shoes which followed fashion. In the mid 1970s everyone wore platform shoes, with squared puffy toes. Often in outlandish colours or graced with gaudy embellishments. I often tried on my older sister’s shoes, wishing her feet were my size so I could borrow them.

One trick I had fun with involved my shadow. In autumn and winter, when the sun is low in the sky, every shadow appears elongated. While waiting outside my friend’s house, I’d lift my feet off the ground, admiring the shadow versions of my school shoes that seemed to have fabulously high platforms, like the pop stars and models wore.

The year I was eleven, on our back-to-school shopping trip, I persuaded my mother to forget school rules regarding outdoor shoes, instead she allowed me to select from a glorious array of trendy shoes. I left the shop with a beautiful pair, more plum than brown which I could not wait to wear. Their solid black rubber soles were quite heavy, making my walking clumsy until I got acquainted with them, but I loved them enough to wear them at weekends too. I don’t know what my mother said to make my headmistress turn a blind eye, but wearing them my final year, I felt ‘a la mode’.

My secondary school had very strict rules regarding height and colour of shoes so I was unable to get away wearing anything attractive with my uniform. Desert boots were quite fashionable during my school years, footwear which looked more appropriate with long socks and skirts. 

I changed to a day school for the sixth form and was able to wear my own clothes, so my shoes could reflect my taste. The new romantic style I favoured meant scouring charity shops and market stalls, as well as mainstream shops, for items to provide an individual look. My favourite shoes were a pair of courts in gunmetal grey with stiletto heels, much more flattering against bare legs than white. I purchased low-heeled black shoes in a new shape, with a raised feature at the back of the shoe. Unfortunately this feature was impractical. If I wore them any distance, the rubbing caused me to bleed into those shoes.  Decades later, I still have bumps on my heels which my feet created in self-defence!

What about the ones that got away? Shoes or boots that were so beautiful that I had to have them, but found them impractical: too high, too tight or just didn’t work with my wardrobe. Sandals with a heavy rope wedge with every strap rubbing a blister. Knee high cowboy style boots in black with crippling heels; once I started walking I’d feel so unbalanced I couldn’t stop. I had the cutest black high-heeled ankle boots, a mixture of smooth leather and suede with flashy gold eyelets. Again I couldn’t walk too far in them before my feet began to cramp. 

Now I’ve reached an age where I can’t trust my knees in combination with high heels, so I don’t buy more, yet I can’t say goodbye to my beloved footwear. My beautiful linen peep toed shoes with two leather straps always remind me of vintage luggage. Brown suede boots which lace up to the knee with a stacked heel have had to concede defeat against my silver brogues or some pristine white trainers I now wear with summer dresses.

This reminiscence is written for the prompt ‘shoes’, the seventh in Mrs Fever’s summer writing meme Musings in Memoir where looking back is encouraged. Why not follow the link to see what others have submitted.

My Own Space

Cyberdog at Camden, London

It’s important to have your own space, something you can ‘own’ and have under your control or influence. Many of us have felt the loss of this during lockdown. Suddenly your family / housemates are present all the time so your personal space feels compromised. If you don’t have a bedroom, study or shed to which you can retreat, for privacy you may have to resort to curtaining off ‘your’ area in a shared space. If that’s not possible take long walks alone.

This inability to have our own space applies to many of us growing up, when sharing a bedroom with a sibling is not uncommon. I did not have a room of my own until I was 14 and my family moved to a smaller house. That may sound like I have it the wrong way, but the house I grew up in (2-14) had large bedrooms, hence I had to share.

In my earliest memories I shared a lilac coloured bedroom with my older sister. Our beds were on opposite sides of a window which, as nursery windows often did in older houses, had bars at the opening portion. My sister made lots of funny noises in her sleep – something I assumed everybody did. The curtains had purple polka dots with sprigs of violets on a white background which concealed a large blackout blind. If I wanted to read in the summer I’d duck my head and the book under the blind. It was so light outside I could read until I felt tired, so long as my parents didn’t catch me.

As my sister got older she was given a room to herself and my younger brother moved out of his cot-bed and came to share with me. He and I are two and a half years apart, and we are pretty close, but I confess to bossing him about when we were young. He was usually a good sport about playing my games, I didn’t have the same patience with his rows of cars in their permanent traffic jam. Riding out on hobby horses or sword fighting in plastic armour was always fun and my preference for being a tomboy meant he was usually excused from rescuing a damsel in distress.

One useful thing about sharing a room was that we also shared our bedtime stories. My mother would feed us and handle bath time, so when our father got home she could get the older family’s meal ready while he supervised teeth cleaning and tucked us in with a story. Sometimes we had a story each, my brother liked Gumdrop the vintage car or the Fantastic Mr Fox. I enjoyed Polly and the Wolf while my passion for traditional folk tales meant that dragons, never-empty-purses and men wearing seven-league boots were commonplace in our bedroom!

