Happy Birthday Mum

The photo above is of my Mum celebrating her 70th birthday, in 1994. She died in 2012, but if she was alive today, she would be 96.

I’m not sure I would have wanted her to have still been around to possibly contract Covid-19, or to be living in fear of the virus like so many others are. Though her own protracted death was no less pleasant.

She had a hard life, living during WW2 as a teenager in the London Blitz. Then she was later abandoned by my father, in 1975. She always worked, right up until her late seventies, and she loved all her pets as if they were children.

My Mum was not only a great mother to me, but also my friend, my confidante, and a support I could always rely on.

Never a day goes by when I don’t think of her.
Never a day goes by when I don’t miss her.
Never a day goes by when I don’t thank her for all she did for me.

Violet Annie Johnson. 1924-2012.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Loss Of Contact.

It made a nice change today to wake up thinking about something other than a virus.

I was actually thinking about people I once knew well, and have not seen in half a lifetime. Starting with someone I called my ‘best mate’ for all of nine years, until he got married, and moved away. I last went to see him in 1980. Since then, some Christmas cards, but never a phone call either way. I can remember the times we shared as schoolfriends and into our late teens as if they were yesterday. But when I see his face in my mind, he is still only 18 years old. Forty years have passed since we met, and it is likely the next contact will be made when one of us dies.

Cousins that I used to spend most weekends with, go on summer holidays with. Some not seen now for twenty years, and their children don’t even know who I am. One moved to Canada. Is he still there? What happened in his life? I have no idea, because ‘Merry Christmas’ on a card tells me nothing. Does he ever think about me at all? I was his older cousin who he met at our grandmother’s house. I went to his older sister’s wedding, but the last time I met his younger sister, she asked who I was, and how I was related to her.

Splits in families will do that. You tend to pick a side, like it or not. And because my dad left my mum, we picked her side. By the time we tried to resume contact and build bridges, it was too late. Life had passed by like traffic on a motorway. I was a face on a photo that nobody recognised.

Work colleagues, male and female, can often become great friends. But if the girls get married, what if their husband is jealous of your closeness, suspectng something else? You do the decent thing. Step away. Give them a chance. And what if your male friend marries someone who doesn’t like you, or you can’t stand them. Do you hang around and cause friction? No, you disappear.

I sat up in bed thinking about all the people I had once been very close to, and had not seen since. I stopped counting at fifteen, then added the more distant relatives to arrive at a total. Twenty? Thirty? I am sure it must be more than that, if I think harder.

In an age where communication has never been so widespread, or more instant, it seems no easier to keep in touch.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Running late.

I woke up late today, really late. Not that long ago in fact.

After another sleep of almost twelve hours, I jumped out of bed feeling like it was late afternoon. I still don’t know if this sleepiness is something to do with the virus, my age, or cumulative stress over all that is happening.
But whatever the cause, I am certainly missing almost five hours of my morning routine already.

My mind seems to have snapped out of the reverie that has occupied it recently. I have a book to read and review, promised to a magazine ten days ago, with a deadline by the end of the month. I have to get that done, as I hate to let people down.

Eating breakfast so late makes it lunch instead, and I am aware that before I know it, Ollie will need to go out for his long walk.

Even when you have ‘nothing to do’, it feels like you are spending the whole day catching up, and hurtling toward preparing dinner, followed by going to bed. I am only out of bed for a short time so far today, yet I can already visualise the moment when I will be climbing back into it.

Unusually for me, I forgot what I was thinking about when I woke up. Instead of a clear recollection, I only have snippets remaining. Like seeing the trailer of a film you forgot you had watched years ago. It was definitely something vivid, as I can see the face of the person I was talking to, someone I knew very well at one time. But I cannot put us in the time and place that was vivid in my mind at the moment I woke up.

For some reason, wanting to remember that feels very important to me today.

The sun is out, and it is not long until midday here. Sunday is half gone already, and I am concerned about remembering a dream.

That is so like me, it’s familiar, but scary.

Blogging Memories

Starting out on a blog is a bit like putting a message in a bottle, casting it out into the ocean, and hoping someone finds it, then replies.

In fact, given the untold millions of blogs on the Internet, you may well have more chance with that bottle.

So I didn’t expect much from my first tentative blog post, in the summer of 2012. I told my friends and family about it of course. I even sent some of them links by text message. But seriously, who was going to read my nervous waffling? I wouldn’t have blamed anyone if they had never bothered.

The first ‘likes’ and comments were from those same friends and family. They used an email address, or set up a WP account just to encourage me, but they did that willingly. I still remember the first time I got 10 views in one day. I was ecstatic. It all seemed worthwhile. When I hit 30 views, I was sure that blogging was going to be ‘my thing’.

