Angry Young Men

In a recent post I mentioned an angry Parisian man I’d dated in the past year, but didn’t tell the story, saving it for a future post. It came back to me this week, because I read this piece about a woman called Alexandra Tweten who is ‘outing’ abusive online-dating matches for their sense of entitlement to her attention:

http://m.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/rise-of-the-feminist-creep-busting-web-vigilante/381809/

Fortunately, it hasn’t happened much to me, mainly because I use Tinder, where the matching is reciprocal and you don’t have to deal with the tidal wave of unwanted attention as soon as you appear on there. (Here’s my piece on Tinder: https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/12/tinder-is-the-night/).

Tweten is using OKCupid which is pretty much a free for all for wanted and unwanted attention. But actually, abusive moments HAVE happened to me, even with all my careful filtering and my supposed radar for nice guys, and when it does happen it is a very scary experience.

(A quick note to all the nice guys out there whom I date or don’t date: this post isn’t representative of you, it’s a group of a*holes of which you are not part. Please don’t get all defensive about men in general because I’m not talking about all men. You just need to know that this stuff happens to women. All the time. Thanks for reading and supporting me – I’m very glad to know you.)

So, the Parisian. Let’s call him ‘Maxime’. He described himself as 31 and 6ft 7. Yes, Maxime was tall, dark and handsome, played basketball in France semi-professionally and could string a sentence together in a text. Against my usual rules of not letting anyone have my number before I’ve met them in real life, we Whatsapped before our date, and he seemed ok with my ‘no sexting or pics’ rule. So far, so normal.

To the date. We met at the Ape and Bird – a fab pub in London on Cambridge Circus owned by the same people who run Polpo. It’s perfect for dating – lively enough to fill in awkward silences, three different bars to choose from if you need a change of scenery, and the option of eating in the bar or restaurant later if the date goes well.

The warning bell started to sound when I met him outside the bar. He was lounging louchely against one of the windows, smoking of course. What Parisian doesn’t? He seemed to not want to make eye contact, which I put down to being at a different altitude to me, or maybe just nervousness. Ok, let’s get to the bar. The choosing of the drinks took a while – I know exactly what I want in there (the Garganega house white is great) but he huffed and puffed over the choice of beers. I laughed to myself and thought, ‘how Parisian’ as he took time to choose just the right drink. How very French.

The second alarm bell rang softly as he talked at length about his life, his likes and dislikes, his travels, his favourite food, his his his his his… I just settled into the usual ego-pleasing nodding routine, wondering how I was going to extract myself from the scenario. But then the wine kicked in, and I thought, ‘well, things could be worse’ and somehow we ended up staying and getting a table for dinner in the bar.

Ok, so the choosing of the food took a while – Ape and Bird have a ‘distinctive’ menu with uniquely British things on there that threw Maxime a bit. I think he ended up with steak and chips – so far, so French. I can’t remember what I had, because the whole moment was blighted by his fussing and faffing over the food. “This is not steak!” he cried, forking the meat with a sneer on his face. I’m afraid I just started to laugh, and to tease him about being so French about his food.

Oh dear.

One does not tease a French man about his food.

He got very, very angry with me. And all British people, really. For not having the balls to complain about food. I don’t complain, as a rule, unless it’s really terrible and I can’t eat it. I’ll have an opinion on it, but if it’s not ‘wrong’, then I won’t send it back. Not Maxime’s style it seems.

So he made a huge fuss and I ended up apologising to the startled waitress when he’d flounced off to the loo (in a 6ft 7 gangly way). I did contemplate paying and leaving while he was down there, but I thought, ‘no – I’ll see this through like an adult’. What he obviously thought in the loo was, “I’ve paid for drinks for this woman and am about to pay for half a meal I didn’t like – I’ll damn well have sex from her in payment.”

When he returned to the table I’d already ordered the bill and made noises about leaving. “You’re going home?!” he asked incredulously, as if his table manners had undeniably wooed me into sexual submission. “Yes – I’ll be going to Piccadilly Circus – where do you need to be?” He was determined to come with me.

So there I was, striding down Shaftesbury Avenue with a massive Frenchman, angrily snarking at me about how it was ok to complain about food. I kept a fixed smile on my face so as not to anger him further – it felt as though he was about to blow (I certainly wasn’t).

I may be making you laugh with this story, but reader, it was so not funny. I genuinely felt really scared. When he suddenly swerved off into a Chinatown street, I felt relieved, but then panicked as to where he was going to pop out and accost me. I scanned the tube, the bus stop on my way home, the outside of my building – everything. Thankfully a friend was in the pub down the road and I went and told her the story, still shaking slightly from the encounter.

In the last month I’ve had another miniature version of this, in which again, I gave my number out when I should not have. I made it clear that I had no intention of picture-swapping or sexting, but this ‘nice guy’ Toby just wanted to hear my voice. Ahh how sweet. Until he got on the phone, telling me he’d lost his voice and asking, “could he just whisper to me?” “Stalker voice!” I teased, but I’d actually started to wonder…

“Could he also talk about lots of other things he’d like to do?”

No.

He put the phone down in a fit of rage, quickly followed by Tinder messages telling me I’d “spoiled the mood.” I managed to unmatch him on Tinder pretty quickly, but then came the stroppy “that was mean” texts on Whatsapp, which I subsequently blocked. I then got a barrage of ‘no caller ID’ calls for the next two days – with no voicemail, thankfully. But I was truly scared at what this person might do. Could he track me down and wait for me outside work or my home? When would he stop calling? After two days, thankfully.

I’ve wondered over and over about what I did that made these guys feel entitled to be so angry with me, and then I realised. I was just a woman who refused to give them what they felt they deserved and they got angry, even though I was very clear about what was and wasn’t going to happen. It’s like my voice merged into white noise under the loud gushing sound of their monstrous egos in motion.

I’ve only just remembered about a guy I dated about three years ago who made me cry on a date. Yes, cry. He’d been dumped by his last girlfriend and his ‘little revenge’ was to make women feel crap about themselves. The way he did it with me was to flirt outrageously with the waitress and ignore me. He was happy with me over the pre-dinner drinks, then grumpy over the menu, refusing to look me in the eye, then all over the waitress every time she appeared. I let him do it over and over and just sat there in disbelief. Then he smiled cruelly as he asked me if I was crying, which I was a little bit. I’ve never been made to feel so rubbish in all my life.

And it will never happen again.

—————–

Jessica Valenti on why some men are so angry:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/27/why-are-some-men-so-angry

Katie McDonough on male entitlement to women:

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/30/americas_catcalling_madness_what_michael_che_co_keep_on_missing/

 

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Bare-Faced Cheek

For about six months now, I’ve been conducting an experiment with myself. It consists of a simple thing, that will be normal to many women, but it’s not normal for me – going out into the world with as little makeup on as possible, if any.

A few years ago, I saw a counsellor who set me a challenge – think of something that would take me out of my comfort zone and do it, one day a week, for a month. I thought of the worst thing possible for me – going out without makeup on – and chose to set myself that task. I remember going to work, cringing inside, head bowed low … and finding that nothing happened. I had to ask someone – a woman who always commented on everything I wore or my hairstyle – if she’d noticed anything different about me. She just said I looked a little paler than normal (that’s something for me, as my default shade is white), but she had to be prompted to say so.

I immediately went back to wearing the makeup but felt really pleased that I’d completed the challenge. It made me question why I felt the need to wear makeup all the time and why I felt ashamed without it. Why I felt I looked hideous. I questioned it but I carried on ‘using’ – some habits are hard to break. I’d been wearing makeup since I was 14 –  I was fascinated by my mum’s beauty routine and loved trying things from the basket of goodies on her dressing table. I distinctly remember being told off by the deputy headmistress to take off my blue Rimmel eyeliner with Pond’s Cold Cream in the girls’ loos. And the matching nail varnish.

Years later, I remember telling that counsellor that I felt ‘exhausted being me’. I didn’t know quite what I meant at the time but it had less to do with all the challenges of a burgeoning career and more to do with the ‘lady maintenance’ that came with it. I felt I had to be perfect at everything – brilliant at my job, at looking good, at fitness, at home life. Of course, no one can be, and the strain had started to show. The daily armour of clothes and makeup were just a fact of life for me, and the ex-husband who had to wait for me to don it, even for a trip to B&Q at the weekend. While most people ‘upgrade’ their lives on holiday – staying at nice hotels, taking their best outfits with them for glamorous cocktail evenings – I began to love our ‘roughing it’ holidays, where I wore (almost) no makeup and ‘outdoor’ clothing the whole time and went to bed when it went dark. This, for me, was relaxation. No more armour – just me.

When the ‘No Makeup Selfie’ craze started last year, I posted a defiant ‘NEVER’ on Facebook, and then immediately wondered why I felt so strongly about not doing it. I often think my friends look more beautiful without makeup, and their selfies showed it. Why not me? I genuinely thought I looked hideous and it took me until this summer to take one of myself, where I thought, ‘actually, I look ok’. But I didn’t post it.

I only decided to pull back on wearing so much makeup when I watched the movie Boyhood this summer, starring Patricia Arquette. In it, she plays a mother around my age, and the action is filmed in real time over the course of ten years. I was fascinated at how beautiful she looked, with minimal makeup and fresh-faced maturity, year after year. I thought I’d give it a try the next day and then didn’t stop. I went to bars and clubs with just mascara and myself. Nothing changed. Same reaction from women and men, the world continued to turn, I felt more authentically me. I suppose that bit was the real change. I didn’t need a ‘smoky eye’ to attract attention – confidence is the key.

Part of the reason for writing this blog is about presenting an authentic self – look at me from any angle and you get the same person. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog, real life – it’s all the same version of me, seen from different camera angles. If I’m going to be honest on here, then I’m going to reflect that in real life. Here I am. Unadorned, unfiltered. And I like it.

It made me so sad to see the furore surrounding Renee Zellweger and her radical face change. She appeared at a Women in Hollywood event this week and has faced a barrage of criticism over apparent ‘work’ she’s had done to stave off ageing. Beautiful, cute Renee – years of maintaining that facade has carried forward into a desperate need to change her amazing face at 45. The face that’s been key to her career, that has never been ‘classically’ beautiful but able to assume characters so easily, that has made us all love her.

Like many actresses in her forties, Renee’s scrabbled around to salvage something from her youthful image and in the process lost something of herself. She’s been trolled mercilessly about it by the same people who would criticise her for having the temerity to appear in public looking her actual age. If I was her, or Courtney, Jennifer, Cameron or Sarah Jessica, I’d have buckled under the pressure and had the work done too. And look at Claudia Winkleman – a woman I admire greatly, forced to retreat behind her fringe and heavy eye makeup just for daring to go without both for one night when presenting Strictly. Shame on you, Twitter. I thought she looked amazing as we saw her as she really was, for one brief moment.

