PC 114 The Box

The little wooden cigarette box is in front of me, seemingly begging for its history to be read. And that’s one of the real irritations of life, isn’t it? If only inanimate objects could talk, could tell you who made them, who touched them, who used them. This one is seven inches long and 4 wide (18cms by 10cms); inside there are two compartments each capable of taking 20 normal sized cigarettes. I say ‘normal’ because ‘King’ size only became fashionable in the 1980s. On the polished lid the crest of the Royal Artillery has been carefully carved by some skilled craftsman. You can even read the motto – “Ubique quo fas et gloria ducunt.” (‘Everywhere where faith and glory lead’); there is another extremely risqué interpretation which is only available on request!

The Box (2)

Peggy gave me this box with The Gunner’s crest on the top when I became a Gunner officer. She’s long since departed after a full and rewarding life and only recently did I wonder who gave it to her. But then you imagine …..

It’s easy to forget, as time causes memories to fade, the heartaches that lives lost create. For this box probably belonged an officer killed in the Second World War, the boyfriend of Peggy. She never married and one can only assume that there was nowhere in her heart for anyone but her first love. I write ‘probably’ as I really don’t know for certain. It belonged to Peggy for sure, and it’s quite likely that any self-respecting officer at that time would have had a cigarette box. If it wasn’t silver, a beautifully carved wooden one would suffice and quite usual to have your Regimental crest carved into the lid. On his death I imagine his family gave her the box as a memento. But who was Peggy you might well ask?

Peggy was the P in C&P, Cynthia my aunt and Peggy, but she was equally the P in P&C to her family; it simply depended on your perspective!! They were Cambridge graduates but women were not officially admitted as members of the graduate body when they studied for their degree; this was rectified in 1998 when 900 of them assembled at Cambridge. They had met for the first time in 1939 and a year later they shared a flat in Walthamstow Hall School. That summer a bomb demolished most of the staff accommodation; no one had made it to the shelter and Peggy recalls seeing the tall Music mistress, the very short English mistress and Cynthia, blood pouring down her head, crawling towards safety through the dust – and thought they looked like three bears.

Having enlisted in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, both spent part of the Second World War at Bletchley Park, the secret establishment tasked with breaking enemies’ codes. Like many, they didn’t talk about their time there and it’s only by chance I found out that that was where they had worked. When the war ended Cynthia and Peggy embarked on highly successful educational careers (see note below) and lived together in Clapham, London. These days one might wonder whether there was anything other than companionship to their relationship but back then it was not something one could’ve raised.

Jade 0073

Peggy and Cynthia on one of their European travels

Peggy and Cynthia ensured that their nieces, nephews and God children were introduced to London when old enough, with visits to the major sights, historic buildings, museums and pageantry; the Thames, the theatre and the zoo, the Monument (up to the top of course), St Paul’s (and again up to the Whispering Gallery – with Cynthia leading the way), travelling by double decker, escalator and tube. Then it was back to their flat to meet whichever cat was in residence, for supper and to play cards, playing pelmanism, a quiet intellectual game or more interestingly frenetic Racing Demon, when the sight of ‘Aunt’ Cynthia’s knees on the floor was quite a revelation to a young boy used to seeing the bun and rather long skirt.

I imagine this box sitting on Peggy’s dressing table in her single-bedded room, surrounded by hundreds of postcards that reflected the active travels that she and Cynthia had embarked on during their retirement. I don’t ever recall her smoking so it was probably full of ticket stubs from plays witnessed, for rail journeys made together, the menu from a favourite restaurant, little nick-nacks that mean so much to the owner but virtually nothing to anyone else; simply the flotsam of their short time together. Indeed currently it normally sits on my desk, full of odd keys from long lost padlocks, flints for old cigarette lighters, an odd shoe lace, three rubber bands and a piece of sealing wax – my flotsam you might decide!

Lives come and go …… but the little box on my desk continues to jog the memory.

Richard 31st December 2017

PS     Happy New Year. May it bring you all you need and some of what you want.

PPS   Peggy was the author of the definitive work ‘The London Experience of Secondary Education’ – Margaret Bryant 1979. Cynthia was Head of Modern Languages at James Allen’s Girls’ School in London.

PPPS   Peggy died on 5th May 2006 aged 90 ….. and 4 days. Cynthia had died on 27th December 2004 aged 89.

 

 

PC 113 “Extra! Extra! Read All About It!”

