Crashing a party in reverse

This post was written for the Remember the Time Blog Hop, hosted by The Waiting. This month we are asked to remember the time we got into trouble with the law.

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I got my first, and hopefully only ever, enforced ride in a police patrol car as a result of the fallout from a party that I didn’t even attend. These were the consequences of that night of mayhem: a dressing down from the upholders of law and order; an eviction notice from my landlord; a summons to explain myself to the university authorities; having to admit to my parents that I had moved out and screwed up. In the end I could put all but one of these behind me.

No matter how well prepared a young person may feel when they first leave the parental home, there are certain life lessons that will only be learned through experience. It is important to know how to budget wisely for rent, food and transport when income is meagre. Limited cooking skills need to be honed when a thrifty but nutritious meal must be planned for and prepared every day. Even though one is free to throw a party without permission and a plethora of rules, it is still wise not to invite an entire pub full of inebriated strangers back to your new gaff after hours.

I had taken a room in a large house located in the streets behind my university. It was the summer and most students had left the city so I had the place to myself. The landlord owned a number of properties which he let out on an annual basis, room by room. As is typical of student accommodation, they were basic and run down. The house I moved into was also filthy. Bags full of rubbish had been left in the kitchen by the previous occupants and large, black insects scurried between them, feasting on the contents. As I lay in bed at night I was petrified to hear mice scratching under the furniture in my room. However, I had finally achieved freedom and convinced myself that this made the discomfort worthwhile.

I decided to have a few friends round for a house-warming, arranging to meet them in a pub down town. Even then I was nervous about how successfully I could host such an event. The big, old house seemed so bare and I was unsure how many people would wish to join me. My circle of friends was in flux and many of those I knew were away for the summer months anyway. I cannot recall why I had thought this gathering would be a fun thing to do.

Only a few of my friends turned up at the pub. As I nursed my drinks and accepted more I began to worry about how cavernous the house would seem, how unfestive the atmosphere would be. When last orders were called the solution came to me: here I was, rocking in a pub filled with happy people, I would invite them all.

I suspect that my friends were a little concerned when I announced my plans to the assembled company, but I was not to be dissuaded. We made our way back to the house and I surveyed the attendees who had rowdily followed. So many strangers, and the young man I had really wanted to be there still absent. As I had done many times in the past, I decided that this party wasn’t for me and left, somehow forgetting in the fuzz of alcohol that this was not how one typically acted as host. In my head I wished to be with my crush, not here, so set off across town to find him. I told no one of my plans.

The medics accommodation was silent and still as one would expect at that time of night. There was no reply when I knocked on his door, I hadn’t considered that he may be elsewhere. My befuddled brain reasoned that he would likely be back soon, so I sat down in his doorway to wait. I fell asleep.

At around 5am he returned, rather shocked to find his stalker blocking the way. On waking I realised two things: this was a really embarrassing situation for which I had no explanation that I was willing to admit; it was daylight and I had missed my own party. Leaving my crush to come to whatever conclusions he wished, I bid him farewell and made my way back onto the streets. I realised that I was not wearing any shoes and had no idea why.

I had only walked a short distance when the police patrol pulled up alongside me. That the policeman knew my name worried me so much that I could not fully register what he was telling me, only that I was required to get in the car. Once ensconced in the back they kindly suggested taking me to my parents house, which in my estimation was akin to driving me to my execution. It seemed that my friends at the party had reported me missing to the policemen who had been called to the house by neighbours, concerned about a loud and lively event that appeared to be getting out of hand.

Later that morning, with a hangover that should have been punishment enough for any misdemeanour, I had to face my angry landlord who had been called by the police in the wee small hours. He was not interested in anything I had to say and informed me that I had twenty-four hours to leave the place. This meant that I had to call my parents anyway, as I had nowhere else to go. In my estimation I could sink no lower.