It feels odd to finally like your face after forty-seven years on the planet, when undoubtedly it was much more pleasing to look at about twenty-five years ago. I remember liking my reflection when I was 14/15 then suddenly hating it at 17/18. Something happened to make me switch and I wonder if it was the realisation that there was a set of ‘lady rules’ I was meant to abide by. I realised with horror that I’d been caught not following them and scrabbled around to catch up. For heaven’s sake, I’d been out in the world with nothing but lipgloss , a sweatshirt and stretch jeans – what was I thinking?! Give me my armour now.

I’ve not completely given up on makeup and nice clothes – I love fashion and beauty and will never stop loving them. What’s changed is that I don’t feel I have to do them. It’s a choice. If I want to have a smoky eye, I’ll have it – I just don’t feel it’s absolutely necessary to cover up my shrinking fortysomething eyes. If anything, it calls attention to them. I will look people in the eye with only mascara for cover and not flinch, but more importantly, I’ll look at myself in the mirror and smile.

Hello you.

————————————————–

My Year Without Makeup:

http://www.salon.com/2013/01/10/my_year_without_makeup/

On ageing and plastic surgery:

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/27/i_know_renee_zellwegers_pain/

October

It’s mid-October and the media is full of the death of actress and author Lynda Bellingham, who passed away on Sunday 19th.

It’s mid-October and my mind is filled with my father, Wilf Edwards, his birthday being on the 17th (he would have been 96) and the fact that I’ve been typing up his childhood memoir and posting it on here, piece by piece (I’ve still got a bit to go):

(https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/15/between-the-fires/)

Like Lynda, Dad died from bowel cancer, so I’m getting the triple whammy of memories this year. I was ten years old when Dad died, and he was a too-young fifty-eight. My family did their best to shield me from the awfulness of it all – I’d visited him in hospital a few times, where I’d felt scared of the smells and the echoing corridors where my dad was placed, among people who looked much thinner, older and more ill than him. Each time, he’d be sitting up on his bed smiling, dressed in the jumper I’d ‘given’ him for his birthday (or Father’s Day, I can’t remember) bought by my mum. I know that the rest of the time he was hooked up to wires and drips – he’d sent me some letters on yellow paper from there, telling me he ‘looked like the man from Mars’.

On the night he died, I’d been staying with my very good, and oldest friend Coreen, down the road from our house. My family had visited Dad in the hospital but they must have known the end was near and kept me away. “He’s gone to the angels,” they said when I returned home and hugged my mum.

And nothing was the same again.

For months afterwards, and probably years, I fantasised about seeing him across the street, walking back into my life, like it was all a dream. I kept spotting him among the crowds, and it would turn out to just be another silver-haired man in square glasses, wearing an overcoat. It’s funny how our brains become adept at spotting shapes our loved ones made in the world, like seeing faces in inanimate objects. It took my brain a long time to stop seeing, and looking for him, everywhere.

I love to remember my dad in those early years and somehow Christmas gets tied up in it all. He arranged the most magical things: he let me help him switch on the town lights one year (he was a Councillor, in charge of Holywell Christmas illuminations). He once dressed as Father Christmas on the Rotary Club ‘float’ that drove slowly around our streets, throwing sweets out of the back for the kids (I think it was about that time that my mum gently explained that although Father Christmas wasn’t physically real, his spirit entered the house every year – how very Roman Catholic of her). Dad also threw a cracking Boxing Day party for family and friends every year – the house fizzed with excitement, shining ’70s gaudy baubles, Mantovani carols on the record player and happy voices.

My dad had been a very sociable person – always organising get-togethers at our house, wearing his ‘Head Barman’ chain and tending to his G-Plan drinks cabinet. I used to be given the job of handing out snacks at these events, wondering why all the adults were slightly out of control.

After Dad died, it was like the needle scratched across the record at the party and it all stopped.

Now, typing up his childhood memoir, I am finding a new dad. The one who was a head boy and a talented pianist, whose mother took in neighbours’ washing to buy him a piano to practice on. The one who left school at 14 and became a Post Office messenger boy, but ended up, after serving in Egypt in the Second World War, being a Postmaster, Chief Clerk, then Investigation Officer in Kenya and Tanzania, taking his young family out there in 1953 to start a new life. The one who led the orchestra at the Kenya Operatic Society when my mum sang in Lilac Time in front of Showboat’s Paul Robeson, the musical based on Schubert’s life. The one who came home to run a local newsagent and stationers, and founded the local Chamber of Commerce in 1972.

So much happened before I was born in 1967 that I longed to be part of the history. I even ended up inventing a childhood in Africa just to be part of the story, telling primary school friends that I had befriended a lion. They didn’t believe me for long.

Now I think I AM part of the history – my dad clearly didn’t sit around waiting for things to happen to him and struck out into the world to make his mark in it. He was part of a small posse of Holywell people who went out to Kenya when it was a British colony and he returned a bit of a celebrity, appearing in the papers surrounded by all manner of African things he’d brought back. I still have some of them – a carved wooden chest and standard lamp are in my flat, along with a pair of Maasai spears. They look slightly incongruous with my modern stuff, but I love them. They remind me not only of him and Mum, but of how far I’ve struck out – not only making a life for myself in London after 21 years in Wales, but now striking out on my own in it.

I was able to visit Kenya for the first time a few years ago, and walked a little in the footsteps of my mum and dad there. I visited Malindi, where they holidayed, I saw the school in Mombasa where my mum taught (it’s still there) and heard their words in the few bits of Swahili I could understand in the locals. I even managed to have a tiny conversation with a Giriami fisherman who was trying to sell me an octopus from his boat in Watamu. The words I’d heard my parents and siblings utter growing up came back so easily: “Jambo! Habari yako!” (Hello! How are you?) The fisherman grinned one of those Kenyan grins at me. I’ll never forget it. So this is what it must have been like for them, I thought.

Lynda Bellingham didn’t get to have that final Christmas with her loved ones, but I bet she had some wonderful ones that her family will all remember in the years to come, and think about how lucky they were to have those precious times with her. I’ll be holidaying next to the Red Sea over Christmas and New Year, on my own and happy about it, thinking about my dad’s connection with Egypt during the War and how it’s funny that I’m headed there, perhaps where he trod when on army leave, and first experienced the ‘Africa Love’ that I’ve inherited.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Wilf Edwards again and I’m even more proud to be his daughter, knowing about his humble Welsh beginnings and how he became a bit of a pioneering spirit in his own way.

Because he could.

———————-

Robert Webb on losing a parent:

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/10/how-not-be-boy-robert-webb-growing-and-losing-parent

My Name Is…

Much has been made of international human-rights lawyer, Amal Alamuddin’s decision to take the name of Clooney, following her marriage to the actor, George. The world is still divided into those who do and those who don’t take their husbands’  surname, with a venn-diagram central portion who put both names together. Cute.

It made me remember that moment when I got married and took my (now ex-) husband’s name, and how wonderful it was to state it proudly on every bit of paper, and in every situation. Hello, I’m Mrs Mudie.

I know what you’re thinking. How do you say that? It’s east-coast Scottish: pronounced Mew-dee. Every time I went anywhere or made a phone call involving stating my name I inevitably had to do two things: a) correct their pronunciation from ‘Muddy’ or ‘Moody’, and b) spell it out: M. U. D. I. E.

At first, I rather liked the novelty of it, but it soon became tiresome. Especially when I received a letter to ‘Mrs Nudie’. But we laughed about it, and all the variations on pronunciation and spelling just became a fact of life for me.

During the final year of my marriage and my push for independence and freedom I began to realise that I’d lost something of myself. Part of that self was to do with my name. The only situation I’d not changed my name in was work, and at the time, my career was burgeoning. I was working on movie tie-in publishing, getting a name for myself on the conference circuit and making my mark in the world. The person doing this wasn’t Mrs Mudie – she was very much Lisa Edwards, and still is. She was who I wanted to be.

When I became single I wanted to change my name back so badly, but there was a period where I was waiting for the divorce to come through, where I had to remain with my married name while the paperwork was completed. I went on holidays, alone, as Mrs Mudie, bought a flat as Mrs Mudie and paid my bills as Mrs Mudie. How weird to still be her and yet doing all of these independent things.

I finally changed my name back last year and it felt so good. One of my favourite bits in Sex and the City is when Carrie loses her precious ‘identity’ necklace with her name on it – the one she wears throughout the series. She is with a man whose ego – his life, his work, his needs – threaten to subsume hers and the moment is poignant. And then comes the joy of rediscovering the necklace in a hole in her vintage purse – marking the moment when she comes out of this unsatisfactory relationship to find herself again. Fairly obvious stuff, but it always makes me very happy when I watch this scene – I know how delicious that feels.

There are still a few moments when the odd bit of mail comes through from a company that still has my old name and they hit me like a tiny electric shock. Oh yes! That used to be me! I have loved getting my real name back again. Edwards. It’s such a Welsh name and I am proud of it. My grandmother’s name was Dilys Myfanwy Edwards, and I always say you can’t get much more Welsh than that (although I don’t know her maiden name – but I’m betting it was Jones, Roberts, Thomas or Davies).

I’ve recently been typing up my father’s attempt at writing a memoir – he didn’t get very far, but I loved all the names in the first part of the story – Welsh names aren’t hugely varied so the Joneses and the Roberts’s feature heavily. There’s even a Mrs Roberts the Shop, like something out of Under Milk Wood. I like that my name comes from a small pool of names that are an immediate regional identifier – of course I’m Welsh.

People ask me where I got my Twitter name from @Redwoods1 – this comes from the fact that my full name is inevitably pronounced Lisa Redwards, because there are two vowels together in Lisa Edwards so it’s easier to put an R in there when you say it out loud. Redwoods then became a bit of a nickname for me on a holiday during my final months as a married lady. I’d gone away on the spur of the moment with two work girlfriends to San Francisco. It remains one of the best things I’ve ever done – we’d decided to go during a wine-drinking session after work, and put our plan into action (I still can’t believe the company let all three of us managers go). For part of the trip we stayed in a gorgeous cabin in the forest in Sonoma. After visiting various wineries by day, we lounged outside in the hot tub, drinking Corbel sparkling wine, surrounded by Redwood trees. ‘Redwoods!’ one of my friends exclaimed. ‘Lisa Redwoods!’ The name stuck, not least because of my reddish hair.

That holiday was a turning point for me. Redwoods beckoned – the woman who wanted to experience the world as an independent person, who wanted to get on a flight to SF without thinking about it and end up in a hot tub in Sonoma with two girlfriends, a gay couple and a load of sparkling wine, smiling up at the trees.

So here I am.

Because I can.