As we got older squabbles broke out between my brother and me about touching each other’s stuff, particularly if either of us had friends round to play. My mother cleverly solved it by putting our beds at opposite ends of the room – I was near the window while he was closer to the door. By putting our cupboards and drawers back to back, she sandwiched garden trellis in between to create a partition which nearly reached the ceiling. We had redecorated by now, our walls were primrose yellow with posters pulled from National Geographic. Now I had privacy, although in moments of temper, I needed a door to slam!

A couple of years on, we moved house so could have a small bedroom each. I was excited to have my own space, no matter how tiny. I chose a sickly blancmanche pink with which to decorate and my parents bought me a bookcase, a desk and a chair so that I could study at home. My various decorating fads meant that when I was a teenager there were coloured records stuck to the walls and the year I turned 18 I displayed fans and chopsticks for an eastern theme.

My brother’s room was painted bright spearmint green, but the wall colour barely showed between the posters of truculent looking musicians in bands he liked. He bought a record player and tape deck and soon his presence in the house was characterised by a shut door which barely contained his loud music. I often knocked on his door to sit in his room with him, listening to the bands he liked & talking. Although our interests and music taste had diversified, we still had an easy relationship.

This reminiscence is written for the prompt ‘space’, the sixth in Mrs Fever’s summer writing meme Musings in Memoir where looking back is encouraged. Why not follow the link to see what others have submitted.

No Big Drinker

I come from a big family. I have two older siblings, plus a younger brother. Growing up my maternal grandmother also shared our home. Mealtimes were big gatherings where we sat round the table. It was sometimes too rowdy for my granny, everyone talking and teasing each other. She often took meals on a tray in her own room. We always sat in the same seats, our glasses filled with water or squash. We passed the vegetables to each other, after my father carved the meat, some for each plate. My mother dished out the potatoes, rice or pasta and then we would all eat. 

Sunday lunch was a more formal affair. We would say grace, my granny joined us and the grown ups drank wine. From fairly young, my parents allowed us to have a small glass of cider – I can visualise the 1970s Woodpecker logo. I loved the meals when we had cider, but I wasn’t good at drinking it slowly. As soon as that golden, fizzy liquid was in my glass, I started sipping.

My granny was served the meat first, then my father worked his way round the family by age. If only I was big I’d have a plateful by now, I thought as I gulped my drink. Instead, as the second youngest, I had to wait almost ‘til the end. 

When my older brother asked me to pass the gravy, his voice came from far away. I lifted the warmed gravy boat unsteadily, bumping it against other dishes clumsily before handing it to him. My hands weren’t very obedient, didn’t feel like my own. Looking round the table I was viewing my family through a filter, like swimming underwater with my eyes open.

“Are you alright Polly?” 

My mother’s voice broke into my thoughts. Holding a cool hand against my forehead, she exchanged concerned glances with my father. They noticed my glass was empty, yet we hadn’t begun to eat.

“Why don’t you go and lie on the sofa?” 

Getting unsteadily to my feet, I tottered through the kitchen. I lay down, on my back, amongst plump cushions. The room see-sawed around me, reminding me of when I spun around until I felt dizzy. This gave me a warm glow too, of course I was tipsy.

When the giddy sensation wore off, I went back to the table. My family had begun eating and I was hungry too. Once I had food inside me, the last vestiges of that blurry feeling wore off.

My parents did not stop serving a glass of cider with Sunday lunch, but perhaps were more vigilant that it wasn’t consumed before the meal began. They believed in learning one’s own limits; it’s not uncommon in France for children to have watered down wine with meals. 

Even now I am no big drinker, it doesn’t take much alcohol to make the edges of my world blur. However that’s usually the point at which I switch to a soft drink. I learned my lesson that day, I really don’t like that out-of-control feeling. I still enjoy cider; particularly brands infused with other fruit flavours.

This story is submitted and linked to a summer writing project hosted on Mrs Fever’s site, where reminiscences are encouraged in a memoir style – Prompt #5 Big. Visit to see what other’s have written.

Running In Heels

I have no skill or aptitude for sport, although I like to keep myself moving with exercise classes and walking our dogs, so I only usually break into a run when I am late. This, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrence for me. I don’t mean to be rude and keep people waiting, but I have a tendency to underestimate how long it takes me to get ready. I am too optimistic about the hold-ups which might occur on my car journey so when I park the car and lock it, I don’t walk away, I run!

Have you ever noticed that not many people run on the high street? Joggers use the pavements as part of their route, but their sporty clothes usually signal that they are taking exercise, raising their pulse deliberately. It’s less expected to see smartly dressed people running, especially if they’re wearing high heels, but that’s me, running because I am late. 

When I chose a primary school for my children, I didn’t take much note of the fact that parents could not drive up to it and park. It seemed quite nice that parents needed to walk with their children up to the school gates, having either left their vehicles near the church or in an adjacent residential area. All were forced to use the footpath and walk their children alongside the river, only ambulances, deliveries and teachers could access the school by car. 

