Thursday, 25 August 2005
How I Met Michael Rennie (1909-1971)
Today, 25th August, is the anniversary of the birth of that great British actor and film star, Michael Rennie
, whom I once had the privilege of meeting! I was probably 9-years-old when my late sister, Pauline, took me to one of the London cinemas in Leicester Square
to see a matinee performance. My memory is not as good as it used to be because I have had a bit of trouble remembering exactly which film it was! Initially, I thought it might have been, "King Solomon's Mines", but Michael Rennie wasn't in that film - so I think the film we saw must have been, "The Day the Earth Stood Still
", because that came out in 1951 and Michael Rennie was the star.
We had seats in the circle and, when we came out into the apparently deserted upstairs foyer, Pauline gave a sudden great big gasp. "Oh, look! That's Michael Rennie sitting there.", she whispered. I don't think I knew much about Michael Rennie, the actor, at the time but I turned and stared at the handsome man perched on the edge of a circular display in the middle of the foyer. It was definitely the man I had just been watching on the screen! I think he was reading a newspaper and he was obviously waiting for a friend. "Why don't you go and say hello?", Pauline urged me with a big grin.
I don't think she thought I would but, obedient little sister that I was, I marched right up to where Michael Rennie was sitting. "Hello.", I said. He looked up surprised, "Hello.", he replied. "How are you?", I asked. "Very well, thank you.", he said with a big grin. "I enjoyed the film, you were very good!", I commented. I could see Pauline out of the corner of my eye, hiding in a doorway, convulsed with laughter. "Well, bye-bye.", I said. "Good-bye.", said Michael Rennie. I remember how white his teeth were as he smiled down at me. He watched me go back to join my embarrassed giggling big sister, with his eyes twinkling and a huge smile still on his face.
[See also this interesting page
with lots of photographs.]
Saturday, 30 July 2005
The Coal Delivery
I woke up the other day with a childhood memory vivid in my mind. Why does that happen? Is it because one of my old brain cells fired a last message before it expired so that another brain cell could download the information and save it?
The memory I recalled was watching a man delivering sacks of coal. We had two entrances, the front door and the kitchen door. To get to the kitchen door, you had to walk past the front garden, down the side of the house (the length of our front room) and past the entrance to the coal cellar, where the deliveryman was unloading our coal.
Before and probably during the war, the coal deliveryman would have used a horse and cart but I remember that this man arrived in a flat-bed lorry with the one hundredweight sacks of coal neatly stacked on top. So, I was probably seven or eight years old. I remember he had to climb onto the lorry and move the sacks to the edge ready for unloading. His face and hands were completely black from coal dust and he was wearing a sort of cap or head cloth, which hung down his back. He would grab hold of a sack by the 'ears' at the top, turn round, bend forward and pull it onto his back. He then had to walk quite a few yards to the coal cellar, down some steps and then 'pour' the coal out of the bag. The poor man must have had lungfuls of coal dust doing that! He was certainly at risk of getting chronic Bronchitis or Emphysema
(especially if he smoked as well) or Black Lung Disease
, a form of chronic lung disease affecting coal miners.
It was probably late autumn - that was the time when my Dad would have been thinking about stocking up on coal for the winter. However, the man was very hot; I could see the effort he made to pull a sack onto his back and the strain on his face as he took the weight. A hundredweight is equal to 112lbs or 8 stone and, after delivering ten of those, anyone would be feeling somewhat weary! He must have been relieved when the last empty sack was folded and placed on his lorry. I remember his cheery voice as he knocked on the kitchen door to confirm all was done and to get his delivery note signed.
There are some very interesting historical photographs here
, including a photograph of an old receipt for one ton of coal delivered in December, 1934, and costing just £1-2s-6d — £1 12½ pence in decimal coinage! Today, most house coal is delivered in small clean 25kg bags (about 55lbs) costing between £5.40 to £6.65 although, I believe, you can still get loose coal delivered in sacks.