Then I got a comment and a follow from someone I didn’t actually know. That was worth its weight in gold, and encouraged me to expand my content, and try new categories. I started to write about my time as an EMT in London, tried my hand at film reviews, and published some very long posts about my childhood memories as a boy in London.

Then one day, I could hardly believe my eyes when I logged on. I had 30 followers, and had hit the magic number of 100 views. Even now, I can remember how good that felt.

As the saying goes, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

I discovered how to add photos, video clips, and images, all to make some posts more relevant, and interesting. I tried my hand at writing fiction too. Short stories at first, then multi-part serials later. I continued to feature my dog Ollie, and stuck to a formula that seemed to be popular with the community of followers and readers that was steadily growing.

As of today, I have a listed 5,470 followers on WordPress. Add to that 41 who follow by email, and 336 followers on social media sites like Twitter, and that totals 5,847. On a good day, I get around 600 views of the site, and think I must be doing something wrong when it drops below 300 on any given day.

But I never forget that 18 of those original 30 followers are still following this blog. And they still comment too.

Sometimes, 2012 doesn’t seem that long ago after all.

‘Where I’m From’

This theme about composing a poem based on where you are from and grew up has generated some wonderful writing.
This is the original, on which to base your own attempt.

Where I’m From
George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree

American blogger, Maggie, has just published her own story as a poem.

I have no skill at poetry, but gave it a go anyway. If you want to try too, then send me a link to your poem in the comments, or just include it there.

Where I’m From.
Pete Johnson.

I am from hot pavements on a city’s summer streets
and frozen pipes in the winter

I am from flying ants emerging through cracks in the slabs
and the rainstorms that followed their departure

I am from the faces of men drinking beer to forget the war they had just fought
and the women with hands red from washing and scrubbing

I am from an outside toilet with newspaper squares on a nail
and the scary fat spiders that lived in the corners

I am from men being men
and women holding families together

I am from eating leftovers during the week
and learning how to make do

I am from limited expectations
and knowing your place

I am from respecting your elders
and doing that without having to be told

I am from where family came first
and nobody ever questioned why that was

I am from places that are still the same
and a time when they were very different

What I Don’t Miss About The 1970s

I was 18 years old in 1970, and 25 when I got married in 1977.
By the end of that decade, I was already an EMT in London.
It is easy to look back with fondness at some things from that era.
But I am also reminded of what was not so good in Britain at the time..

The awful sliced white bread.

The Christmas Gifts.

State of the Art portable televisions.

What was on those televisions for most of the day, and after midnight.

Some of the sweets.
(Mostly good)

(Mostly not so good)

The ‘long-bonnet’ British Leyland Mini.

Police Officers getting off the beat, and into silly-looking patrol cars.

Limited options for ‘eating out’.

Fashionable clothing for men.

The 1960s were pretty cool, as well as ‘Swinging’ of course.
But something went badly wrong on the 1st of January, 1970.

Friday On My Mind

It only dawned on me a few hours ago that today is Friday.

Are you old enough to remember this song from 1966?

No? What about this one, from 1992?

Both songs are celebrating ‘Friday’. That last day of the working week for most people. The day when school is finished until Monday, and the weekend begins in earnest.

Until I started working shifts in 1979, Friday was always something to look forward to. When I was young, I was allowed to stay up a bit later, as there was no school on Saturday. Then when I was old enough to have a regular girlfriend, it was the night to go for a drink with friends, getting a jump on the weekend activities to come.

Once I was older, and married, it was often the night we would go out to eat. A Friday night Indian meal, or perhaps a Chinese. Something spicy and different, after a week of home-cooked food. Alternatively, it might be a trip to the Cinema, on a night when it wasn’t as busy as it would be on the Saturday.

Whatever we did, it always came with that ‘Friday Feeling’, knowing we had two clear days ahead to do what we wanted, even if we didn’t actually do anything with them.

By the time I was just 26, I was working three out of four Fridays, and the same with Saturdays too. It didn’t take long for Friday to start to feel like any other day for me. But I didn’t forget that good feeling from before, and 42 years later, I can still recall the excitement of a Friday night.

I hope you all have (or already have had) a wonderful Friday!

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Times change.

We are all aware how fast things change. I am using a computer to type this, yet when I left school, I never imagined that such a thing would exist. And I am posting this online, over the Internet. Who could ever have thought of that?

Whenever I complain about how things are, people wisely remind me that ‘times change’, or ‘it’s just progress’. Staring at mobile phones all day is progress then, I assume. I do try, I really do. Look how much I use technology to blog, and to spread the word about everything from how much it rains, to the stories I have written. But I confess that it is never less than a daily struggle, trying to keep up with those changing times.