Perhaps amazingly, when the drunken bodies had slept off their excesses and left, there was no damage to the bare property. Neighbours were appeased and no charges were pressed. The police, who reappeared to give me a strict talking down, seemed to relent when they saw my misery. I guess sometimes it helped that I was a young, slim, blond female who could find her manners when she had to.

I felt horribly guilty, foolish and decidedly ill. I spent the day packing up my few possessions and cleaning the place from top to bottom, an act that resulted in my landlord subsequently returning the month in advance rent that I had paid along with my deposit. He withdrew the formal complaint that he had lodged with the university authorities and told them that I was a lovely young girl but needed to choose my friends more wisely. The university satisfied itself of my contrition and let the matter go.

To this day I have no idea who attended that party or how it went. I was married and with kids before I hosted another big gathering at my home. Other experiences from that night I have not repeated: sleeping in a doorway; losing my shoes; stalking a crush. No matter how law abiding I may consider myself to be, I will still feel nervous if I ever find myself being observed by the boys in blue on patrol.

 

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Remembering my first kiss

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This post was written for the the Remember the Time Blog Hop hosted by The Waiting. This month we are asked to remember our first kiss.

When I think back to my first kiss I can recall the place (overlooking a graveyard), the time of year (a dark and cold winter’s evening), the ambience (my father might appear at any moment), but not the boy’s name.

I was a very young fifteen year old and had spent the previous two years suffering a massive crush on the older brother of a friend of mine from school. When he noticed me at all it was not in the way that I wanted. I had managed to collect a sample of his handwriting and a photograph of him from the local paper, both of which I cherished. It was a sad tale of unrequited love.

At the end of the summer I had arranged to go on a church trip, purely because I knew that my beloved would be there. When I arrived at the coach pick up I eagerly looked around, only to find him in the company of a girl! Turns out they had become a couple without my knowledge. Summer love had happened but not for me, I was heartbroken.

In the coming months I went from hurt to anger to a sad acceptance of my fate as impossible to love. I also recovered from my crush.

As the year progressed the church arranged a disco for it’s young people and, for reasons which I cannot now recall, I decided to attend. I had never been to a disco before, and have never been to one like it since. Held in a smallish room at the back of the church hall it cannot have been particularly well attended, but that is not what comes to mind when I recall that night. I remember it because it was the first time that a boy I did not know asked me to dance.

I was there with my cousin, and my father was due to walk us home when it ended at 10pm. Dancing with this boy was utterly thrilling because, well, he was a boy. It was also highly embarrassing as there was a risk that my father might appear at any moment, eager to whisk me off home.

When boy suggested that we go outside I had no idea why (I really was naive) but could think of no reason to refuse. To get outside we had to leave the small, dark, back room and walk through the well lit main hall. Never has a walk felt so long and awkward. Neither of us said a word, we just marched on through, on a mission. I think he might have tried to take my hand, but I was far too intent on reaching our destination to take notice of such details.

We reached the door and stepped outside where, at the top of the steps, with the strains of ‘The Pretenders’ drifting out from behind us, he put his arms around me and kissed me. My first ever kiss.

 

I’d like to say that it was awesome, or perhaps even that he was so moved by the experience that he tried for more, something that would have totally freaked me out at the time. Instead, mission accomplished (or perhaps now eager to escape) he pulled away, turned around, and walked back through the hall with me tripping along a few steps behind. Still, not a word was said as I returned to my cousin and, rather too soon after this for my peace of mind, father appeared to walk us home.

Just before I left boy suggested that we meet up the following week and I agreed. I turned up at the designated meeting point and waited for over an hour. Although he stood me up he must have checked to see if I had been more willing than he. My lengthy wait was ended when a friend of his walked over to tell me that boy was not going to be there after all. I wonder if they were entertained or embarrassed by my willingness to hang around for so long.

I walked home chastened, but still hugging the experience to my longing, aching, teenage heart. A boy had asked me to dance and had kissed me. Perhaps, one day, I would find love after all.

 

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Unlucky for some

 

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This post was written for the Remember the Time…It Was Your Birthday? Blog Hop hosted by The Waiting.