 

I once went off to southern Turkey and round the corner from Fethiye was the birthplace and possibly burial site of St Nicholas of Myra, who was known for his generosity, particularly towards children. He morphed into Santa Claus through Dutch migrants to the United States calling him Sinterklaas …… and so Santa Claus. It’s quite a stretch to today’s Santa Claus and his sleigh covered with presents for the world’s children. Forget the fact that you’ve already seen Santa in his grotto in the shopping centre, ignore the fact you could have seen him, at the same time, appearing by an outside stall selling stuff for the local charity and offering selfies for children (and adults of course!). And you know he’s popular because all over the world people have dressed up to look like him and gone running in some local 10k race. But in this time of imagination and magic ….. let the mind run …..

Christmas Bow

Our Apartment Front Door Bow

Mrs Santa hears a crash and looks out across the sleigh park. Rudolph, a retired reindeer with an alcoholic red nose and used only once, in 1939, because it was foggy, stirs in his adapted St Bernard’s dog bed. “Wattts ttthhh ffuni” – sort of Reindeer speak for ‘What the fuck?’ Sure enough Mrs Santa’s husband has returned, the reindeer hooves and sleigh’s skids screeching on the ice and eventually the empty sleigh has skidded to a stop. The reindeers’ flanks are steaming from the exertion of galloping across the world and both they and Santa seem somewhat worse for wear.

Christ! What the hell’s happened?” she calls across the frozen ‘sleigh park in the sky’.

The lead reindeer Dancer’s stomach and bladder are very extended and swollen as are the other reindeers’. He belches loudly and then, unable to contain himself any longer, urinates over the ground. This gives the other reindeers freedom to empty their bladders too, as they had all helped Santa drink his way through a million gallons of sherry as they dashed from one house to another across Europe. As the sky lightens in the early dawn, the hot liquid splashes onto the frozen park and a toxic smelly mist develops, encasing Santa and his sleigh in an ethereal glow. Sadly this year is the reindeers’ last flight as a team, for next year the sleigh will be pulled/powered by a hybrid, part reindeer and part electric. They don’t know it yet, but they will be asked to apply for one of only four places.

And what’s that smile on your face for, Santa?” Mrs Santa yells.

Sure enough Santa is sitting rather quietly on the back of the sleigh, smiling as he thinks about No 26 Acacia Avenue in Berkhampstead. Traditionally Santa has been expected to climb down a chimney, deliver presents as per the wish list written by John or Jill and sent to Santa in Lapland, eat a mince pie, drink a glass of sherry and grab a carrot or two for the reindeer stacking overhead like some commercial jet over an airport. On arriving at the bottom of this particular chimney he had indeed been confronted by a glass of sherry and a couple of mince pies …… but also Sheila, dressed in a very revealing negligee, asking whether he wanted some extra cream with the mince pie. Hopefully Mrs Santa wouldn’t guess or she’d rake her claws across his back.

Mind you her voice barely registers in his befuddled brain, as he feels completely pissed from so much Amontillado Cream. Then he thinks about the letter from Sam in Vienna, who hadn’t been sure whether to ask for a train set or My Little Pony ……. and how he reckons he’d got it right by giving them an ambidextrous superperson outfit.

He muses that he spends 364 days a year sitting on his bum, putting up with Mrs Santa’s nagging, then in one 24 hour period visits 1000 million homes, each visit taking one trillionth of a second, when he tries to eat a mince pie and drink a glass of sherry, before flying off to the next house. And why does he do it? Well! It’s to celebrate of the birth of a boy whose father was so disorganised he couldn’t even book a room in a hotel for his pregnant wife, on the busiest weekend of the year.

Jesus!” Cries Mrs Santa.

Amber House Christmas Tree (2)

Amber House Christmas Tree Thingy

Have a great Christmas if this is a festival for you.

Richard 24th December 2017

 

PS The title of this PC comes from the cry of the traditional newspaper sellers on the street corner, when an extra edition of a paper had been produced to cover some momentous event that had just happened.

PC 112 Another Lisbon postcard

On a visit to Estoril last month there was a need to travel into Lisbon by car. It’s not far along the toll motorway; you just have to be careful to get off at the right exit. Our destination was a lawyers’ office in the Chiado district, which lies to the west of central Baixa, home to all the cafes, shops and restaurants along Rua Augusta that make the city a tourist hotspot all year around.

Lisbon 1

The streets are narrow and where traffic is permitted congested. Some, thankfully, have become pedestrianized, for you take your life into your hands when walking in areas where lorries, cars, taxis and people jostle for space. The Portuguese are not renown for their driving skills so you just need to think that every driver is a manic …… and then you might survive. On Madeira, the Portuguese Atlantic island 1000 kms to the south west of Lisbon, they think that the ‘pedestrian crossing’ was designed to focus the drivers on how many people they could maim! And if you have ever tried to cross on a Madeiran pedestrian crossing, you’ll know what I mean.