Sunday, 22 May 2005
Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989)
My late sister, Pauline, collected many autographs of famous actors, including at least ten signed photographs of the British actor, Sir Laurence Olivier
, all of which she obtained personally. This photograph is of him in the part of Hotspur from Henry IV part I, probably taken in 1945, when he starred in this role on the London stage. Laurence Olivier seemed to slip naturally into every Shakespearean role he played and he brought the characters to life with an intensity which was, and still is, the envy of many other actors. As a young teenager, Pauline went to see virtually every Shakespeare play he appeared in at The Old Vic
in London's West End. I don't think my father was very keen for her to go to the theatre so, a friend's mother aided and abetted her in a deception by 'inviting her for tea' so that her daughter and Pauline could attend matinee performances together without my father's knowledge. They would wait outside the stage door, whenever possible to collect autographs.
When she left school, and started working, (I remember her telling me that #5 per week was an excellent salary for a secretary in London, immediately after the war), Pauline had more freedom to indulge in theatre going. I think she had a bit of a 'crush' on Laurence Olivier at the time and she waited for him so often, he began to recognise her. I can remember her telling me that she had felt quite faint when he once placed his hand under her trembling hand to steady the page he was signing! He was aware of her reaction and had a huge grin on his face! I suppose you could say my sister was an original 'groupie'. At the time, I was much too young to join her on her trips to the theatre but I heard all about them. She told me of the occasion when 'Larry', great actor that he was, sat on a chair which suddenly collapsed. It wasn't meant to, she definitely knew it wasn't meant to, because it was the third time she had seen the play. But, to the rest of the audience, it passed virtually unnoticed as he took it all in his stride.
Often described as the 'greatest actor of the twentieth century', Laurence Olivier was born on the 22nd May 1907 at Dorking, in Surrey. He made some 14 films in the 1930s, including "Fire Over England", his first film with Vivien Leigh, whom he later married. However, I think that one of the best films from this era was, "Wuthering Heights", in which he starred as Heathcliff. Made in 1939, in black and white, of course, his burning portrayal of Heathcliff has made it into an ageless classic. I saw it much later on television and it remains one of my favourite films. He went on to star and direct in many more films right up to 1989. Those I definitely saw include "Henry V", which was originally released in 1944 as a 'propaganda' film, Richard III (1955), "The Prince and the Showgirl" (with Marilyn Monroe in 1957), Spartacus (with Kirk Douglas in 1960), Sleuth (with Michael Caine in 1972), Marathon Man (in 1976 - I think of Dustin Hoffman every time my dentist uses a drill!) and "A Bridge Too Far" (1977).
I finally got to see Laurence Olivier on the stage when I was fifteen or sixteen. He was starring in "The Entertainer" in Brighton. I remember I went straight from school dressed in my stuffy grey uniform and complete with satchel! I had a seat on the aisle. I was totally unprepared for the scene in which a nude model appeared on the stage. I remember feeling extremely embarrassed and I'm sure I went bright red. Certainly, I didn't dare look at the gentleman sitting on my left!
Laurence Olivier was knighted in 1947. In 1970, he was made "Baron Olivier of Brighton" for his services to the theatre, an honour which entitled him to a seat in the House of Lords. In 1981, Lord Olivier received the Order of Merit. He died on the 11th July 1989 in Steyning, West Sussex, where he lived with his third wife, Joan Plowright. He is buried in 'Poets' Corner
' in Westminster Abbey, the second actor to receive this honour, along with the 18th century Shakespearean actor, David Garrick.
Monday, 9 May 2005
Reaping Your Reward
Watching all those nostalgic memories of war-time Britain on the television last night, made me think of how we coped with food rationing; I know my parents did without many things themselves. I can remember my mother reminiscing about the war when she was old and frail - she was telling me about one of my older sisters who had complained about the shortage of butter. So, my mother said, she divided the butter allowance into little individual dishes labelled for everyone. My sister soon realised she had been eating my mother's ration too! I can remember my sister once giving me a bottle with the cream from the milk in it. I had to shake it up and down for ages to 'make some butter'! I don't think the resulting 'solid' tasted particularly good!