My parents were creatures of habit. Every year throughout my childhood we would take our annual family holiday during the last two weeks in August. This meant that we were always away from home on my birthday.

We would celebrate of course. I would have presents to open and we would go to a cafe for a special ice cream sundae. My favourites were the banana split and the knickerbocker glory.

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I did not have a party though, not until those family holidays stopped, which happened the summer I turned thirteen.

I remember attending a few birthday parties as a child. Dressed in my best I would take part in the organised games before settling down to eat the sort of sweet treats that were strictly rationed at home. I noted that the birthday child collected a sizeable stash of presents; what wasn’t there to like about a birthday party?

That first August at home, when my mother asked if I would like to have a few friends round to celebrate becoming a teenager, I jumped at the chance. My very first party, what fun! I had no idea what I was taking on, and thus learned the hard way that parties do not just happen.

My first problem was who to invite as, at twelve years old, I had few friends. In the end I believe my ‘party’ had four attendees, including myself. The others had never previously met; I had not understood beforehand that this could be an issue.

My second problem was that parties require entertainment, something else that I hadn’t considered. Had I just invited my friends round as normal we would have gone to my bedroom to chat and to play. As it was we sat awkwardly in the front room of my parents’ house without even music to drown out the lingering silence. As I tried to engage each of my friends in conversation it became clear that all they had in common was me.

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The trauma of that afternoon has stayed with me to this day, perhaps even sowing the seed of my social anxiety. Looking back I cannot explain why I did not just suggest that we go upstairs to chill and relax. I had advertised the event as a party, did not know how to make it happen, and lacked discernment to manage a change of plan.

My mother had prepared food but I cannot recall how this was received. My memory is of silence and awkwardness, drowning out all recollection of how I got through however long my friends stayed. I wanted nothing more than to be anywhere else and alone; I knew that I was hosting a disaster.

I have had one other birthday party since, although it took me thirty-two years to summon up the courage to try again. That second party was more of a success, but not one I have attempted to repeat. Celebrating a birthday quietly with my family has turned out to be the more appealing option after all.

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Memories and other fictional stories

The Remember the Time Blog Hop has not vanished, but it has changed from weekly to monthly. It also has a brand new badge! This month’s theme is: write about your earliest memory. 

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My first, clear memories are not my own. They are photographs in an old chocolate box, carefully stored away in my parent’s wardrobe. They are points of discussion when family members get together.

‘Do you remember when…. ?’ and often I do. But I think of that time as a moment in a long distant childhood. My memories are not ordered chronologically, but by merit or significance in a life that is now gone.

My cousin shared a photograph on Facebook of all the young cousins standing outside a house. I think I remember that day, but cannot be sure. I remember the photograph clearly, how my sister hated it because she was the tallest and disliked her height, how the youngest would not stand still while the image was captured. Do I  remember when it was taken though, or a copy of the picture that was given to my mother, that I have looked at many times since?

I have a photograph of my brother, in the driveway of our parent’s house with his first motorbike. I remember that day, desperately wanting to ride behind him after he offered my sister this privilege. I am told that he used his motorbike to transport him to and from school, yet I can only recall when he was at our childhood home during university vacations, not when he lived there full time. I do not recall seeing him in school uniform; we have no photographs of that. My memories are muddled, disordered, yet my feelings from that bike day seem clear.

Times captured in photographs, music or significant events stand out. There was the night when my sister and I made too much noise after lights out and my father, who left it to my mother to discipline us, came up and shouted angrily, reducing us to tears. There was the day when our garden was being dug over for a vegetable patch, and we threw clods of earth onto a neighbours path. My mother beat us for embarrassing her with our inexplicable behaviour.

I remember locking myself in my bedroom when the handle had been removed to allow the door to be painted. I pulled out the exposed mechanism from the inside and then could not replace it. I had to drop it out the window to allow my mother to release me. What age was I then? I have no idea.