——————

Why do we care so much when women change their maiden names?:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/poorna-bell/amal-alamuddin-clooney_b_5981286.html

Between the Fires – 1918-1933

Downloadable version: Between the Fires

I’m lucky enough to still have a copy of the start of my dad’s memoir – twenty pages or so of carefully handwritten text, written in pencil on lined, loose A4 pages. He’d called it ‘Between the Fires’, presumably because he was going to talk about his life from the moment he was born, three weeks before the end of the First World War right up to his participation in the Second World War. He didn’t get that far, but this early family story is delightful, especially if you grew up in my part in North Wales, a small market town called Holywell. His own father’s story begins in what is now a National Trust-owned area of Snowdonia, beautiful Ysbyty Ifan:

1005%2F228%2Fntpl_112561-jpeg_thumb_460x0 40540938

(photos: National Trust)

I thought I’d give my dad a guest slot on my blog, to mark the occasion of his 96th birthday, which would have taken place on Friday, October 17. He died when I was ten, but his story lives on, and this is just the start of it. For some reason, he kept the names of his parents the same but changed his (Wilf) to ‘Maelor’ and his brother, Ronnie, to ‘Gareth’. For the purposes of this story I’m going to change them back. Sorry, Dad, but I am an editor after all…

Between the Fires by John Wilfred Edwards.

My parents were married on Boxing Day 1917. I was born three weeks before the end of the First World War, in the house of my grandparents, Charlotte and Joshua Jones of Number 5, Tai Cochion, Treffynnon (Holywell).

My father, Johnnie Edwards, a grocer’s assistant, was employed at the Post Office-cum-general store at Ysbyty Ifan – a small village astride the River Conway and a few miles from Betws-y-Coed. Being blind in one eye [an accident with a fork] he was considered unfit to join his three brothers to serve in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, so he was posted to Ysbyty Ifan to fill a vacancy created by the absence, on war service, of the grocer’s son. One of [Johnnie’s] brothers, Will, was killed on the morning of Armistice Day, and another, Joe, died as a result of being gassed.

Dad stayed with Tom Roberts and his family, in the end-house of a row facing the church. It is 36 miles from there to Holywell. My father naturally wished to visit his wife, Dilys Myfanwy, and his first born son, Wilfred, there as often as possible. He finished work at 8pm on Saturdays and restarted at 8am on Mondays. There was no public transport to meet these times – he couldn’t afford it weekly anyhow – so he purchased, by the grace of a generous period of instalments, a second-hand bicycle, with an acetylene lamp thrown in. It was a called a carbide lamp. Its base contained a compound on which dripped a regulated flow of water. The result formed a gas which was fed through a burner. The brightness of the flame was amplified by a polished reflector. One had to keep a constant eye on the lamp. If too much water was introduced the flames would envelop it. Unfortunately the light was so poor it served, primarily, to warn other road users of your presence. It illuminated only a few yards in front of the bike. One can imagine, therefore, the journey home in the dark – a climb up to the main road and several miles across the lovely, bleak, undulating Denbigh Moors. There was a six-mile run down into Denbigh but for want of a decent light, Dad had to restrict his speed to a crawl, lest he hit a large stone or perhaps a rabbit, and became unseated.

The journey took at least four hours, and longer in inclement weather. But when it snowed: well – I will leave that to your imagination. My parents had no home [of their own] then, and Dad had to sleep on a couch downstairs at Number 5. Mum cooked his breakfast at 3am on Monday mornings so that he could get away to work. He must have had a lot of grit in him to do this weekly journey without complaint.

Tom Roberts and he were chatting over a glass of beer one night and Tom said, “Johnnie, you cannot carry on any longer with this bike ride to Holywell. Duw Annwyl! [Good grief!] It must be a nightmare! I am going to try and arrange for Dilys and the child to come and live in the village.” My father was delighted with the prospect. True to his word, Tom, a gamekeeper incidentally, called at the Post Office the next day and said to Dad, “Johnnie, I have fixed it! I have persuaded old Mrs Jones, three doors away from us, to take them in for a while. As you know she is living alone and it will be company for her.” Dad replied, “Thank you, Tom, you are a good friend to me. I am a bit worried, though, about the baby! Mrs Jones may not like such a disturbance.” “Don’t be silly, Johnnie bach,” countered Tom, “Dilys will keep the little imp quiet somehow.”

Dad wrote to Mam that night, and a reply came by return of post. Mam was delighted with the prospect and so arrangements were made. Taid and Nain [grandad and grandma – Dilys’ parents] scrounged a couple of suitcases and a carpet bag and together with Dilys and child, met the bus at the stop by Holywell Town Hall. Taid was quite upset at the parting but Nain – dear Nain – bundled her daughter and child on the bus with a brave smile. It was for the best, she thought, Dilys and baby joining her husband; just as it should be!

As the bus pulled out, she could hear the child crying in protest at the strange environment; at the inborn knowledge of the estrangement from loved ones, and the fear of the unknown. Dilys, pensive and tearful, waved her goodbyes, cuddled her child, sharing its apprehension, and yet happy at the thought of joining her husband.

In the meantime Johnnie asked Caradoc, a friend of Tom, if he could help. Caradoc had a small vehicle (and what would now be considered a vintage car) at his disposal. And could Caradoc pick up his family of two at the bus stop at Pentre Voelas at 3 o’clock? “For two shillings, yes,” Caradoc demanded. Costly business for a two-mile journey, thought Dad, but he had no choice. Anyhow he had saved a little for this sort of eventuality.

Mrs Roberts the Shop gave Johnnie an hour off that afternoon and despite a considerable amount of coaxing to get the car ticking over Caradoc finally chugged out of the village with Johnnie beside him. They met the bus on time.

Johnnie held Wilfred on his knee, on the return journey; his wife squashed on the back seat of the car with all the luggage. However at 20 miles an hour it didn’t take long to arrive at the village.

Dilys was introduced to Mrs Jones. Fortunately there was a mutual liking between them, but Mrs Jones looked a little concerned about the child. Wilfred must have known something was going on as he laid on his best smile. “My! But you have a nice little baby, there, Mrs Edwards.” Please call me Dilys, Mrs Jones,” said mother, smiling, “I hope Wilfred will be a good boy. He has taken to you already.”

Dilys settled in very nicely. The baby gave little trouble, and anyhow he had become a great favourite with Tom Roberts and his wife, Olwen. They had a little baby girl named Menna, and both children played together.

Ysbyty Ifan was a delightful village. The River Conway flows through the centre of it. the narrow bridge across the river attracted many visitors. Children paddled in the water. It was a happy community and I think the environment there had a great influence, not only on my life but my parents as well.

However, all good things come to an end. The Postmaster’s son returned from the War and we returned to Holywell. Dad manage to get a job at Edwards and Lloyd’s grocery shop and our first home. A two-up, two-down at Number 8, Brynford Terrace.

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(Wilf Edwards as a toddler. Photo belongs to Lisa Edwards)

I started school at the age of three: Spring Gardens it was called. Miss Parry and the other teachers were wonderful people, and I was very happy there. We were taught our times tables at a very early stage in our education. The ability to read and spell correctly were also considered important. In later life I was grateful for this good grounding – it stood me in good stead and I hoped this basic training would always retain its place in education. Sadly it has not!

When I was five my brother, Ronnie, was born. Till then Mam was very strict with me at to my appearance and who I played with. I was not allowed to go and play by myself in the street at the end of the terrace. Mrs Jones lived next door to Lunt’s shop in the street and a few days after Ronnie joined the family she remarked, “Good heavens, there is Wilfred, playing in the gutter and looking as if he could do with a good wash. I have never seen that before. The new baby has certainly put Wilfred’s nose out of joint!” That didn’t last for long. Mam soon had me sorted out again.

Our holidays were nearly always spent in what we considered to be our second home – Ysbyty Ifan. A few incidents are vivid in my mind – I was about seven then. Mrs Davies, from Ty Mawr farm had some cows and I offered to take them to the field to graze. I was terrified of them actually, but Mrs Davies gave me a stick and told me to get on with it, and not to forget to close the gate. What I didn’t know was the cows knew their way to the field anyhow, and the gate was always left open for them to enter. I was showing off in front of Menna, waving my stick and shouting, at the top of my voice, “Hup! Hup!” to hurry the cows along. I made sure, however, that there was a safe distance between us. After I had ‘guided’ them into the field I closed the gate and turned to Menna with what must have been a smug expression on my face. Menna looked scornfully at me, “You silly boy,” said she, “no one ever brings the cows. They find their own way. I usually just close the gate after they have all gone into the field.” I just burst into tears, threw my authoritative baton away, and ran home as fast as I could. I thought Menna was so cruel and I avoided her. Anyhow the next day she made up for it by giving me a penny bar of Caley’s Milk Chocolate. She knew it was my favourite sweet.

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(Caley’s advertisement, reproduced by Robert Opie)

There was the time when Mrs Roberts gave me a milk can, some money, and asked me to go to a farm about half a mile away up the fields and buy some butter. I gave the farmer’s wife the can and the money and asked for the butter. She returned a few minutes later and handed me the can and the change. I made my way down the field. It was rather warm and the can was heavy. I thought there must be an awful lot of butter in the can for the small amount paid. I decided to sit down under a tree for a rest. I was curious about the contents of the can so I took the lid off and had quite a surprise. The can was full of buttermilk – the butter floating on the top. I learned later that this was the normal custom, especially in the summer, in order to keep the butter fresh – the buttermilk was free. I filled the deep lid with some milk and drank it all. It was delicious. I had satisfied my thirst and lightened the weight of the can.

I was very fond of my grandparents and visited Nain and Taid [in Holywell] nearly every day. The special visit was for Sunday lunch. Nain often made my favourite dish – rabbit pie. The best part was the crust saturated in the lovely gravy. Taid used to give me sixpence to go to Nellie Parry’s at Number 1 to buy two bottles of ‘nettle pop.’ Mrs Parry was well known for this excellent and refreshing drink she made and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Old Dr Jones advised many people to drink it. He said it was good for the tummy. He bought six bottles every week.

Nain was a good-looking woman, and her complexion flawless. She often cleaned her face with buttermilk! It must be good stuff, that.

One Sunday, on my way to Number 5, resplendent in my new suit, socks and shoes, I passed the site of a new house being built in Cross Roads. There was a square area near the house covered with some white stuff which looked like a form of soft plaster. Two schoolmates dared me to walk through it saying it was only 2 inches deep. Stupidly I walked across it, and found it was about 6 inches deep in the middle. The stuff was all over my socks and shoes. I tried to wipe it off with some grass, to the accompanying laughter of the lads. My legs were beginning to burn. I ran off as fast as I could to Nain’s house. She was so cross with me. Shoes and socks off. I had walked through a lime mixture. Whilst I had a bath Nain washed my socks and cleaned my shoes. She must have had some good ointment because my legs stopped paining after a while. I was severely censured by both grandparents and certainly learned my lesson. Mam never found out about it, had she done so I would have had a good hiding.

I used to attend services at the Welsh Baptist Chapel. At the evening services the children were called upon, in turn, to recite a verse in Welsh. I used to go to Taid’s on Sunday afternoon and he would teach me one. He was very religious, a lay preacher for many years at Penymaes. Before the chapel there was built, services were held at the house of our schoolteacher, Miss Parry. Taid was one of the few attending who could read properly so that’s how he became a lay preacher.