I wandered off with Maria, my sister-in-law’s temporary carer, for a coffee. Up on Rua Garrett is a locally famous café, A Brasileira do Chiado, a busy place mid-morning. Opened in 1905 it maintains its Art Deco interior with mirrors, paintings and wooden panels. All the outside tables were taken by the well-heeled tourists from Germany and Italy – you can tell by their chic dress sense with its abundant fur and leather – basking in the quite strong autumnal sun and by those Portuguese who want to smoke, for smoking here is quite normal and acceptable. To keep them company on a permanent basis is a bronze statue of Fernando Pessoa, a famous turn-of-the-century poet who for some reason wrote under four different names and in four distinct styles. Its shoulders gleam from the cleaning effect of thousands of brushing hands from passers-by, presumably believing that a simple touch will imbue them with some artistic ability! We all do it, don’t we? “The Conversation between Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill” piece on Bond Street London is another example. The space in the middle is a completely different colour, shined by thousands of people’s bodies sitting down …. to join in the conversation?”

Fernando Pessoa

Inside the cafe with its long bar, it’s dark and rather airless but the coffee, when it eventually arrives, is strong and the obligatory Pastel de Nata quite good, although they’re better if they are slightly warm. The sugar sachet has a quotation by Fernando Pessoa: “A renúncia é a libertação, não querer é poder.” My rough translation would be “The act of giving up one’s claim (to something) is liberating, not wanting (something) is powerful.” After our fix, we welcome the fresh air as we wander 50 metres west into the next square.

At the time, I didn’t have my guide book with me and was initially unable to identify the man whose bronze statue dominates the square. From its base I read it’s of the poet Luis de Camoes, erected in 1867 and surrounded by eight smaller statues of other personalities from Portuguese literature. Mermaids and ships have been recreated in the surrounding cobblestones, reflecting Camoes epic poem The Lusiads. Further research reveals that Camoes is considered by the Portuguese to be on a par with our very own William Shakespeare. The Lusiads charts the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India and subsequent events and legends in Portuguese history. His poem was published in 1572 but only later was recognised as the work of a master. Camoes died at 54 unnoticed and unloved.

Luiz de Camoes

You walk on the sunny side of the cobbled pavements at this time of year, grateful for the warmth on your back, just as in the summer you walk in the shade, grateful for some respite from the burning sun. Further up a side street was another square, another church, another statue, this one of Padre António Vieira – a ‘Jesuit, preacher, priest, politician and diplomat’. Apparently he clashed with those Catholic zealots pursuing the aims of the Inquisition ie burning heretics in Lisbon’s Terreiro do Paco to ensure religious conformity, over his support for Christianised Jews. He fled to Brazil and died in San Salvador da Bahia in 1697

Lisbon 2

On the way back to meet up for lunch we drift into A Vida Portuguesa, a chain of shops promoting the porcelain, tiles, fabrics for which the country is rightly famous. This one is in Rua Ivens. There is a particular yellow, a sort of light Dijon Mustard quite popular at the moment and I spy a whole stack of plates, mugs and dishes. Five minutes later, a salad bowl safely inside some bubble-wrap, we make our way back to join the others.

We have lunch in what might have been described as a pop-up restaurant, rather scruffy and ‘making do’, although with reasonable food. Actually I think this one popped up twenty years ago! We wander back to the car for our return journey but our way is blocked – down the street someone has parked ‘for a few moments’ convenient for them but no one else. A traffic policewoman is awaiting the driver’s return. So we reverse and try our luck down a narrow alley. Fortunately the SatNav is as confused as we are so we are spared the ‘recalculating’ comment in that saccharine tone that makes you want to scream! Gradually we find our way back to the motorway and to Estoril.

Just a nice few hours warranting a scribble.

Richard 17th December 2017                                 richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 111 Driving Around

The other evening I was driving back from a day with my daughter – actually a rather rare occurrence, not because I don’t love her to bits but because it’s over 70 miles away. The idea of dropping in for a cuppa isn’t a practical one – that’s not to say I don’t want to and wouldn’t if we lived closer just that we don’t! I have a choice of many different routes, as you would expect in a part of the country as crowded as the south east of England. The motorways M23/M25/A3 all have good dual (or more) carriageways and if the traffic flows it’s a doddle – if it doesn’t it’s just boring, and the M25 has a rather unfortunate reputation as the world’s largest car park!