Now, my mother was a very kind and generous person, perhaps too much so. But one particular kindness was amply rewarded during the years of wartime rationing. For several years before the war, a blind man had been coming round each week with his little trolley selling bags of sugar at the door. My mother felt very sorry for him and had a regular order of (I think) two packets a week - 4lbs of sugar. She knew he relied on his few customers to augment his tiny pension. The problem was that my mother did not use anywhere near that amount of sugar each week but she was too kind to tell the blind man that she wanted to cancel her order! I have no idea what my father thought about it or whether he even realised that one of the enormous kitchen cupboards, which had deep shelves up to the ceiling, was gradually getting stacked with hundreds of bags of sugar! I can still remember, as a toddler, seeing four or five shelves of row upon row of sugar bags. I was born at the end of 1941 so, goodness knows how many were there when the war started.
Well, when war was declared, the poor blind man stopped coming. Rationing was introduced. You were allowed something like 8oz of sugar a week - not much if you put sugar in your tea and made puddings. It certainly made it impossible for the normal housewife to bake large cakes or preserve the fruit from her garden. Well, not for my mother! And she was able to supply the lady next door with sugar in return for lovely, fresh eggs from the hens she kept at the bottom of the garden! She would also give her neighbour potato peelings to feed those chickens. Nothing was wasted during the war. In addition, my mother gave bags of sugar to neighbours and friends as presents - they were always absolutely delighted - and sometimes we got something in exchange from their gardens.
After the war ended, food rationing for many items, including sugar, continued for several years. I have a vivid memory of winning third prize in the summer raffle at school one year. I must admit I wasn't too pleased with my cornflake box full of cooking apples but I remember well my mother's exclamation of great joy when she opened the back door to me and saw what I was carrying! We had stewed apples for tea that day.
Yes, God does sometimes reward real kindness in this life!
Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Houston, We've had a problem here!
On the 11th April 1970, Apollo 13, the third mission planned to land on the moon, blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 14:13 Eastern Standard Time. About fifty-six hours later, the mission was in serious trouble. Do you think it is strange or portentous that it was on the 13th
day of April, 1970, when the mission was some four-fifths of the way to the moon, that Apollo 13
, should be suddenly crippled?
The malfunction was caused by an explosion and rupture of oxygen tank no. 2 in the service module. The explosion ruptured a line or damaged a valve in the no. 1 oxygen tank, causing it to lose oxygen rapidly. The service module bay no.4 cover was blown off. Within about three hours, the command module's oxygen stores were lost, along with loss of water, electrical power and light, and use of the propulsion system. They were about 200,000 miles from Earth. The lives of the Apollo 13 crew, astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise, were in real danger.
It all happened in the evening thirty-five years ago, 21:08 EST. so it would have been very early the next morning when the news broke in Great Britain. I hadn't been up very long and I remember coming back into the bedroom to see my husband sitting on the edge of the bed listening to the news. "Apollo 13 is in real trouble
," he said chokingly, "they have had an explosion on board
". "Oh, no
!" The thought of three men stuck out there in space, knowing that they could run out of power, and air and water, before making it back to Earth, was to awful to contemplate.
The mission aborted, we heard that the three men had left the command module for the safety of the Lunar Module's lifeboat. Water was one of the main problems and not just for drinking, the system was water cooled. Also, the lifeboat was designed for two men, not three! The next few days were so full of tension - we were glued to the television bulletins. The three men suffered from cold, they lost weight conserving their rations, they could hardly sleep. We followed their every move. The relief was palpable when they finally splashed down alive and well in the Pacific Ocean on 17th April, 1970. It had been the tensest four days in our memories.
Well, do you think Apollo 13 was unlucky? It was certainly an unpleasant experience for all concerned but I think that the crew was incredibly lucky to survive. This was due to their own intense training and coolness under duress and also to the incredible work by the ground support personnel. So, although the mission was a failure, the rescue and safe return was a resounding and memorable success which contributed to the safety of subsequent missions.