The school’s location was, however, a nightmare if you’re late! When your toddler refuses to be strapped into their car seat, and certainly won’t cooperate with being seated in the buggy, precious minutes are wasted negotiating and then brute forcing them, while your elder child hops anxiously from foot to foot not wanting to be late for school.

That’s when my running came into practice. We dashed along the narrow paths, avoiding the dog dirt left by inconsiderate dog owners and terrorising ducks who waddled and splashed into the river to avoid me and the pushchair running down the towpath. My eldest ran alongside, book bag rubbing against bare knees, and we’d arrive hot and flustered just in time to fling off their outdoor shoes to replace them with black plimsolls so they could join their class before the door was closed.

I gradually coped better with the school run. Repetition drummed into me how much time to allow for the journey (add a little extra for the rainy days). As my children became able to clean their own teeth and lace up their shoes, our routine became well oiled. My next hurdle was class assembly. It was an annual thing, taking place mid morning, with the parents from the class hosting assembly expected to attend. In addition, some fathers or grandparents would be there, so the event created quite an influx of cars.

My child would want to search the sea of faces and see me sitting there, ready to watch proudly and perhaps take photographs. What my little one didn’t want was for their mother to enter late at the back, causing door banging drama, when everyone else was already seated and the headmistress was making her welcoming speech. This hadn’t been too challenging when I was a stay at home mum, but once I had a job, getting away mid morning proved problematic.

I vividly remember several occasions when I dashed from work and was forced to park the car much further away than planned, because all the sensible parents had driven to school earlier than me. I would have to dash straight away to meet the deadline for the start of assembly. I never expected, with my aversion to running or breaking into a sweat, that I’d be flushed, panting and getting a stitch, as I struggled to claw back precious minutes by running in my kitten heels. 

Who carries a handbag when they go out for a run? And what sort of masochist wears a balconette bra when the activity dictates that a minimal-bounce-sporty number is more appropriate? The answer is clearly me – I do.

Running in heels, it’s a rather niche skill which I’m sure it’s neither good for my arches or my posture, but it has come in useful several times. Until my timekeeping improves, I had better not let it lapse.

This story is submitted and linked to a summer writing project hosted on Mrs Fever’s site, where reminiscences are encouraged in a memoir style – Prompt #4 Run. Visit to see what other’s have written.

Henry Potstam’s Coat

Henry Potstam was a very pampered dog. He lived in a large house in a smart area of London. His owners didn’t have any children, Henry was their baby and they made no excuses for that.

Everyday their maid would take Henry Potstam for a walk. His master and mistress worked and so this broke up his day until they were at home. It allowed him to stretch his legs and catch up with any ‘messages’ left on lamp posts and walls by other dogs in the neighbourhood. Henry was a west highland white terrier, whose sense of smell was very keen. His almost black eyes were bright and alert and he enjoyed sniffing the trunks of any trees planted in the pavements en route to the park near his home.

Because Henry Potstam was a ‘gentleman’, he had a coat which he wore when he went out. His dog jacket was tartan, it slipped over his head, covered his back and fastened round his ribs but, most importantly, it had a pocket. Henry was such a pampered dog that he had an allowance. So the maid would put one penny of this into his jacket pocket every day before they set off on their walk.

London parks can be very beautiful, with paths through grassy spaces and avenues of trees. There are often benches dotted about and large beds of flowers known as herbaceous borders. In 1950s London, when this story takes place, parks also looked good because litter was confined to ornate wrought iron receptacles and an army of gardeners kept the bushes and flower beds maintained. 

The maid enjoyed her leisurely walk with Henry. As they left the house at the same time every day, they saw a lot of familiar faces. She stopped and talked briefly to a few friends but did not dawdle, as this was Henry’s walk and he was keen to get to the shop. 

A bell rang once the heavy door of the tobacconist shop opened. Henry and his walker were well known, they visited every day. Henry walked around the counter to get his usual fuss from Mr Crawford the owner. Having bent down to greet the dog and issue an ear rub, Mr Crawford would enquire whether the maid needed any shopping. In those days shops were not self service and to serve her, he would have lifted down jars to weigh out dry goods: toffees or sugar or whatever she needed. Once the maid had made her purchases Mr Crawford could turn his attention to his 4-legged customer.

“So Henry, is it the usual?” he would enquire.

Not needing an answer, he would bend down to remove the copper penny from Henry’s coat pocket to exchange it for a bar of chocolate. A penny bar of chocolate was small and fairly basic, “marching chocolate” it bore a historical picture of a soldier on it’s foil wrapper. In the 1950s nobody knew that chocolate was not suitable for dogs and this was Henry’s treat.

If the weather was fine, Henry and the maid would leave the shop so she could sit on a park bench to feed him his chocolate. If there was rain or snow, then Mr Crawford would unwrap the treat for Henry and he’d eat it in the shop, before walking happily back through the avenue of trees and along the pavements to his home.

This is a true story, perhaps the names have been changed to protect the innocent! My mother worked for Henry Potstam’s owner and this was one of my favourite of her annecdotes, as she relayed it to me.