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 (Restored Bethel Baptist Chapel, Holywell. Photo: Bethel Baptist Chapel Facebook page)

One Sunday I had forgotten to go for my verse when at about 5pm I remembered. I ran all the way to Number 5 and said, “Taid, I forgot about the verse and I haven’t much time to learn it. What shall I do?” He thought for a minute or two, fingering the large Bible, always placed on the table on a Sunday. He said, “I have a short verse for you with much meaning. It is, ‘Cofiwch wraig Lot.'” [Remember Lot’s Wife]

At Brynford Terrace there were ten houses. Most of the tenants were very proud of their homes, as humble as they were. The houses were kept very clean. Even the door steps were scrubbed and edged with a rubbing stone. The houses were so small we described them as ‘one and a half up and down’: [they had] a tiny kitchen and small living room and Ronnie and I slept together in a single bed in the very small bedroom, which was only about one foot wider than the bed. There was an old-fashioned coal grate with an oven fitted one side and hot plates and hob on the other. The kettle was suspended over the fire by a chain and all the cooking was done on the fire and in the oven. The grate was kept in immaculate condition by being regularly polished with ‘black lead.’ Our lighting was a single paraffin lamp and candles.

There were some good neighbours there – real friends they were. I can recall an incident to amplify this. Next door lived Mrs Jones. Although no relation we all called her Aunty Jennie. I often popped in to see her and Uncle Ted. There was always a welcome. One day all the children except me – I cannot remember why – went on a bus trip to Rhyl. This trip was always considered a rare treat. I was upset at being left out of it. Aunty Jennie saw me crying and when she heard the reason she went straight to see my mother. “Dilys,” she said adamantly, “please get this lad ready now! I am taking him to Rhyl. He’s not going to be left out.” I was soon ready and she threw on a coat and with an angry glare at the world in general, she practically dragged me down to the bus stop. How she managed to pay for the ice-cream, the donkey and the bicycle rides for me, plus the fare for us both amazed me.

Rhyl Prom and Pavilion in the late 1930's - with vintage cars and bus

(Rhyl prom in the 1930s. Photo: http://www.anglesey.info)

From necessity, wives became culinary geniuses. With very little money at their disposal they had not only to contrive to provide an interesting varied menu but also a balanced diet. They were able to accomplish it, in a measure, without any academic training in domestic science. Tatws Claeth – boiled potatoes dropped in buttermilk. We loved it. Welsh rarebit: not to be confused with the lowly cheese on toast. Pigs trotters, sheep’s heads (at no cost) were bisected, and a nutritious broth with vegetables was concocted. A delicacy was the meat left on the cheeks of the sheep’s heads. There were ‘fat neddies: four-inch squares of a pastry sandwich, filled with an inch-thick mixture which resembled mincemeat. Tasty and filling – and kept hunger away for a few hours. They cost one penny each. Rabbits were only about nine pence each and were obtainable at Davies’ fishmongers and other establishments. The poachers sold them for six pence.

Prior to the advent of insecticides, etc, there was an abundance of mushrooms (and beautiful butterflies) in the season. A man who knew a great deal about nature, Dick Trueman, used to take me out with him early in the mornings to collect them. We went on two rickety old bikes. He knew where to go, alright. I am sure he had a sixth sense of their whereabouts. He was also good at rabbiting and was a good shot. One day, however, I did not enjoy but I shall never forget it. The farmer asked him if Dick could clear rabbits from a warren situated on a bank down the field. He had two ferrets and I carried some nets. He examined the rabbit holes and was able to tell, somehow, which were in current use.

He covered these with the nets and when satisfied with the job, he released the ferrets into a burrow. He then put his ear to the ground and invited me to do the same. He said, “Tell me if you hear a thumping sound.” I did and said so. Dick said, “Right – wait for it.” I can see him now, standing there, his arms outstretched. I asked him about the thumping sound. He said it was the rabbits stomping their feet in terror at the meanness of the ferrets. Suddenly rabbits starting popping out into the nets. Dick stripped the nets off them, broke their necks and threw them over his shoulder and hurriedly replaced the nets. I was sickened to see these rabbits flopping about on his back. He asked me to help but I just couldn’t. Afterwards he put his arm around me and said, “Don’t worry. They weren’t in any pain. The flopping about was a nervous reaction.”

During the Depression in the ’30s my Uncle Will was on the dole and so were four of his friends. They were invited to our house for supper nearly every Saturday night. Mam used to send me for 11 pennyworth of chips – a big bowl full – and four fish. This was shared by us all, with homemade bread and farm butter. Afterwards, I would play the piano and all would join in, singing, ‘Sospan fach’ [Little Saucepan] and other Welsh songs. In the warm summer evenings we would, instead, sit outside singing ‘Home on the Range’, etc, to the accompaniment of a guitar. Some of the neighbours would join in. What pleasant evenings they were.

Christmas was always a happy time. No turkeys for us. Too dear! Mam used to get two ‘fowl’ as she called them. That meant four wings and four legs which Ronnie and I used to fight over.

In the evening Nain arrived plus other members of the family and Uncle Will and his four ‘dole pals’. Dad produced a bottle of port and some homemade ginger wine. Some of the men played cards or enjoyed themselves on the ring board dad had set up on the kitchen door.

Later I was given an enamel bucket and was sent to get it filled with ale. I went to the back door of the pub and knocked. The bucket was duly filled and I struggled with it up the Terrace ‘yard’ (as we called it). Out came the cups, mugs, etc, and Taid doled it out with a ladle to the men. The women had port and we had to be content with the ginger wine. Then it was me on the piano again and the singing started. Tom Nuttall would insist on singing ‘The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill’ and Joe Gallagher ‘Speak to me Thora’ (or ‘Fora’, as he called her). How we all managed to find a seat I don’t know. Some sat on the stairs, on the floor and even on the table.

Uncle Tom was a good tap dancer and he could also play the spoons. He did his little bit. One Christmas, Ronnie took our little dog upstairs. He came back down and placed it on the table. It stood there with a little hat on, and sporting a pair of Ronnie’s pants with a comb sticking out of the back pocket. The poor dog had such a ‘hang-dog’ expression that Mam, taking one look at its face and seeing the comb sticking up, just shrieked with laughter. We all naturally joined in and just couldn’t stop for ages.

Yes, we made our own fun in those days.

After Christmas it was ‘Clenig’ time. We children, with small baskets or bags, toured all the sweet shops hoping to receive a small gift of a few sweets. We would present our baskets, hoping that in the traditional festive spirit the shopkeeper would oblige. We would wish him, in Welsh, a Happy New Year: “Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi!” If the baskets showed a reasonable bounty, we emptied some of the sweets in our pockets, ensuring that the contents of the baskets remained pathetically small.

Dad changed his job and started work in E.B. Jones’ grocer’s shop. Friday night it was open ’til 9pm and Saturday at least 10pm. Mrs Edwards of New Road, who made glorious treacle toffee – people came for miles around to buy her various homemade sweets – arrived at the shop at about 9pm on Saturdays. She insisted that Dad served her. You see he was the provision man – capable of boning a shank to perfection, curing bacon, etc. To be a provision man in those days was important. The key man in the shop, where the preparation and carving of meats of any kind sold was a specialist job.

By the time Mrs Edwards had completed her order it was about 9.30pm. Then Dad had to help her carry the goods 300 yards down the road. He arrived home at about 10pm. Overtime? Not on your life! It was part of the job. But, you see, this was accepted. People then had no particular desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Cars were owned only by doctors, solicitors and other professional men – they needed them, didn’t they? We were quite content to use the bus service. Why not? Fares were cheap and services frequent. The deterioration in this service was consequent upon many families owning a car. Even those on social security benefits. In the early days of the car, many factory workers did, in fact, illegally supply a taxi service, taking men to work in their cars for a backhander for petrol. A half-empty bus cannot hope to pay its way with cheap fares. Ironically the poor and the aged suffer.

But, you know, poverty did not, in any way, suppress happiness. Far from it. We enjoyed the simple things of life. For children there was a time for whip-and-top, a time for pitching cigarette cards (all kinds of series’ of cricketers, footballers, etc), a time for conkers, yo-yos, hoops, etc. In fairness, the roads were completely devoid of traffic and we were free to exercise these pursuits on the roads.

Today we are asked to provide leisure activities for children! What can we do for them to replace these simple, cheap and happy vocations, amidst the hurly burly of the modern world, of traffic, chaos, pressures, excessive noise and heart disease? We see people today driving around in big cars, their initials forming part of the number plate, towing caravans and boats, enjoying holidays abroad, and despite it all, not looking particularly happy with life in general.

It was Uncle Ted’s (next door) habit to buy a jug of beer from the Cross Foxes, the cosy little pub at the end of the terrace. He preferred to drink it at home. The hosts were Mr and Mrs Edwards – this seems to be a good name. One evening Uncle Ted put his jug of beer on the table and went to the outside toilet. Ronnie, a big favourite with him, sat on a chair in his pyjamas awaiting his nightcap story. He was about four years of age. Uncle Ted returned, after chatting to a neighbour, some ten minutes later. There was no sign of Ronnie or the jug! Ted heard a gentle snoring from under the table. There was Ronnie, flat on his back, with the empty beer jug at his side! Imagine Mam’s disgust to have to deposit one drunken child in his bed. Ronnie never lost his taste for that good stuff!

I referred earlier to good friends and neighbours. Dad certainly gave his contribution. A ‘little train’ operated between Holywell town and the junction at Greenfield, a couple of miles away. From there one could get on to the Cob – a sandy area on the edge of the estuary of the River Dee and now occupied by the massive Courtauld’s factory, which employs so many local people – thank goodness.

Despite the long hours at work, Dad often forfeited his cherished half day on Wednesday to take the terrace children to the Cob. We all went on the little train – a penny return. Dad paid for us all, took us on the Cob, where we played games and competitions, for sweet prizes. It was lovely. He probably enjoyed it as much as we did.

During the winter the communal tap near Number 6 at the Terrace froze up. Mam used to gather some snow, place it in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. She poured it over the tap until eventually water came through. We also had a barrel near the down spout. But sometimes it froze over, and we had to break the ice to obtain water for washing – a chilly process.

At eight years of age my parents decided I had a musical inclination. Mam took in washing for six families in order to purchase a new piano. It cost £40 then! At the end of our small garden Dad had built a small hut which served, amongst other things, as a centre for Mam’s washing business. And old-fashioned mangle at the end with a candle fixed on the top. My father’s father – Ned-y-glo (Ned the Coal) converted an old outside toilet into a boiler and it was a great help to Mam, burning old shoes and pieces of wood, etc, to heat the water for her washing.

Imagine it! Especially in the winter. Mam standing in the snow stirring the clothes in the boiler, rinsing them in a bath and carrying the clothes into the hut for mangling with the aid of a glittering candle for light. I can see the miserable, soul-destroying, primitive scene. Poor Mam! What stamina and fortitude. I knew the end product was to earn money to pay for the piano. I loved her dearly even just for this great sacrifice.