Sometimes I recall an event that I remember as having happened when I was perhaps eight or nine years old. When I put it into context alongside a song or a recorded historical event, I realise that I must have been twelve or thirteen. I recoil at the idea that I was still so childish at that age.

There are memories that are mine and mine alone. Events that involved other family members, but which they do not recall. What was significant to me passed them by, or has been interpreted quite differently in their minds.

When older family members talk of events from their children’s childhood, their recollections are often at odds with those held by the now adult child. It makes me distrustful of my own memories. At what point do we start to weave our prejudices and subsequent experiences into what we think we remember from before? Life may be linear but memory is not.

I have worked hard to give my children happy experiences to look back on, yet recognise that what they remember from their childhood is unlikely to be what I hoped and intended. Already my daughter mentions events that affected her negatively, yet cannot recall activities that were planned so carefully for her benefit.

In my head my first memory is of lying in a carrycot on the back seat of my father’s car with my brother looking down on me. If I was young enough to be in a carrycot then surely I was too young to form a lasting memory; I do not even know if my father had a car when I was this age. Could a memory be formed many years later from events that I have merely been told happened?

It can be lovely to get together with an old friend and recall shared history, reminiscing, reminding each other of the detail of forgotten escapades. How much is this weaving together of good times gone by an act of creation? How much is memory affected by where we are here and now?

An introduction to wine

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme: Alcohol

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Those who know me will probably not believe that I used to dislike the taste of wine. No really, listen. Will you stop doing that? Will you please stop laughing? Oh never mind…

Back in the day wine was not an everyday sort of drink as it is now (or is that just me?). My parents went to dinner parties and dances where my mum might choose a spirit and a mixer, my dad a beer or a stout, maybe rounding off the evening with a good, straight Irish whiskey. Wine was something that might be drunk occasionally, with a meal, a bottle being easily enough for four people. It was bought in specially for an occasion and finished on the night.

Then my father discovered the home wine making kit. He would sit in our cold kitchen (no central heating in those days) and work his way, step by step, through the instruction booklet. Sachets were opened, liquids mixed and drawn through flexible pipe to sit in enormous glass jars. These were then sealed and carefully carried upstairs to the airing cupboard to sit amongst the towels and sheets in the only space in the house that was always warm.

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My mother was not impressed when one of the jars, previously filled with a red liquid, erupted all over her clean laundry.

Undaunted my father continued. When the required time had elapsed the bottling commenced, and then we waited. The opening of a batch was an occasion, so my sister and I were permitted a taste of this strictly adult drink. I was not impressed. Over the years I would accept an occasional half glass to appear grown up, but I did not derive enjoyment from the beverage.

Jump forward a few years to when I was old enough to drink alcohol and did. I was taken out to dinner on a date and my young suitor, presumably in an attempt to impress, purchased a bottle of white wine to go with our meal. Tentatively I tried it and was amazed to discover that the taste pleased me. I decided that Liebfraumilch must be quality stuff and confidently recommended Blue Nun and Black Tower to anyone who asked.

And then one summer, at the end of my first year at university, I was invited to a house party and instructed to bring a bottle. As an impoverished student I could not afford the purchase, so my father kindly stepped in with a selection from his recent home made. I gratefully accepted, idly wondering how it would be received.

On arrival I set the bottles in the kitchen and left them there until the party was in full swing. When opened and shared there were no complaints. On the contrary, several imbibers seemed pleased with the effects produced. Even I, still not a regular wine drinker at that stage, could see that it beat the sweet wines from my recent past hands down.

Perhaps my father had improved with practice, perhaps I had been too young to appreciate his original efforts. Whatever the truth of the matter, he no longer makes his own wine so I cannot compare his creations with those I enjoy today. All I know is that, in the early eighties, his wine was fully appreciated by the student drinkers who were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. And we all had the hangovers to prove it.

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First day blues

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme the First Day of School.

