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.

Uneasy Rider

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
[3.5 min read]

When I was a girl, I had several friends who were into horses, so their games would revolve around booking lessons and discussions of horses’ names, what they looked like alongside talk of tools for grooming and mucking out. It was all a bit lost on me, but I played along. Riding sounded fun. My older siblings had been on pony-trekking holidays with my parents while we little ones enjoyed a bucket and spade vacation.

My mother had been evacuated to Exmoor during WWII, where she lived on a farm and rode a pony to school. It sounded idyllic. She sometimes got out of maths class by telling the teacher that her horse had become untethered so she needed to go outside to catch it! When she was 21 my mother took a trip to America and stayed on a ‘Dude’ ranch, where she rode with real cowboys, hence riding held a romantic appeal.

The year I turned 14 my parents booked a pony trekking holiday in Northumberland for me and my younger brother. We had lessons at a local riding school in advance, and I was kitted out with new riding jodhpurs, boots and hard hat. I was raring to go. It had seemed a little dull and walking round an indoor riding school, but there’s a lot to learn. Sitting on a horse’s back feels relatively unstable, compounded by the realisation you’re seated on a living creature which can be spooked or excited by anything.

On the first full day of our holiday we went directly to the stables after breakfast to enlist for pony trekking. I was curious to observe my mother, who usually wore dresses and smart shoes, in this new habitat. Having discussed our levels of experience, it was arranged we’d all go out that afternoon on quiet horses.

My father couldn’t ride as a child due to having horse and hay allergies, but as a grown up he’d taken to it and had a ‘natural seat’. It’s important to get your horse ready properly. Adjust the saddle so that it fits the horse firmly and can’t swivel round, the rider is in big trouble if this happens. Horses can be tricky, expanding their ribs during this tightening process, so the riding instructor showed us the correct technique then checked our saddles and tack before we set off.

Northumberland is a beautiful county, the last before Scotland. It’s wild and hilly with dry stone walls and quiet country roads that become corridors of greenery in the summer. Sitting high on the back of a handsome horse, my spirits soared as I took in the scenery from my new viewpoint. I could look over hedges and walls and was moving slowly enough to take in the panoramic beauty. After a while I got the hang of holding my back straight but letting my hips sway with the undulating movement of the horse’s stride. My mother did, indeed, look comfortable on horseback and my brother and I were a bit giggly with the novelty of the experience.

These horses were calm and steady, picked more for their biddable natures than their jumping abilities. They probably walked these ‘trekking’ routes routinely most days in the holiday season, giving families gentle tours of the area. My horse, however, wanted to eat plenty of long grass and buttercups along our route. Our leader instructed me to discourage her, to squeeze or dig my heels into the rib area to keep her moving along. Despite feeling more confident in my ‘seat’ I found this a hard thing to do. 

My mother got a little irritable with me. She explained that it’s hard work to clean the ‘bit’ if a horse eats while wearing it, because all the grass and stuff gets pasted around it. She expected me to stop the horse grazing, I could not. This horse was stubborn, the walk was a bit dull to her and snacking en route was a perk to which she felt entitled!

We carried on, with my horse dawdling and munching, to the point that our trek leader rode beside me so she could pull the horses head away from the greenery to keep her moving. The reins are traditionally the way to steer a horse, a little pull on the left side and the horse should turn left, a tug on the right and the horse turns in that direction. Your horse may suddenly pull its head down, or toss it, so if you’re holding too tightly, you can be pulled out of your seat and fall off the horse, something I didn’t want to happen.

We came to a river, it wasn’t deep and our trek leader wanted the horses to wade through to the other side. The horses stood in a queue so that they could descend the bank with due care. My horse saw a golden opportunity to take another nibble at the long grass while we waited. I couldn’t spur her on, so I tried pulling her head away from temptation. I shortened the reins and pulled to the left. 

On our left was a foot bridge, so my horse thought I wanted to use it. Her shod hooves made an echoing clip clop sound as she plodded up the steep incline of the bridge. Surprise rendered me powerless to stop her. It felt very high up on the bridge, both exhilarating and scary to be above the heads of my family whose horses were still crossing the river. I could not stop laughing as they stared and called out to me.

“Hey, where are you going?”

“Are you afraid to get your feet wet?”
Once I’d crossed the bridge and arrived safely on the other bank, I wiped tears of mirth from my eyes and tried to explain why my horse and I’d taken a different route.

Years later my own children showed an interest in riding. I arranged for them to have lessons before booking our own holiday to Northumberland. We stayed in cottages on a farm which offered pony trekking amongst its activities. We enjoyed two vacations there, making happy memories which I treasure alongside my earlier ones.

This post is linked to an initiative being hosted on Mrs Fever’s blog which encourages writing in a memoir style, the prompt this time was Ride. Follow the link to see what others have submitted but be aware hers is a site accepts adult content.