I started to learn to play the instrument. The beginning was boring, scales and simple pieces. When I came home from school I had my tea and then straight on the piano for half an hour. One day I thought Mam was too busy in the shed to notice, so, feeling a little fed up, I did not play properly, making mistakes. I also stopped playing for five minutes. I started again but did not apply myself properly to the music. Suddenly Mam came in and slapped me across the face with a wet dishcloth. Gosh! That was painful. Why had I deserved such punishment? Mam warned me never ever to mess about again and ordered me to practise for an extra half hour each day for a week, as further punishment. I had difficulty reading the music, for that period, through my tears. I just couldn’t stop crying, but I was old enough to realise the reason behind Mam’s outburst and anger. I resolved never again to let her down.

A short time later I tried the piano solo in the local Eisteddfod and came second. Aunty Jennie took me there and she was so proud to bring me home with the certificate. I can see now the look in my mother’s eyes as they shone at me after looking at the certificate. She put down the frying pan, in which she was cooking sausages for tea, and took me in her arms. I was so happy and felt I had redeemed myself.

Not long after this I came home from school one day and sat at the piano to start my daily practice. I ran my fingers over the keys and there was no sound of music, just the clanking of the keys. I was bewildered and turned to Mam. She took one look at me and burst into tears. It was a while before I could get her to calm down and explain what had happened. After she had recovered her composure she said, “Since your father has been ill we have had to try and manage on the dole. I haven’t been able to keep up the weekly payments and this afternoon two men came from the piano firm and took out the inside of the piano. There were sorry but they had orders to do it. I haven’t told Dad yet. What are we going to do? I don’t want you to miss your lessons, and what will your teacher say?”

A week later Dad recovered and went to see Elford Roberts, a solicitor, about the trouble. He knew him well. The solicitor asked to see the copy of the agreement and the paying-in book, etc. Later he told my father he was taking the piano firm to court. In the meantime the first thing I did when I came home from school was to open the piano lid and try the keys. I thought the piano people were horrible to do such a thing.

The solicitor discovered that, in fact, our payments were not in arrears as Mam had, unwittingly, been paying two shillings a week more than she needed to have done. After the case, the solicitor came to the house. “Everything’s alright, Johnnie,” he said, jubilantly. “The magistrate remonstrated with the firm’s representative and ordered them to restore the piano to working order within twenty-four hours.” My father asked Mr Roberts how much he owed him. “Nothing at all, Johnnie, it was a pleasure to see such a mercenary firm being put in their place.”

My sister was born about that time [1931]. She was named Mair Myfanwy. She was very pretty and spoilt by all concerned; including me. We three children had blond curly hair but it seemed to suit her better. One of my jobs after school was to deliver the clean washing for Mam. The clean sheets, shirts, etc, were wrapped in a towel – the cleaning charges for each lot, usually about two shillings, were written on a small piece of paper which was pinned to the towel. I placed these ‘parcels’ on my sister’s pram and delivered them. Baby always enjoyed these trips. Mum organised a clothing club to eke out Dad’s meagre earnings and, in addition to delivering the clothes, I collected the weekly payments from her customers, still pushing Mair around in the pram. I was a nursemaid and collector combined.

In those days there were some great characters about. There was Joey Barker, the blind man. He was a water carrier. His vehicle, a barrel on wheels, was pulled along by a donkey. He was the main water supplier in the town. The water pump was situated at the Roft Tob (where the name emerged is a mystery) on the Bagillt Road. He filled the big barrel up and proceeded on his rounds, selling at a penny a bucket. His ‘eyes’ were in the shape of a young boy, or sometimes a man. The remarkable thing about it was that if his assistants were not available, Joey could cope. Not only did the donkey know the places of call but it also knew when the barrel was empty and made its way, unguided, back to the pump for a refill, with Joey holding on at the rear of the vehicle.

Joe ‘Z’ (surname unknown) lived a hermit-like existence in a tiny house. The front door, with a two-inch gap at the top was painted with tar. I had occasion to go into his house once, which I did with trepidation. It was incredibly untidy and there were many glass cases containing stuffed birds and small animals.

We had a barber in the town, who, in the middle of a haircut would excuse himself and go upstairs with his son for a cup of tea. They often entered into a heated discussion, sometimes on religion. So it was not unusual to see a customer sitting in the chair for ten minutes with half a haircut, awaiting the return of the hairdresser.

We had a workhouse in the town called Lluesty (now a fine hospital). It catered inter alia for passing tramps who earned their night stop and breakfast by chopping logs into sticks. These were bound with wire into bundles and a well-known resident there, Jack the Riddle (the Welsh have a passion for nicknames) filled a barrow with the bundles and sold them to a local shop, the money going into the funds of the establishment.

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(Lluesty workhouse which became a hospital, now disused. Photo: http://www.28dayslater.co.uk)

In the grounds of Lluesty stood a huge oak tree. It was so old it wobbled a bit, like a loose tooth, in the wind. In order to preserve it, chains had been fitted and staked into the ground to keep it upright. Many years ago a smithy operated beneath its branches. Opposite was the Stamford Toll gate and higher up the road, the Calcot Arms – a haven of rest for the weary traveller, whilst the horse-drawn coach was prepared for the next leg of the journey, possibly to Holyhead.

On their way to Lluesty tramps walked up Old Chester Road, passing Tai Cochion. Number 5 was a ‘soft touch’. Apparently there was a tramp’s special mark on the wall of the house. Nain would never refuse to give a crust and a mug of tea to the odd caller. One rainy day, a tramp called and was made welcome. While Nain was in the kitchen making tea he had taken off his shoes and filthy socks and was drying them by the fire, his equally dirty feet resting on top of the table cloth. Nain came in, took one look at the scene, grabbed her walking stick and brandishing it threateningly at the tramp, ordering him out of the house. He was so alarmed at the extreme change in her that he practically ran out, stumbled down the steps, clutching socks and shoes and disappeared up the road, hobbling in his bare feet on the rough surface.

At school, the importance of the teacher-pupil relationship is, in my experience, paramount. I had been transferred from Spring Gardens infant school [some years earlier], to the Holywell council school. And, except for a small minority, the teachers were fine. We did not appreciate it at the time. We considered them to be cruel, relentless, impassive and inhuman ogres. But by golly, they kept one’s nose to the grindstone. If you were late for school you had to stand in the corridor outside the classroom door. You pondered and worried about the extent of the possible punishment. The headmaster, Arthur Llewelyn Evans would stalk down the corridor and almost invariably he caned you for the offence. He was feared but highly respected.

At eleven I was in Standard 4. The teacher, Miss Evans, constantly compared us, in detriment, with her favourite pupil. It served only to undermine our confidence. My report that year was not very good. The following year I was in Standard 5: Ieuan Williams was the teacher. He had no favourites. He was strict but fair. A learned humble man with a remarkable ability to impart knowledge. Within six months I was top of the class. Ieuan sported a miniature silver flower vase in his buttonhole. In it he unfailingly displayed a flower. Sometimes a small rose. Despite his use of the cane for disciplinary reasons, he was a popular master. He certainly impressed his pupils with his favourite subjects – mathematics and geography.

The teacher in the top class was Mr Gomer Williams. I did well there and I was made head boy. My duties included making ink, i.e. mixing a special powder and water in a bucket, filling stone jars with the ink and delivering them to the various classrooms. I also dealt with the ordering and maintenance of stocks of stationery, etc. My weak subject was history and I always tried to find some duty which would excuse me from the lesson. Gomer got wise to this because one day I was in the boiler-room speaking to the caretaker, avoiding the history lesson again, when my friend Eric came rushing in, “Gomer’s on the warpath looking for you!” he shouted. I opened a jar of ink, spread some on my hands and arms and dashed off to the washroom. Slowly I proceeded to wash off the ink and in stalked Gomer. “Why are you not at the history lesson?” he demanded. “I have been making ink, Sir,” I lied. He ordered me to the classroom warning me never to be absent from history without his express permission. So that was that!

A big boy named Eddy took a dislike to me when I became head boy. He teased and taunted me. After all, I was a bit on the skinny side. He did his best to get me to fight with him. I hated violence of any kind but in any case I knew he would beat me up if I gave him the excuse. He made my life a misery for many months and fear of him almost became an obsession. However, one day a crowd of us were in the ‘fairground’ field, opposite the school, playing on the wet grass (it had rained heavily that morning). He came up to me and insulted me in front of all the lads. Suddenly, I just saw red. I remember hitting him on the nose as hard as I could. He fell backwards into a pool, stood up, his clothes covered with mud. His nose was bleeding and he ran home. The next day his mother reported me to the headmaster. But I was not punished. Mr Evans understood!

Anyhow Eddy never bothered me again.

Mam bought me a pair of clogs. Real wooden ones – black – with steel understrips, just like a horseshoe. Gosh, they were so comfortable – cool in summer, warm in winter. So much cheaper and hard-wearing than shoes. I wish I had a pair now. Although I admit they loudly proclaimed one’s arrival I would highly recommend them in preference to the horrible, ugly ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ shoes which young people clomp around in today. They look grotesque, ungainly and completely out of character! Isn’t it strange that since the beginning of time young people simply refuse to accept advice from their elders. Perhaps it is their pride that forbids acceptance of the advice offered. What a pity! Advice gained by bitter experience is valuable. But no! Youngsters, including myself, choose to ignore the counsel of parents and prefer to discover life the hard way. Does nature demand this, I wonder? If I had my time over again I know I would have progressed much more quickly and efficiently, without the unnecessary heartache and worry, had I accepted the wisdom and experience of my elders.

At fourteen years of age [1932] I had the great fortune to obtain a position in the Post Office as a boy messenger. Six shillings a week. Hours – 9am to 7.30pm. Monday to Saturday, no half day. But, the job was pensionable. Imagine my pride at that, especially at a time when unemployment was rife. I can remember a long queue of men waiting to sign on the dole – yes – three deep and the queue stretching for a least 300 yards. And there I was, strutting along past them, delivering a telegram, feeling so superior in the knowledge that I was employed by the government in a safe and pensionable job, and uniformed too.

To cool my ardour there was an incident which I shall never forget. One winter’s night the phone in the office rang at 7.25pm. Mr R. Roberts, the clerk, answered it. I knew it was a telegram and kept my fingers crossed that it was for a local resident. He handed it to me. It was addressed to a cottage in Mertyn Crewe, Whitford (about five miles away). I pleaded with him to either send it by van or get it delivered by pst the next morning. He was adamant that I should take it as I was still on duty. In the first place I didn’t know how to get there. It was not only dark but it was also snowing. Fortunately I had a small torch.

I decided to ask my mother’s brother, Uncle Will, for help. I walked the mile up to his house and explained the position. His wife, Aunty Phoebe, prepared some sandwiches and a flask of tea and off we went. What a journey. Knocking on doors of cottages en route, we were finally directed down a steep late to the address. It wasn’t very pleasant, with a hawthorn hedge on both sides. We slithered down and eventually arrived at the cottage. There was a light on over the door. I knocked. A woman came to the door, snatched the telegram, read it, said, “Oh! So Tom is coming to see us soon,” and without a simple thank you, she slammed the door in my face. Crikey, what a reception! All that terrible journey to deliver what appeared to be a not very important telegram. Crestfallen, we made our way home. I was so grateful to Uncle Will. I would never have made it without him. I wonder if an uncle today would help his nephew to that extent. I doubt it. The journey took four hours and I was paid overtime at the standard rate of 3d per hour. Five pence, in the new money!