You can steal me and use me as your own

I had never intended to be there. This had not been a part of my grand, life plan, dreamed about for so many years. Nevertheless, there I was, standing around waiting to meet up with a few old friends from school who had also ended up at this place. We were getting together to attend the Fresher’s Bazaar on our first day at university.

In 1983 The Queens University of Belfast was not the university of choice for most British students. It had a highly regarded medical school where students got to see first hand how to treat bomb damaged bodies and the victims of shootings. Being so close to the centre of a troubled city was not, however, regarded as ideal for those unfamiliar with the province. However good the teaching may have been, location mattered.

It was not The Troubles that I was trying to escape from but rather the mindset of the people who perpetuated what I regarded as a pointless conflict. Some of the teenagers I had grown up with were starting to talk like their parents, to harbour the same prejudices. I wanted out.

I had applied to study at The University of Western Australia and received a generous scholarship offer dependant on acceptable grades in my final school exams. I also had an offer from The University of Warwick, and my safety net offer from Queens. All the locals knew that Queens could provide a safety net because there just wasn’t the same competition for places at that time.

Some chose this place because they were happy to stay close to their families. I was not one of them.

The day my ‘A’ level results came out my hopes and dreams were shattered and I knew that I only had myself to blame. I had studied subjects that were beyond my ability and had not put in the effort that would have been required to sufficiently raise my grades.

I would not be flying away to sunny Perth to start my life anew, or even travelling across the water to the mainland. Instead I would be catching the Number 38 bus from outside my parent’s house and travelling three miles down the road, past both my primary and my secondary schools, to attend my local university, Queens. I recognised that I was fortunate that they had agreed to take me despite my poor results. I knew some had not been even this lucky.

September was filled with pub crawls to say goodbye to the friends who had got away. At the end of the month those of us who were left arranged to meet up at the Fresher’s Bazaar. We were a motley crew, brought together by chance and circumstance. It was not the exciting new start that I had anticipated.

The Fresher’s Bazaar was full of stalls manned by the various clubs and societies run by the university. I stopped off at the University Air Squadron stand where one of the volunteers tried to chat me up. The banner overhead invited students to learn to fly; I rather liked the idea of that. However, it soon became clear that there was a problem; I was female. Oh, they most definitely wanted me to join, but they could not offer to training me as a pilot. The heated discussion on discrimination that I was eager to pursue was cut short when my friends pulled me away. Somehow this episode seemed to sum up my day.

We organised our student cards and membership of the sports club before retiring to one of the many bars in the Students Union, a place where I spent a lot of my time in that first year. I attended the parties and balls, sold the Rag magazine, dressed up for parades, but never felt that I fitted in. Most of the friends I had were from my school days, friends and friends of friends. I lost touch with the few new acquaintances that I got to know when I left the place five years later.

On that first day at university I knew that I had put on hold the life that I wanted in order to gain the qualification that I needed to eventually fulfil my dreams. Queens is a fine university and the quality of the teaching could not be faulted, it was simply not where I wanted to be.

With the benefit of hindsight I can see that everything happens for a reason, that the life I now lead and love would not have come about had I achieved my ambitions way back then. At the time though, that first day had the taste of failure. I determined that I would do all that I could to ensure I never experienced that taste again.

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The day the King died

The Remember the Time Blog Hop is back!

This week we are writing about receiving big news.

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When I was a child family holidays meant getting up in the dark to catch a ferry across the Irish Sea. My father would then drive us to the south coast of England, across a land that had not yet been criss crossed with motorways and bypasses, but where traffic was light except in the biggest towns and cities.

My father would have prepared for the day long car journey by writing out a route plan on numerous, small sheets of paper. The large clip that held these sheets together would be hung on the dashboard to allow for easy reference. We knew that we were close to our destination when only one sheet remained.

We stopped only for fuel and necessary comfort breaks. My mother would hand my sister and I cups of soup, kept hot in a large thermos flask, bread, sandwiches and juice, as we sat in the back seat trying to occupy ourselves. The car had no seatbelts so we arranged our toys and books around us. My father would be cross if he had to brake suddenly and the contents of the car, including it’s occupants, flew forward.