Friday, 1 April 2005
Were you caught out this morning? Have you played a joke on anyone? Too late now as it is after midday! I wonder how many newspapers or television stations have run April Fool's stories today? I haven't spotted any, as yet.
I still remember my mother and myself having absolute hysterics over the spoof documentary on "The Spaghetti Harvest
", broadcast by the BBC's Panorama team in 1957. I could never understand how people were taken in by that one. However, another 'spoof' in 1984 about soviet scientists using DNA material from a frozen mammoth to impregnate an elephant did take me in at the time. I actually still think this could happen and I think I saw a programme two or three years ago about a Japanese scientist who was hoping to recover frozen sperm from a mammoth. Perhaps that was a fantasy also?
I also remember a week-long spoof by Esther Rantzin
's, "That's Life!
" programme, about a new animal called a Lirpa Loof
at London Zoo. I am sure it was presented by Dr. David Bellamy
who reported on its habit of mimicry and the fact that it produced purple droppings! Apparently, many people turned up at the zoo to watch this creature (a man in a costume) performing its antics!
Do you remember a spoof television documentary about Adolf Hitler? It was shown as 'postponed from 1st April' (I don't remember how long ago) and described Hitler visiting England during World War Two. He was shown looking out of a window watching a march by the British Blackshirts
, whose leader was Oswald Mosley. Sir Oswald Mosley was married to one of the Mitford sisters and in this documentary, Hitler stayed at the Mitford family home. It all started off as very believable but got increasingly bizarre. It ended with a 'home movie' showing the only film available of Adolf Hitler picking his nose!
Wednesday, 30 March 2005
Airey Neave DSO OBE MC MP (1916-1976)
I can remember hearing the news on the 30th March 1976 and feeling so shocked that a Member of Parliament had been killed by a car bomb as he was driving out of the House of Commons car park. At the time, I only knew that Airey Neave was the Conservative Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary and the Member of Parliament for Abingdon. Apparently, he had been assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Party, probably because of his policy on Northern Ireland and the IRA. He was also a close adviser of Margaret Thatcher, the then Conservative Party leader.
His murderers have never been brought to justice and there are rumours that a 'sympathiser', even an 'insider' had helped the INLP. [See The Day I met Airey Neave's Killers
an article by Paul Routledge of the Mail on Sunday, originally published in 2002.]
Airey Neave was a distinguished Barrister as well as a politician. But did you know that he was also a War Hero? At the start of the Second World War, he joined the Army as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and was sent to France. Wounded at Calais in May 1940, he was captured by the Germans and sent to a prisoner of war camp, Oflag IX near Spangenberg. In February 1941, he was moved to Stalag XXA Thorn in Poland. Shortly afterward, he escaped with Flight Lieut. Norman Forbes RAF, but they were both soon recaptured and were sent to the maximum security prison at Colditz Castle
In January 1942, Airey Neave became the first British Officer to escape from Colditz (his second attempt). He escaped with a Dutch officer and they reached Switzerland having travelled on foot and by train through Leipzig, Ulm and Singen. He then evaded through France, Spain and Gibraltar using the escape and evasion route which later became known as the Pat O'Leary Line
. On his return to England, Airey Neave helped to train aircrews in the means of escape in occupied territory. He was also recruited as an intelligence agent for MI9
, a branch of MI6 responsible for the support of the French Resistance. As a result of his war service, the French awarded him the Croix de Guerre.
In 1946, Airey Neave was also a member of the Nuremberg war crimes team. He wrote several books about his war experiences.
Friday, 7 January 2005
Doing The Laundry
Yesterday, we were looking after the grandchildren, as we do most Thursdays. When my daughter came home from work in the evening, she was telling me that her washing machine had broken down the day before. It is twelve years old so she had feared the worst and had visions of bringing all her washing round to my house until she could get a replacement. However, the mechanic had been round and, thankfully, the problem was not serious - and he had the correct spare replacement part, so all was well. The first thing she did was to fill the machine up as she had two loads to wash. That got me thinking. Nowadays a washing machine is an absolute essential in the modern home - could you do without one? Would you do your weekly wash in the sink? Even once? Is your sink even big enough? No - I didn't think so.