Just prior to starting work I was getting on well with my piano lessons. My teacher, Mrs Hughes, was not a good pianist herself yet she was good at theory. She had the ability and patience to impart the rudiments of music in such a pleasant way that most of her pupils did well. I believe that people who have knowledge, but are not in themselves expert at applying it, make better teachers. For instance, a good pianist would have little patience teaching a learner.

I had reached a point where one more exam was between me and a ‘cap and gown’ (L.R.A.M.) but because my new job meant I worked until 7.30pm my teacher, the daughter of a publican, was unable to teach me after 5pm. I had no option but to discontinue my lessons. I still grieve about that. My ambition was to become a famous church organist or cinema organist. The latter were at their heyday then.

My first introduction to syncopation was when my mother bought me a cop of ‘Amy, Wonderful Amy’ – this commemorated Amy Johnson’s famous solo aeroplane flight. I was intrigued with the left-hand arrangements. Then a friend asked me to come and listen to a record he had bought of a wonderful pianist. He said his name was ‘Charlie Coons’. I visualised a honky tonk effort. However, he put on the record and – wow – I was so fascinated wight he style that I persuaded him to play it over several times. I noticed on the record that the surname was spelt ‘Kunz’. I later developed a style on those lines.

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(Wilf playing his beloved piano while his wife, Pam, sings – date unknown)

Before I was fifteen, I met Harry, a drummer. He persuaded me to play for dancing. Our first job together was at the Brynford Institute, starting at 8pm and finishing at 11pm. Payment was half a crown each. We checked on the taxi fare – it was half a crown – so we decided we would have to walk. I carried his bass drum and my music. He had the burden of two heavy cases of drum kit. It’s a mile and a half to Brynford, and a steep climb at that. Our dress was patent leather pointed-toe shoes, dark suit and a white silk scarf. Also a plentiful application of Brylcreem in our hair. Imagine climbing the hill in that gear, and with our cases, through two or three inches of snow! On those occasions we arrived, shivering with cold, to a slow hand-clap. We quickly thawed out by the big stove and warmed up on the instruments.

There was no trouble in those days – if the local policeman came in it was only to enjoy the proceedings. No bouncers at the door – just an old gentleman to take the money. Tea and cakes at the interval and plenty of good fun. The piano reigned supreme  in those days – the guitar merely provided background music. It took many years of practise to become a good pianist. It surprises me, therefore, that by comparison the modern guitarist with a couple of years at the instrument behind him, can command more reverence. We also played at the Church Hall in the town and at the ‘Imps’ Club. Great days.

We had an Inspector of Police named Wasley. He was the tops. A big fat man with a formidable stick in his hand. He passed me in the street one day and as I passed he gave me a small whack with his stick, on my bottom. I looked around at him with surprise. He said with a smile, “That’s for doing nothing. See what will happen if you do do something wrong.”

Shops were open until 9pm on a Saturday and we teenagers used to strut up and down trying to mate up with the girls doing likewise. It often ended up with couples pairing off and kissing and cuddling in the shop doorways. Inspector Wasley would appear about 10pm at the top of the street, and start walking down. The lads knew that if caught, Wasley would whack them with his stick in the presence of their girls, to everyone’s considerable embarrassment. Therefore, as soon as he appeared, there was a general dispersal of all concerned. We didn’t hate him, or any other policeman for that matter, but we had a great respect for the possibility of summary punishment. No one would dream of damaging a telephone kiosk or breaking a shop window or accosting a person in the street, and the reason was obvious.

During the time Dad worked in E.B. Jones’ grocers, he had on occasion to do deliveries on Saturdays with a horse and cart. I looked forward to that but I don’t think he did. First he had to bring the horse from the stable and hitch it up to the cart. Then, with help, the cart was loaded with sacks of flour and sugar and all kinds of goods. Our first call was to a small shop at a village named Milwr. This is a Welsh word meaning ‘soldier’, but I am told that the word is concocted from Roman numerals and refers to the 1049 company, or cohort of Roman soldiers reputed to have been stationed there [Offa’s Dyke is nearby].

When we arrived at the shop, Dad pointed to a small door situated near the roof and over the shop front and said, “You will have to help me to put two sacks of flour and one of sugar into that loft.” I was so flabbergasted that I looked at him open-mouthed, with eyes like organ stops. “Go and get a ladder from the back of the shop, son, and we can carry them up.” He kept a straight face and I really thought he had gone mad. The task was just impossible! I was about to climb off the cart when the loft door opened and an aproned man appeared with a block and tackle. Dad took one look at me and laughed. When Dad explained, the man in the loft thought it a huge joke and we all had a good chortle, as he wound up the bags into the loft.

En route, I was allowed to hold the reins now and again but I suspect the horse realised a sense of diminished discipline when I took over and he slowed down. Dad would then take over, placing the reins between his fingers and sliding them backwards and forwards. This evoked an immediate response from the horse which broke into a trot. I started using this method but Dad warned me only to use it when absolutely necessary. The horse didn’t like it at all, apparently.

I suppose there is a knack in everything to make a job easier. I wondered how a small man like Dad could shoulder those heavy sacks, but then draymen and coal men are able to do the same sort of thing, aren’t they? I supposed Taid was right when he said, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’

On our rounds we called at a village called Lixwm. This name is also supposed to have originated from Roman times. It would be the encampment of the 59th company. Recently I saw a direction sign altered, obviously by a fervent Welshman, to read LICSWM. A genuine, if illegal, attempt to rectify the spelling, since there is no X in the Welsh language. What would the centurion have thought of that impertinence, not only changing the number of his company without permission, but at the same time making numerical nonsense of it.

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At this point, the story ends, and Dad has written the word ‘logs’ in a circle in the margin – it must have been the next story he was going to tell. Here’s what happened next:

1932-1935: Post Office Messenger, Holywell

1935-1938: Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist, Holywell

1938-1939: Postal and Telecommunications Officer, Holywell

1939-1945: Army Service – Royal Auxiliary Ordnance Corps, Egypt

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(Wilf, Mair and Ronnie at home in 1945 – the end of the War)

1953-1955: Postmaster, Mombasa, Kenya

1956: Chief Clerk, Tanganyika (now Tanzania)

1957-1959: Investigation Officer, misuse of telephone services in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika

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(Playing the piano for ‘Grab Me a Gondola’, Little Theatre, Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, 1958)

1960-1961: Regional Investigation Officer, working with Special Branch on embezzlement and fraud cases

1962: Forced retirement due to Kenyan independence; set up in Holywell town as newsagent and stationer

1963: Organised Holywell Christmas illuminations for the first time

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(Wilf (left) watching on proudly as the Christmas lights are switched on in Holywell town, 1964)

1972: Founded Holywell Chamber of Commerce and Holywell Town Band. Served as governor of Holywell High School

1973: President of Holywell Rotary Club

FullSizeRender-4 copy 3 (Family gathering – Dilys and Johnnie Edwards (centre); Mair (bottom left); Ronnie, Wilf and Pam (from top right); Pam’s mother Marjorie (top centre))

Tinder is the Night

In many ways, the Tinder app is the best online dating method for women. You don’t get that deluge of ‘hey, sexy’s when you sign up as you can only talk to people who’ve ‘swiped right’ on your picture, as you have on theirs. There is already a mutual attraction based on profile pictures and a tiny bit of bio information before you even start talking. It’s fun to get the ‘It’s a match!’ icon bursting onto your phone when you swipe right, and if it’s not mutual you instantly forget about the person you liked because their profile disappears once you’ve swiped. Perfect.

There is a perception out there, particularly among older users, that Tinder is a sex hook-up app (because of its association with the Grindr app) but I’ve used it straightforwardly, and been pretty happy with the results (apart from Parisian Angry Guy – I’ll tell you about him in another post). When I first started using the app, I took it as ‘seriously’ as other online dating forums, expecting to match and date someone. You can follow that road relatively successfully, especially if you have an in-built system for filtering out weirdos (largely based on ability to spell and use proper words), but it’s actually much more fun to treat the app like a dating Gogglebox. The myriad ways in which people present themselves as potential mates (in all senses of the word) is nothing short of astonishing and makes for great entertainment.

Interestingly, when you do get a match, the app tells you if you’d like to chat or ‘keep playing’, which suggests Tinder know people will use it as a game. And now I’m one of them. I thought I’d collate my Top Ten Tinder Treats here, in case you’re not on there yet and need to know what you’re missing out on.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Manhood

Posing with drugged tigers seems to be the order of the day for many men on Tinder. Grinning inanely next to a big cat appears to have become the tenties version of posing next to a Lamborghini. If it’s representative of associated virility, do men really think we want to know their manhood is sedated, limp and out of action? They clearly haven’t thought this through. (See also guys who only post drunken pictures of themselves.)

A few guys have told me that girls often pose dressed as cats in their profile pics, presumably in their sexy Halloween costumes from last year. What is this obsession with cats? Are they latent representations of our sexuality? Or just our need to appear aloof, ‘can’t catch me’ animals, stalking around our prey with flashing eyes and the odd tail-brush against the legs of a potential mate. See also: cougars. I’m often called one, because of my age and the fact that I date younger men. These men like to view me as a predator, trying to ‘catch’ them on Tinder, and I often have to remind them that they swiped right too. They genuinely ‘forget’ that they had any agency in the match and don’t like being reminded of it. Tough kitty, guys.

 2. The Other Women

Hilariously, some men thing it’s a good idea to show how successful they are with women by posing with one or more in every single profile picture. Sometimes it’s bikini’d women on a Balearic holiday, sometimes a ‘celebrity’ from Towie, but sometimes it’s clearly an ex-girlfriend. Hell, sometimes it’s clearly a picture from his wedding day. My favourite, however, is when you can see that they’ve cropped their ex just out of the picture, but you can still see the telltale ‘heads together’ pose and the look of smug coupledom. Not cool, guys. How difficult is it to take a selfie?!

3. Slim Shady

Guys who never take their shades off. Sorry, but most people look much better in shades. I’ll swipe instantly left if a guy only posts pictures of himself in them. Dead giveaway for a horror story underneath. Often, there’s a helpful non-shades pic nestled in there that reveals the truth. My rule of thumb is that guys (and probably girls) always ALWAYS look like their worst picture. Ladies – take note. Do not be fooled by the Great In Shades pic.

4. Which One Are You?

So, you’re wearing shades in all your pics, and you decide that only posing group shots is the way forward. Drinking games, team sports, stag dos – all of these scenarios appear in your profile pics and we can’t tell WHICH ONE YOU ARE. And you’re always the least-hot one, aren’t you? No one’s being hooked in by that one, darling, unless they want you to introduce them to your hot friend.