We were creatures of habit and always holidayed during the last two weeks of August, choosing a caravan park in Cornwall, Devon or further east along the coast. I enjoyed staying in the caravan parks with their outdoor swimming pools and play parks. Sometimes there would be a tennis court, one even had a go cart track.

Both my brother and I have late August birthdays so I did not have parties as a child. Instead I would be taken out for a special ice cream treat, a banana split or a knickerbocker glory. I only remember my brother joining us on a few holidays. Being twelve years older he could claim his independence and escape the trips that revolved around two little girls.

Yet it was on his birthday that we heard the news, on the last caravan holiday that we took as a family.

The caravans in those days did not have electricity or running water. There was a gas canister for cooking and to power the few lights, a toilet block would be available nearby. My sister and I had been sent across the site to fetch water with a large, plastic container that required the two of us to carry when full. When we returned my mother was clearly upset, standing in the kitchen area, not washing the dishes in the sink before her. She had heard the news on the small, battery powered radio that was the only electronic entertainment that we had. She told us Elvis Presley had died.

There was much talk of his eating habits but not, at that stage, of drugs. We were not big Elvis fans but knew him from the movies and, of course, his music. My mother seemed melancholy, discussing wasted opportunity and how young he was. I did not consider him young, forty-two is not young to a twelve year old.

Perhaps I remember the moment so clearly because it marked the end of so many things. My mother did not enjoy this holiday due to the cold and wet weather, the crawling insects that invaded our caravan each night. Perhaps my sister and I were harder to entertain, do children ever remember being difficult pre teen?

Four days later though I became a teenager and the following year we had one last shot at a family holiday, a staycation with numerous day trips. After that my sister started going away with friends, I would be sent on Scripture Union organised Camps and my parents discovered package holidays abroad.

It seems now that Elvis’s death marked the end of my childhood, the end of the rose coloured memories that I cherish. When I hear his music I remember that holiday. For me, those memories are good.

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Christmas

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme: Merry Christmas!

Well, what else could have been chosen for this week?

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Christmas Eve. My sister and I would be put to bed, but we couldn’t get to sleep. Her bed was by the window and she would pull back the curtains, just a little, and peer out into the dark night sky. Somewhere up there a man dressed in red was flying from house to house delivering presents down chimneys. She hoped beyond hope for a glimpse, especially of the reindeer.

Outside our bedroom door we could hear our parents moving softly around the house, up and down the stairs. This was most unusual. Occasionally there would be a faint rustle of paper, but if we suspected what was going on we never voiced our thoughts. We wanted to believe in the magic.

We thought that we would stay awake all night but somehow, at some point, fell asleep. Waking in the morning to a quiet house we would wait, as instructed, until 7am. It was so hard to remain quiet as we whispered and wondered and checked the clock yet again.

Eventually, at the appointed hour, we could wake our parents. But our teenage brother always wanted to sleep! How could he on Christmas morning…

And so we would enter the lounge and stare in awe at the piles of colourfully wrapped parcels. The paper was always the same: slightly crumpled, with a few tears and the remains of previous year’s sticky tape. My mother required that we open each present carefully to preserve the wrapping paper, which she would smooth out and fold before placing it in a storage box. Somehow this ritual did nothing to spoil our belief in Santa Claus.

The new toys were treasured, the books set aside for later, the clothes from ancient relatives (probably in their thirties at the time) discarded. And then there were the selection boxes. Chocolate bars, bags of candy and toffees would be consumed for breakfast as we struggled to remove the packaging from the toys we had longed for, and many that we had not realised we had wanted but now adored.

Eventually we would have to dress and get into the car to go fetch Grandma. This was not a chore as the unfailingly generous soul always gave us a major new toy. Throughout the journey we would try to guess what it might be, what from the list that we had sent to Santa had we not yet received?