Another option is going in a more direct way, along country roads. I used to drive on some of these roads when I was at university, as home was 18 miles north of here and university north of Swindon. In those days the traffic was lighter than today and being young and carefree I wanted to get from A to B as quickly as possible, wanting to be in ‘the right gear at the right time’, overtaking and sneaking into small spaces! But because I was a sort-of responsible adult, as responsible as I have ever been, it gradually became important to me that I drove well. I had passed the fairly rudimentary mandatory Driving Test in a Morris Minor 1000.

morris-minor-1000

But that was 1964 and I wanted to check I could drive well!! So in 1970 I took the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) test in Swindon – a 90 minute exacting assessment of one’s driving – in my old Sunbeam Alpine; its registration number was SMO 420H if you are interested! Swindon, a Wiltshire city, had a mixture of residential streets, 1960’s brutal city centre architecture and the most roundabouts of any UK city at the time. At some point during the test, the assessor said: “Can you pull over here!” And when I had parked along the curb….” We have just past an alleyway. Would you reverse into it ….. centrally?” Well, the Sunbeam was 5 feet (1.52m) wide and the alleyway …… probably no more than 7ft (2.14m). Exacting huh!

Sunbeam Alpine convertible

I liked the freedom of owning a car, of being able to go somewhere whenever I wanted and still do. Driving was fun and exhilarating. Turn the clock forward to today and those same roads are more congested, and now there’s a local speed limit which varies between 40 and 50 miles per hour. Frankly, with the additional traffic it’s nay impossible to go faster than that and you can forget any idea of overtaking a slow moving car. If you actually succeed, all you do is end up behind the next slow moving car. Takes a great deal of will power to just relax and ‘go with the flow’.

In my Army days, I had always believed that I had to be able to do what I asked my soldiers to do. So in Germany I often jumped into the driving seat of the M109, a self-propelled medium artillery howitzer, at the end of some training and drove back to barracks.

M109

A M109

My ability to drive a vehicle steered by its tracks is still recognised on my UK Driving Licence – Group H. And although I occasionally I drove a lorry for fun, I was lazy and didn’t get my HGV licence, otherwise you might have seen me at the wheel of an articulated lorry on the M25!!

After university I was posted back to my regiment in Germany and was able to take advantage of the tax free allowances. I ordered a new MGB GT through the local garage that serviced my car. They were agents for Mercedes and Lancia …..  and I fell in love with a little red Lancia Fulvia with cream upholstery which was displayed in their showroom!! So I cancelled the MGB GT, which was going to cost £1258 and ordered a red Lancia for an extra £53. Months later I took the train from Paderborn in Germany to Turin in Italy to collect it from the factory.

Lancia Fulvia

This was my second Lancia, in blue. Note the Institute of Advanced Motorist badge!

You will know I love coincidences! Well, in 1982 I took over command of an air defence battery just north of Salisbury in Wiltshire. The Royal Artillery history is preserved by the ‘battle honours’ of its batteries – a Battery being a sub-unit of some 120 soldiers. For instance I had served in 132 Medium Battery (The Bengal Rocket Troop) the latter reflecting the development of rudimentary rockets in India in the C19th. My Air Defence battery was known as Lloyd’s Company – after William Lloyd who had put together some guns to support Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Its number, an arcane designation no one really understood as they were not sequential in terms of seniority, was 43. So its title was 43 Air Defence Battery (Lloyd’s Company) Royal Artillery and it was equipped with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). My Honda Accord was bought in Swindon and its number plate, completely coincidentally, was SAM43S!

 

SAM 43 S

And come to think of it, I still smile when I remember Sergeant Cooke, my MT (Motor Transport) Sergeant and his driving test. The battery was down on Dartmoor for a fortnight’s training. Part of the training was all about driving, for instance testing the soldier’s ability to reverse a Landrover and trailer. He also wanted them to line up 50m away and drive the nearside wheels between two 4m long parallel planks, which he placed about 5cms more than a tyre width apart; a little light amusement! “Come on Sir! Have a go!” Well, never one to resist a challenge …… the result took the smile off his face!!

Coincidentally a neighbour five houses down here in Albany Villas Hove owns a Sunbeam Alpine (Tiger variant) and a Lancia Fulvia (Integrale) – now that’s weird.

A little nostalgia never hurt anyone and I hope you may reminisce on cars you’ve owned as a result of this PC.

Richard 3rd December 2017

PS Cars I have owned:

Volkswagen Variant (Left hand drive)

Sunbeam Alpine Convertible (SMO 420H)

Lancia Fulvia (Red)

Lancia Fulvia (Blue)

Honda Accord (SAM 43S)

Volkswagen Beetle (KBA 51K)

Vauxhall Astra

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet

Saab Vecta 93 Convertible