As I get older, I complain a great deal. Regular readers will no doubt have noticed the increase in that, I’m sure.

Much of what I lament is caused by the addition of rose-tinted spectacles, and they make me firmly believe that everything was better ‘before’. Before times changed, and before so much progress. Does anyone under forty realise that their beloved smartphones and Internet televisions will be laughed at in thirty year’s time? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.

But they will be.

Is life really so much better because you can switch on your house lights from the bus, by using an app on your phone? Well that is certainly progress, but is it either a good thing, or necessary? I struggle to believe it is.

When you are young, moany old codgers get on your nerves, always going on about how things were so much better ‘before’. They did it when I was young, and now I am upholding the tradition. And for you younger readers, a word of warning.

You will do it too.

You will hear yourself saying that your old X-Box was better than whatever is around when you are seventy years old. You will drone on about films and TV shows being so much better in your youth, and how the celebrities and stars of your day were much better-looking, and nicer people too. You will bore the pants off the future younger generation by going on about the food you used to eat, and how you used to cook it. The fast-food places that no longer exist, and the shops that closed down when you were in your sixties.

You will tell them about High Street Shops, and how you could buy just one cake in a baker’s. Regale them with how good it was to go to a doctor or the hospital, and not have to pay. You will become misty-eyed with memories of how people got state pensions, winter fuel allowance, and free bus travel when they were old. Of course, you will not have any of that for yourself, but you will remember when other people did.

You will find it hard to cope with progress, and increasingly difficult to change with the times.

I know, because I can see into your future.

And it is the same as mine.

A Random Memory

Wandering around on a cold bright afternoon with Ollie, it often surprises me what pops into my mind.

Once my Mum was in her eighties, and could hardly see, she often spilled things down her clothes as she was eating. On occasion, I would visit her to find her sitting in a top or dress that was obviously quite badly stained. I would point this out, and offer to find her something to change into from her wardrobe. But every time she was adamant that there was nothing there, that her clothing was not stained, and she was fine as she was.

She didn’t have any loss of mental faculties at that time, so I suspect her reluctance to believe me came from a mixture of embarrassment, and natural stubbornness. One evening, I was due to take her to a restaurant to celebrate some occasion. I arrived to find her wearing a rather fancy black outfit that was quite obviously spattered with stains from what she had been eating the last time she had worn it. I mentioned that she might want to change, as many other people would be there, and might wonder why her top had so many marks on it. She became unreasonably angry, and told me that if I was that bothered, she would stay at home.

I took her as she was, feeling sad that a once elegant and immaculate lady was perfectly happy to be seen in food-stained clothes by an assortment of family and friends.

Not long after this twenty year-old memory had been in my head, I saw a fellow dog walker, with her two dogs. One of them jumped up to me a few times, leaving muddy paw prints on my trousers, and then on the sleeve of my coat. She apologised, and told her dog off for jumping up. I assured her it wasn’t a problem. “They are only my dog-walking clothes, don’t worry”.

Maybe it runs in the family?

Never Forgotten

Today would have been my Mum’s 95th birthday. The photo below shows her at her 70th, twenty-five years ago.

She died in March 2012, aged 87.

It was a hard and painful death, and very uncomfortable to watch, I assure you.

But then she had endured a hard life, with her teenage years spent during WW2 in London. Then in 1947, she married my Dad, and he didn’t give her a very easy time. She worked for most of her life, from the age of 14, until she was 75. She had a work ethic, and didn’t like to feel like she was being lazy. Despite my Dad’s numerous affairs, she stuck by him. Then when he finally left her for another woman, in 1976, she stuck by me.

After he was gone, she never once went out with another man, despite being the relatively young age of 52 at the time. She devoted her life to her family, her numerous pets, and to me. She worked hard at trying to run her own business, twice. When that failed, she got work as a housekeeper for rich people in the countryside. After that, she worked as a domestic cleaner, and did ironing too, right up until she reached the age of 75, and illnesses stopped her working.

She was a devoted Mum, aunt, sister, cousin, and friend too. When she died, not only family grieved her loss, but the community she lived in as well.

An accomplished baker, knitter, and talented on the sewing machine, there was very little that she didn’t turn her hand to, in a life lived to the full. She was political too, as a long-term member of the Labour Party, and a committed Socialist. And even at the age of 70, as shown in the photo, she cared about her appearance, and still held down three part-time jobs.

She was everything anyone could have asked for in a Mum. And in an aunt, sister, or cousin.

And she will never be forgotten, I promise you that.

Violet Anne Johnson. (nee Pallen) 1924-2012. Rest in peace, my beloved Mum.