When all presents had been opened and Grandma had been safely brought back to our house my mother would serve dinner. I was a hungry child and loved this day, when I could eat my fill without fear of comments about my girth. Replete we would settle down in front of the television to watch the Christmas film, hugging a favourite toy from the day’s haul.

My Grandma never wished to stay for long after the meal and my father would be required to drive her home. My sister and I would return to snacking on our confectionery and investigating toys that had not yet warranted much attention. Having produced all the food, my mother would be left to clear up the debris from dinner.

By the evening we would be tired from the excitement and activity; we would go to our beds hugging a new, soft friend.

I have only happy memories of the Christmases of my childhood. It was a magical time, as rose tinted as they come.

I feel blessed to have had parents who made it so.

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Penpals

The theme for this week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop is : Mail

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My first penpal was a girl named Winsom Montgomery. I never met her. I was given her details by my school who were trying to encourage us to write to complete strangers. I happily shared all the intimate details of my preteen life in a series of letters that I wrote over the several years that our correspondence survived. This all seemed perfectly normal at the time. I wonder when adults started to think that they needed to warn young children about stranger danger and data privacy. I certainly never came to any harm. Neither can I remember much about the girl I wrote to for so long, other than her unusual name.

I had many penpals as a teenager. Most of these resulted from a desire to keep in touch with girls I met on the holiday camps that I attended with the Scripture Union. One was a primary school friend who had moved to England with her family and who I continued to write to for many years before losing touch.

I could write up to half a dozen letters a month to the three or four people that I corresponded with regularly. Most of them wrote back, but I suspect that they did not maintain quite as many penpals as I collected over the years.

I graced these recipients with all the details of my life. They were told of the comings and goings of family and friends, of my time at school and, most especially, of my many outings. As most of these involved regular activities I suspect my letters may have been a tad repetitive, they were certainly self centred. I just loved to write though, so I did.

The many letters that I sent required stationery. I had a lovely collection of coloured notepaper and notelets with cutesy pictures and matching envelopes. I loved to receive such things as birthday and Christmas presents. I kept all the letters that I received in pretty boxes, carefully filed by sender. I doubt that I ever reread them though.

Except, that is, for my love letters. My first long term boyfriend lived a few miles from my parent’s home. One spring he had to prepare for important, school exams so we could only see each other at weekends. To make up for this traumatic curtailment of our budding romance we wrote letters to each other on the long, lonely weekdays. He is the only male I have ever known who would happily write regular and intimate letters. Young love is succoured by absence and romance, and those letters had me floating through the days until we could be together again. I do wonder if his parents were aware that his apparently avid revision included such preoccupations.

And then there were the Valentine cards. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty I enjoyed this annual ritual of posting enormous, padded, verse covered offerings or sending that single red rose to a loved one. There was one rather awkward year when I got three of these things which seriously annoyed one of the senders. He obviously resented the expense when his offering was not as unique as he had anticipated.

By the time I got to university the first computer messaging services were starting to appear. As a computer science student I could use university facilities to communicate with other such students abroad. I was still writing many letters though, to family and close friends as we spread our wings and landed jobs around the world.

Before I moved out of my parent’s home I had to clear my childhood bedroom. I came across all of my old letters and valentine cards and binned the lot of them. My mother was more upset than I at such hard-hearted disposal, but I saw no point in keeping reminders of lost loves and forgotten friendships. I was making a fresh start, reinventing myself without the ties of home.

The pleasure of receiving personal mail was totally dependent on the sender. Letters from close friends, especially boyfriends, created a frisson of excitement. I would take the missive to my bedroom, settle down comfortably, and savour each moment; from the careful opening of the envelope to the reading the letter contained therein, drunk up in peaceful privacy. The letter would be read and reread, meanings deduced or imagined, time given to contemplation of the news relayed. More mundane letters were quickly scanned and discarded, their value fleeting and unappreciated.