5. So What Are You Looking For?

I’m always asked this by guys, as though I have some grand master plan complete with a Matrix-style home computer where I work out the logistics of hooking in my perfect mate. What they actually mean is, ‘are you up for casual sex?’ but they can’t bring themselves to say it. I’m not ‘looking for’ anything in particular, love – if anything, it’s probably the same thing as you.

In my experience, it’s often guys who go into master-plan mode when they’re looking to settle down. I distinctly remember two male friends putting their taxi lights ‘on’ when they decided they wanted to get married (see the Sex and the City ‘taxi-light’ theory from Miranda). I’ve done all that so I’m literally just seeing who’s out there with no agenda. And yet I’m expected to have one. One of the really worrying traits of Tinder men, is that they are clearly paranoid about being trapped by women-with-a-plan. Get over yourselves.

6. Fun times

Guys – stop saying ‘fun’ when you mean sex. When you suggest ‘fun’ to me, I picture getting on the waltzers at a fair with candy floss in my hand, attending a party dressed as a drag queen (just did that), or playing a word-based board game. Whole different thing.

7. Cock and Bull

Ah, the classic cock shots. Usually presented alongside the downwards torso shot and maybe a cheeky bum one to complete the set. All headless, obvs. I always swipe left, but not before having a good look and a laugh. And then there are the guys I match with who appear normal and then instantly ask if I’m on Whatsapp or Snapchat once we’ve matched, clearly just looking for nude picture-swapping. It always makes me laugh when they instantly lose interest when the promise of pictures is taken away. Joy.

8. Couples Competition

I just love it when I see a guy on there whom I know is in a relationship but is playing that couples game of how many matches they can get. A very, VERY dangerous game to play, my friends.

9. Athena Man, Invisible Man and Lying Man

Athena Man – the guy who presents himself topless, holding either a cute puppy or a baby. Seriously?! Gone already. Invisible Man – the guy who can’t even be bothered to upload a picture of himself? That’s special. Lying Man – the man who is obviously 56 but is pretending to be 34? We can tell. We can also look you up on Google, Mr Celebrity Person I Just Happened To See Posing As 36 When Your Real Age of 43 Is On Your Wikipedia Entry.

10. Spellcheck.

But the real, ultimate test of whether a guy is ok is his ability to write messages without resorting to ‘ur’ or ‘do ya wanner meet up?’ This results in instant deletion for me. You might look like David Gandy on the beach in Thailand but if you can’t spell or form a sentence you just don’t cut it. This works in 99.9% of cases – I can provide evidence. Textual literacy means a good date will happen, however it ends up. Beware of the ones who are too charming and brilliant with words though – these are signs of sociopathy.

So, still interested in becoming a Tinderette?

Honestly – it’s worth it just for the laughs.

 

My Former Life as a Cool Girl

The release of Gone Girl in cinemas recently has reminded me all over again about why Gillian Flynn’s book resonated so loudly with me and other women when it was published.

This key paragraph, from the main character Amy Dunne, establishes the central concept of womanhood in the book:

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”

And in the brilliant article on the subject by Jezebel’s Tracy Moore (link to the full article below), she encapsulates the concept:

“…when a woman for whatever reason embraces traditionally straight male interests while retaining aspects of straight female interests, and is hot (she always must be hot)—when she manages, for all intents and purposes, to somehow combine the best of both genders into one bangin’ superpackage of awesomeness—you have what is called a Cool Girl.”

I was trying to be Cool Girl, at least for a while. My phase timed with the emergence of the ’90s ladette, which to all intents and purposes was the defining era of the Cool Girl. Women like Sara Cox and Zoe Ball were bouncing around on our TV screens and in lads’ mags, drinking pints, partying ’til dawn and still managing to look oiled and hot in a tiny vest and denim shorts as they leered lairily at the Loaded cover-shot camera.

When I met my husband I tried desperately to be the Cool Girl – he seemed very keen on the Loaded ladettes and I scoured the pages of his magazines to pick up tips on how to be one. I was determined, unlike his friends’ wives and girlfriends, to give him as free a rein as possible, to never complain (indeed, actively encourage him) when he announced a boys’ golf weekend or a skiing holiday, or when he got wasted with the boys. I even actively embraced any trips they made to a lapdancing bar, which I was told to keep secret from the other wives – I was the ‘Cool Wife’ who would laugh at their stories of who got a dance, and then ask questions about how they controlled their erections in a public place (I’m still not quite clear on that, or on why they would want to risk it happening).

I remember feeling really aggrieved when I once overheard him talking to the lads, referring to me as some kind of social sign-off person on their latest boys’  weekend plan – they were all discussing how they’d get it past their wives. I burst in on their conversation and pointed out that he was free to do what he liked (subtext – I was not like the other, more controlling, wives). They all looked at me, rather shocked, and he was embarrassed – I’d spoiled his ‘lads-only’ camaraderie over their shared experience of the stereotypical controlling woman.

Over the years, I continued to be a version of Cool Girl and kept any grievances inside. And they festered. And in the end, these internalised resentments built up and up until they spoiled everything. I wasn’t really me during those years and I wasn’t honest with myself or my husband. I don’t know why I pretended to be someone else who was cool about everything, when I seriously wasn’t. This is why my ‘honesty policy’ is so important to me now. During those thirteen years of the relationship, I hardly ever raised any grievances, for fear of a horrible confrontation –  I just saved them up into one massive one that ultimately couldn’t be resolved. It had all gone too far.

It really surprised me that my ex and his friends pretty much all ended up with women who clearly ‘set the rules’ in their households, and seemed to enjoy being told what to do. I tried and tried not to be that woman, but ultimately it backfired. But I always maintained that I was a director at work and didn’t want to direct the marriage at home as well – I’d still maintain that mantra, if I ever went there again.

In many ways, the last four years have been about gradually shedding the need to be Cool Girl. I’ve found myself more and more exposed to the realisation that I don’t need male approval to be in the world, and that some men aren’t expecting to approve me according to the Gone Girl rules (some are, though, it has to be said.) I now see female friends masking grievances in their own relationships with gritted-teeth smiles and feel glad that I’ve left those scenarios behind. If I ever got there again, I would make sure I never let these scenarios pass without comment – that a reasoned discussion would happen about every single one, if I felt something unjust was happening to me. I’m pretty sure any reasonable guy would expect me to do that – it’s how they would deal with those things. Mostly.

When I first read Gone Girl I couldn’t believe that someone had written about Cool Girls so brilliantly – lots of female friends were clearly experiencing the same self-resonance as I was when they read it. Our online book club was alive with comment. I think we all recognised something of ourselves in Amy, although of course, she takes the concept to an extreme level.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many women of my age find the concept so familiar – I do think the ’90s emergence of ladette culture really didn’t do us any favours. Men were being marketed with a feminine ideal that has no basis in reality – a complete fantasy of sexual availability, hotness, and, well, blokiness. I know I struggled to meet its impossible criteria, but it didn’t stop me trying.

Thank goodness that’s over.

http://jezebel.com/the-cool-girl-is-not-fiction-but-a-phase-1642985632

Britain’s Got Weather

My favourite seasons are always the ones in between the extremes – spring and autumn are the ones in which the changeover between winter and summer can be viewed almost daily in a natural slideshow of shifting colours and shapes. Spring offers the promise of balmy summer nights – I think I prefer the promise to the actual event – and autumn makes us feel nostalgic about the balminess just past.

Meteorologically speaking autumn starts on 1 September and this year, it delivered a blinder – warm temperatures and daily sunshine made us think summer hadn’t quite ended. But it had. On 31 August. But somehow September got rebranded into ‘the last days of summer’ and yesterday’s harsh drop in temperature became ‘the sudden onset of autumn’. I think autumn needs a little bit of help on the brand-management side, don’t you?

I don’t know why, but autumn seems to have become synonymous with rain, cold and misery. For me, those unexpectedly mild sunny days are the stuff of it. Walks on Hampstead Heath kicking leaves, sitting outside a cafe in the sunshine – these are autumnal pursuits that can be done without having to slather myself in Factor 50 to avoid sunburn. I can sit in the sunshine without feeling uncomfortably hot and having to go in the shade every ten minutes. Bliss. These aren’t ‘the last days of summer’, they’re ‘the best days of autumn’.

Often our positioning of summer as ‘the perfect’ season is based on complete myth. For many people my age, it’s based on that one summer in 1976 when the season did what we expected it to do, if we lived in California. Boiling hot temperatures, wall-to-wall sunshine – it was the driest, sunniest, warmest summer of the 20th century. I remember lying in the sun with my sister in our back garden – she got third-degree burns on her stomach that year because sun-factor wasn’t a thing back then. We also had a plague of ladybirds – I remember them flying about as my dad Flymo’d the lawn. The summer of 1976 also led to a severe nationwide drought. Joy!

Because that summer has become wedged so firmly in our childhood memories, we are addicted to its Hipstamatic golden glow with its ‘Phew What a Scorcher!’ headlines. The season has never delivered anything like it since, although we’ve had a few good ones, like last year, and this. That summer was the exception, and not the norm, but people still expect summer to deliver 1976-style levels every year, and are profoundly disappointed when it doesn’t.

It rains in summer, often for long periods. Then we get a week, or two if we’re lucky, of warmth and sunshine. Then back to rain again. I always laugh to myself when the inevitable ‘the summer’s over!!!’ cries are found all over my social-media feeds when we have one day of rain. I think of these desperate people as dogs whose owners have just nipped out to the corner shop, but they think they’ve left for good. It’ll be back, I find myself saying, trying to comfort them, and it always is. There are, admittedly, prolonged periods of rain during some summers that do make you feel like it’s all over, but I always keep the faith. It’s never let me down.

I often feel like a one-woman weather marketeer in charge of reminding everyone that Britain’s Got Weather. You get rain in summer, sunshine in the middle of winter, balmy days in autumn, freezing days in spring. It’s unexpected and that’s the joy of it. I also feel like I’m the only one who checks the weather each morning, and dresses accordingly. Actually, I only check the temperature – my mantra is ‘dress for the temperature, not the weather’, which means that I’m not uncomfortably wrapped up in too many layers on a warm but cloudy day in September. I’ve really chuckled to myself over the past month, seeing Londoners wearing winter coats because the sun’s gone in. It might still be 22 degrees, but the coats go on because the sun isn’t there to validate the shedding of them. Interesting.

This mantra of mine does lead to the annoying commentary I get in early summer when again, I dress for the temperature, and inevitably get accused of looking ‘summery’ a grillion times a day. Well yes, I say, I look summery because it’s summer, which starts on 1 June, according to the Met Office. Other people wait for the 1976 moments to get their summer wardrobes out – which of course, may never happen. I like to get a good wear out of my summer wardrobe at the earliest opportunity, otherwise it’s wasted.

I wonder if my attitude to weather comes from being Welsh. In North Wales, the skies are often a flat, dull grey. Sunny days were so rare that we’d all rush out with our corned-beef legs and moonwhite faces, in nothing short of a pagan ritual. I remember my mum shouting from my bedroom window as she saw me lying in the sun, as a teenager, determined to roast myself into a ‘normal’ colour. I used to get horribly burnt, but I didn’t care – I had a colour that wasn’t blue-white.