Green

House Captain’s badge 1.7 Minute read

In primary school we had three houses: Red, Blue and Green. It was a way to mix us up differently so that we interacted with pupis other than those in our class. I looked up to the older girls in Green house. On sports day, even though I was totally useless at running fast, jumping high or catching things I did my best at the alternative events – egg and spoon race, throwing a bean bag. For the obstacle course I came into my own, I could eat a dry biscuit, balance along an up-side down bench and move fast placing my feet in a series of hoops – faster than the others. I competed, wearing my green badge on my aertex shirt and a ribbon fixed in a diagonal stripe from shoulder to hip. I cheered long and hard for my team mates, and sometimes Green house won.

On St Patrick’s day it was tradition for Green house members to compile and present something for assembly to educate fellow pupils about our patron saint and how he’d earned his saintly status. He was kidnapped at 16 but later returned to Ireland, bringing Christianity to his native country. The bit that always sticks, is that he is credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea.

I knew we had snakes in England, my mother always warned us that if we were ever bitten by an adder (they have a diamond pattern on their head) we should stand very still and send someone else to get help. She said running would just make the venom get round the body faster.

Some of our garden was quite overgrown, so we were encouraged wear wellington boots rather than go barefoot. My brother had day-glo orange boots of which he was proud. One day when playing in the garden, a bright green grass snake slithered between his legs. Gliding over the orange toe of his boot, it was so swift and silent that neither of us had time to yelp. Instead we watched in fascination as it slid after a mottled green frog, its unfortunate prey.

During my last year of primary school I was made House Captain. My proudest moment was being chosen, for speech day/ prize giving, to make a speech of gratitude to the person invited to present the various awards and music certificates. It was a big deal. I sensed it bore great responsibility so when I wrote my speech and then lost it, I was in pieces. With one day to go I re-wrote it, mostly remembering what I’d wanted to say to the lady engineer.

This was the 1970s, my school was all girls, clearly my headmistress chose a role model to make us think out of the box regarding potential careers. What I said in my address escapes me, but I do remember trying to visualise the elegant lady on stage beside me wearing a yellow hard hat.

This is submitted for Reminiscences : Musings in Memoir #2 where the prompt is Green. Click the link to see what others have submitted.

My Dog’s Tale

Recently I had a light-bulb moment about reminiscing: it actually feels nice. A pleasant sensation is evoked by sifting through old memories. It’s particularly noticeable when I’m prompted to trawl my memories for something I’d almost forgotten. It makes me wonder if it’s like massaging for one’s brain!

I love dogs, I grew up with dogs and when I was old enough was given one of my own. Since then I haven’t stuck to the same breed of dog. Small, medium and large, I’ve owned all sizes. This story is about a large dog I owned when my children were younger, a weimeraner. They’re a beautiful looking breed, large and athletic with short, mouse grey fur with pale eyes to match. They make loyal and devoted family dogs but they’re also a lot to handle, in regards to both strength and their ‘fizzy’ temperament.

Determined to do things right, I had started by taking our girl to puppy classes. Next my dog and I drove to an agricultural college where a weekly obedience class took place at a fenced-in field. She was a sociable dog but rather vocal. I suspect  our trainer viewed us both as slightly ditzy. If we arrived early to class she wanted to greet (with a sniff and a wag) all the other dogs. If anyone arrived late she barked at the newcomer, seeming unable to settle til our tea break, when she could say her canine ‘hello’.

Tea-break on a blowy day in the middle of a grassy field was fairly basic. Our trainer provided flasks of tea and coffee. Alongside plastic cups, plastic spoons, sachets of sugar and milk, he brought biscuits and stackable plastic picnic chairs. We gathered in a circle with our dogs by our sides to chat, siping our drinks to warm ourselves.

The wind was making my dog quite lively. I didn’t want her to spill my coffee, so I had a cunning idea. I put one leg of my chair through the loop on my dog’s lead before I sat. The group of dogs were quite relaxed with each other, comfortable in close proximity. On this day, however, I wished I’d chosen a seat further away from a West Highland White Terrier called Theo. 

They were both puppies, but Theo’s testosterone was kicking in, causing him to want to dominate other dogs. My girl was happy to play, but the windy day seemed to make her more spirited. What she wouldn’t tolerate was Theo using alpha moves or trying to mount her. A few doggy tussles went on around my chair. I tried to get my dog to sit on the other side of me, away from Theo. I tried to avoid causing a disturbance, our trainer was telling a funny story. 

Suddenly Theo made another lunge for my Weimaraner. For her it was the last straw. She darted out of reach, accompanied by a crack like a shotgun report. Every startled human whipped their head round, seeking the source of commotion. 

I couldn’t understand how my dog had moved so far away. When some of the other dog handlers began to laugh, I noticed that my girl’s lead was still round the white chair leg. The chair leg, however, was dragging in the grass no longer attached to my chair!

Yet, without spilling a drop of coffee, I was still sitting on that chair with one leg missing!

This story is submitted for a writing meme the Reminiscences summer writing project. The point of this writing project is to create new content by writing from memory, with a focus on the form of memoir. The first prompt is to consider ‘wind’. (Both realistically and metaphorically.)