My only regular penpals now are my parents. They do not own a computer and I dislike using a telephone so we communicate by snail mail. What used to be an enjoyable exercise has become something of a chore as I struggle to find things to write about. The art of letter writing is drowning amongst the other mediums that I use to communicate.

But still I feel excitement when I receive a handwritten letter from someone I love. Even if my mother cannot think of much to say, just receiving a letter proves to me that she is well enough to write. The value is still in the sender more than the contents. I wonder if that value has been lost amongst the electronic mediums that proliferate today.

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“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”

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Sisters

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme: Sibling Rivalry

You can steal me and use me as your own

We were ‘the girls’. Adults would muse over what the girls would like to do, or if the girls could be taken along. We shared a bedroom at home, sometimes a bed when on holiday. Whatever clothes my sister was given, I would be wearing a couple of years later. In the eyes of the world we were a unit, yet in so many ways we were poles apart.

Growing up my sister was the one I looked up to, literally. She was tall and slim whereas I was short and dumpy. She had this wonderful, long, blond hair that I loved to brush and plait when we were little. I kept my hair short for much of my childhood as I ran around trying to be a boy. At school I could go and sit with my sister and her friends when I felt lonely, or spend time with them in the playground. If I wanted to go some place then my mother would allow it so long as my sister went along to look out for me. She was the sensible, reliable one. She was my friend.

I believe I irritated her a great deal. When she was given a particular type of doll, I would want one too. If she called her doll Susie then I would call mine Susan; if she named her doll Katherine then I would name mine Kathy. When our grandmother knitted a set of baby soft clothes for my sister’s brand new, baby doll I was so cross and jealous that our mother had to ask for a set to be made for my baby doll too. My sister told me that my doll had an ugly face compared to her’s. She was right.

My sister guarded her close friends. When I dared to play with one, and wrote about her as my friend in a diary, my sister was incensed. C was her friend not mine, and I was so stupid that I couldn’t even spell Diary (I had written Dairy on the notebook cover). I was teased about this for a long time. I didn’t dare to seek out C as a playmate again, and I stopped keeping a diary.

Our shared bedroom was an issue when we fell out. We would draw a line down the middle that the other may not cross. This meant that I could not get to the toybox and she could not get to the door. When our much older brother went away to university my sister moved into his room during term time. She adored our brother and relished sleeping amongst his things. It was the first time either of us experienced privacy.

Looking back at how we grew up in our parent’s home, there was so much that we didn’t notice about each other’s lives. So self absorbed were we, so possessive of our right to secrecy in certain matters, that we shared the same space yet did not notice the major issues that the other was facing. So many important things were never discussed.

When my sister reached her teens she became interested in fashion and looking good whereas I was generally happy to continue to dress in her hand me downs. The only items that I did not enjoy wearing were the shoes she grew out of. One memorable year I was teased at school and given the nickname Swanky Shoes because of a pair of shiny, black heels that she had passed on. I hated those shoes but had no others to wear.

We had very different personalities and aspirations. My sister was careful and private, especially with her relationships. I appeared more lively and open, resulting in many clashes with my mother. In my eyes my sister and mother were close whereas I was at odds with the person my mother wanted me to be.

When my parents started to go on holiday without us, my sister would take charge of the house. On one such night I was out with a group of friends. With no parental curfew in place we returned home late and my friends asked if they could crash on the floor downstairs until morning. This was the first time that I remember my sister ever bringing a boyfriend back to the house. The unexpected bodies on the lounge floor put paid to any plans she may have had; I think that night she could happily have throttled me.

These irritations and clashes though were moments in a relationship that provided me with a rock that I knew I could rely on. My sister never condemned my behaviour or appeared disappointed in me as my mother was wont to do. She comforted and encouraged me, flattered and praised me when I needed to know that I was okay.

I guess our sibling rivalry was low key. There were plenty of petty jealousies but we were too different to aspire to be the other. I would love to know what she would write about me.

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Whereas my elegant sister could pose attractively on a rock, I had to jump up beside a statue and display my inner dork when a camera was produced.

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