I got used to the sun being the exception and not the rule and learned to enjoy it when it did decide to make an appearance. And now I love holidaying in places where the weather is mercurial – I’ve been trapped in snow and rammed by horizontal hail in New Zealand, during early summer, then roasted on the Abel Tasman trail a few days later. I’ve hiked Lochnagar on Midsummer Day in driving rain, but been bathed in sunshine on the way down. I’ve been sunburned on the west coast of Ireland, as I’ve trekked through soft rain and found myself exposed on Slea Head peninsula as the sun suddenly blasts out. I’ve been unable to see two feet in front of me on Hebridean islands in the fog, and then the sun has shown me the all the treasures of the turquoise seas of Jura as it penetrates the shallow coastal water. Our coastline is nothing short of paradise at that moment.

If you are continually hankering for 1976 then you will always be disappointed. Unless you can move to California, then you need to deal with it. It’s October 5 today and the forecast is 15 degrees and wall-to-wall sunshine. Next week it’s going to rain every day until Sunday, with intermittent sunshine (a note to TV forecasters – this isn’t ‘miserable’ weather – it’s weather. You are responsible for a nation’s sense of wellbeing.)

Get out there now and enjoy lovely autumn.

You’re welcome.

Deal Or No Deal

I don’t do ‘deals’. In fact, I actively avoid them. Two for ones, three for twos, meal deals, anything involving a coupon – please remove them from my sight.

But on a daily basis these things are thrust in front of every purchase I make and I have to actively opt out, to the disbelief of many a sales assistant. Let’s take Boots or Sainsbury’s – I can’t ever get to the tillpoint without being asked to go back to pick up the extra item for my unexpected three-for-two deal. What if I don’t want or need a third thing? What if I don’t want a packet of crisps with my sandwich and drink? On these occasions I enjoy standing my ground and just letting the sales assistant look really shocked as I insist on just two of the three items. In fact, I always feel like donating the third thing to them. I pity them, because they are The Type of Person Who Can’t Say No to a Deal.

I am not this type of person. I know, that for the majority of so-called deals, there is a catch. If it’s a Groupon deal (god, how I loathe them), then you have to drive to somewhere in Northampton for a lesson in sushi-making at 5.30am just to get ‘the discount’. If it’s a two-for-one meal, they’ll add a supplementary charge on to the drinks, and magically your bill will be the same as if it was for two people. If it’s a theatre ticket, then the theatre will have already increased the original price of the seats that are suddenly promoted as discounted. If it’s an airport version of your favourite mascara in a three pack, they will have less mascara in them and run out three times as quickly. Fact.

I think my three years in retail buying probably removed the mist from my eyes. We were always putting things on special offer that we had to sell at a fake higher price for a month before the special sale kicked in (this was the legal requirement). Then the product would be marked down to the promotional price – which was in fact the original ‘real’ price, still with a 150% mark-up for the store.

Then there was the product that looked the same as the original brand product but was a de-specced version. It cost the manufacturer less to make, it cost us less to buy, we could offer it at a ‘bargain’ price, but in fact, it was a sub-standard product. Hello John Lewis towel sale (awful quality). I let myself down by buying some JL towels last Christmas and spent the next month brushing little bits of cotton off me as they slowly fell apart in my hands.

I believe this is what happens to airport products – the perfumes, mascaras, blushers and eyeshadows are just not quite the same as the ones you can buy elsewhere, not to mention the books. Anything you buy in bulk – in a three-pack or multi-pack – you’re just not getting the same product. Better to to buy it in normal Boots, really – and run the gauntlet of the three-for-two run at the till.

For me, the only acceptable deal is the one that’s there on the thing you already want to buy. You want the pair of boots in Office, and with delight, discover that they’re on offer. You don’t buy them BECAUSE they’re on offer, this is your choice, not the discounter’s choice. You fancy a pizza? Brilliant because you can’t go to Pizza Express without a two-for-one voucher. It’s a thing. I’ve tried it without one and you can hear the sharp intake of breath resounding around greater London. No voucher??!! Be gone, vile spirit.

Friends have tried to get me to go to a restaurant on a Monday night (who goes out on Monday??!!) because that’s the night it has a Top Table deal. Of course it has – no one else wants to dine that night. No – I’d rather go on Thursday, thanks, and pay full price, than sit there with the smugsville ‘look how much discount we got’ crew. Ugh.

What is really irritating about all of this is that people truly believe they have got a good deal on something. It doesn’t matter that they’ve just spent £25 to get to that hotel in Northampton to do the sushi-making, they got a DEAL. The best thing that Groupon could offer is a lesson in how commerce works, with maybe a lesson in marketing on the side.

Upgrades. For me, these are in the same camp as deals. People are obsessed with getting them and when they do, they bring the Big Smug Guns out. Even if it’s just a seat in front of the curtains on EasyJet, there’s always someone gunning for an upgrade. I’ve been on holidays where I’ve been surrounded by braying couples bragging about how they’d managed to ‘hoodwink’ the staff into giving them a balcony sea view room all for the price of a broom cupboard. As someone who spends as little time as possible in their hotel room on holiday, I just don’t get it. I did rejoice when I got an upgrade to a sea-front room in a Thai hotel once, and in Cliveden hotel, but the point was they were just given to me. I’d booked rooms already and I didn’t have to ‘hoodwink’ anyone. That was the joy.

I once went on a four-day break with someone to Ibiza, who spent the whole time trying to get things ‘for free’. We couldn’t do anything without her trying to get in some VIP area for free, drinks for free, free, free, FREE. In the end, I just wanted to pay for everything just so we could move on. What is this obsession with free stuff? I love saying no to the guy trying to shove some breakfast bar in my face at Paddington station. But it’s FREE, he says, in disbelief. Little does he know that makes me want to stuff the breakfast bar in his mouth.

People are aghast about paywalls too. I’ll read the free Metro and Evening Standard but I want to pay for my Times newspaper. It has, in my mind, quality journalism in it. I don’t care who ultimately owns it – if we all chose products based on whether or not the CEO was a nice guy we’d be left buying nothing. I will pay for stuff I want to read, even if it is online.

Now I know that people will be thinking, it’s ok for her, she’s not existing on a shoestring budget. Well no, I’m not now. But I used to be, and think that might be the source of my problem with deals and free things. My teenage years were filled with scratching around for money – a fiver to get some petrol in the car, a bus fare, some coins for the laundrette. I never managed to live within my means then and I don’t now. I’m pathologically averse to denying myself things and I wonder if I feel a sense of entitlement to full-priced things. I go into a clothes shop where there is a huge sale on and march straight to the back of the shop where the new stuff is. For one thing, there is never anything but tat in the sale section. Fact.

For me, one of the most unattractive qualities in a person is stinginess, and especially in a man. I used to date someone I called ‘Shrapnel Man’ because he turned up to the pub with a few coins in his pocket, expecting me to buy the drinks (it turned out later that he didn’t want to break into the notes in his wallet). One guy didn’t want to use his card at a bar in case it got hacked. I got the drinks in, using my card. No hacking.

A couple of people I know have perfected the art of letting me walk into the pub first so that I order. I love watching to see what they do if I have to hang back for any reason. I’ve invented fake phone calls so that I have to stay outside for a minute. Will they wait or go to the bar? Most of the time I just stride forward, happy in my ability to just go to the fucking bar and buy the fucking round (sorry).

I’ll happily go into debt just to have the satisfaction of that moment.

A Comment on Women and Food

Last year, I gave up any form of weird food restriction after a Dieting Decade which saw me trying every single fad going to keep my weight under control. Atkins, Dukan, 5:2, GI – I’d done the lot. And I was heartily sick of it.

I had my ‘epiphany’ on a Turkish beach, when I suddenly realised that it was all utter bollocks – I didn’t have to adhere to some magazine advertising executive’s view of female body shape and I could simply be me, as I am, eating normal foods and being my normal shape. The world didn’t end and I didn’t suddenly die socially – if anything, I became happier, more confident, sexier and sharper-minded. I simply realised that restricting food restricts a woman’s ability to perform well in the world and I describe my Road to Damascus moment here: https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/24/epiphany/

Since then, I’ve really noticed how other women seem amazed that I order normal food in restaurants, and don’t sit there picking at a protein-based salad (as I used to do). When I offer up the excuse that I walked to work that morning (it takes an hour and twenty minutes) they seem happy that I’ve ‘earned’ the right to have a proper meal (ie with carbohydrates). What I’m eating is always commented upon, and I notice more and more that the other women feel the need to ‘be good’ at the dinner table. And to tell everyone about it.

I went for a dinner last year with a group of friends and sat next to a Serial Restricter. She talked about the calorific value of her food throughout, then told me all the various ways she was going to ‘work it off’ the next day. When women go out for meals together the topic often turns to weight control, and the more they eat and drink at that meal, the more they tell everyone about all the ways they’ll keep the weight off afterwards. I used to do it too. Yawnsville. You can guarantee the guys aren’t talking about this shit.

Recently, a friend I hadn’t seen for a while turned up for lunch and another female friend immediately ‘complimented’ her on how ‘skinny’ she looked. A little piece of me died inside, knowing that this is the first thing we value, or monitor, about each other. Now, I make a point of never commenting on appearance, until I’ve at least asked about how a friend’s life is. And that applies to women and men. If I tell them they look ‘well’, it’s because they truly do look healthy – I’m never going to use it as a codeword for ‘slimmer’, which is what most women do.

I’ll never forget seeing a work colleague take a brownie from someone who’d baked for the office and watching her scrape her teeth down it before discreetly throwing it in the bin. That moment has stuck in my mind as a truly tragic one. This woman was, and is, an amazing person. She is better than brownie-scraping.

But women in groups police each other’s weight. Codewords are used to comment on shape and you get used to your body being surreptitiously scanned by other women when you walk into a room. I’ve worked in female-heavy offices where eating disorders break out because one woman goes on a crash diet. When I taught ballet, a promising young girl of twelve became anorexic because another girl told her she had a ‘funny’ body.

I think that women owe it to themselves to be strong and healthy-bodied, able to stand, walk and run in the world without fear of a small gust of wind knocking them over. I think we owe it our brains to keep them well-fed, so that we are able to speak confidently, debate loudly and deliver a killer pitch at work. Not to mention show younger women a good example. You can’t do any of this well if you’re surviving on 500 calories a day.

Ladies, let rip. We don’t need to do this. No one is asking us to be control-freak skinny and unhappy except us. And we are agreeing to it because we think that’s what the world wants from us. Ask yourself who is going to love you more for being ‘skinny’ – possibly the magazine advertising executive because he/she is selling you products based on your biggest fear. It won’t be anyone else, not even you. Because you’ll never be skinny enough.

Don’t be scared. Have the brownie, then walk out of the door and take up your space in the world.

You’ve earned it.

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On policing women’s appetites: http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/parenting-and-families/stop-policing-my-daughters-appetite-20140423-373ur.html