Things were very different in the past. As a very small child in the mid 1940`s, I have memories of my mother doing the weekly washing.
It seemed to take her all day! I think that before World War II, Mum used to use a laundry service for linen double sheets and large tableclothes and things like the detachable stiff collars men had to wear. But when war broke out, this stopped. I remember she had a very ancient gas washboiler with a large folding mangle. It lived in the `scullery' (utility room) and she used it for washing sheets, towels, linen tablecloths, serviettes and such like. This machine had to be filled with water by hand and had a tap at the bottom for emptying the water when finished. I think it had a paddle or something to move the laundry around in the water (manually, of course). I can remember helping her to pass the washing through that mangle. Items were still quite damp, of course, but much better than if you tried wringing them by hand. In the winter, it was not unusual for washing to freeze on the line in the garden. Ever tried dealing with a frozen double sheet?
For all the other washing, there was the washboard - a long wooden frame with a corrugated front. The sink was enormous - at least as deep as your arms and probably three foot square. Mum had a large bar of white soap which she rubbed on the clothes and then she pummelled and pummelled them against the washboard and up and down in the water for ages! Sometimes, she needed a small brush for stubborn marks on collars and cuffs. Then, everything had to be rinsed several times before going through the mangle or, for very delicate items, being pressed gently between two towels. She also had one of those large ceiling racks (you can still buy these) to hang washing up indoors when it was raining. You lowered the rack with a rope, loaded it up, and pulled it up again. Ceilings were high, so the washing was out of the way.
In the early 1950's, Dad bought Mum an electric Thor Washing Machine. This was a state of the art, top-loading machine with agitator action. It also rinsed and spun dried! I know we were the first in our road to have an automatic washing machine! It was a real luxury then and I can remember my mother being slightly embarrassed when she described it to our neighbours! Well, she deserved it. My lovely mum had been severely handicapped since contacting Puerperal Fever in 1921 from the midwife who delivered my eldest sister. She was very ill for a whole year and nearly died. [See the page on my website about My Mum
]. In those days, with a large family and myself (the afterthought!) still under five, she had a 'Charlady' twice a week to help with some of the housework but that still left a great deal for her to do.
When I was first married, I had a washboiler too. My wringer was my husband! How we coped with the huge number of terry towelling nappies, I don't know. It was several years before we could afford an automatic washing machine so I really appreciated it when we got one even if I had to drag it backwards and forwards to the sink to attach the pipes to the taps. I remember once forgetting to put the outflow pipe into the sink and the machine emptied itself at least three times onto the kitchen floor! That was fun! Well, the children, playing alone in the breakfast room certainly thought so. I was in the next room tending to my husband, who had just come home from hospital after his second hernia operation, and it was the children's hilarious laughter which alerted me to something unusual! I can certainly laugh about it now but at the time I wasn't too impressed over that episode. ('Why on earth didn't you call Mummy straight away?')!
Monday, 22 November 2004
On This Day
Can you remember what you were doing and where you were forty-one years ago on this date? I can.
I was on Brighton Station waiting for a train.
If you are old enough, you will probably remember where you were too. The 22nd November 1963 was a Friday and the special news bulletin that evening was patched through the station's loud speaker system... Have you remembered yet? The words I heard struck me with horror and disbelief. If I had been near a telephone, I would have rung home to tell them to listen to the news... You have remembered! The announcement I heard was grim: "The President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy, has been shot and seriously wounded as he was riding in an open limousine through the streets of Dallas, Texas." Everyone on the station stopped in their tracks, we looked at each other, not quite comprehending what we were hearing. I had a lump in my throat. He had seemed such a good man. The journey home seemed to take for ever and when I arrived at last, I rushed to hear the Evening News Bulletin. The President was dead. Our hearts went out to his wife, who had cradled her husband's blood-smeared head in her arms, and to his young children. Why had something so awful and so tragic happened?
I was on Brighton Station waiting for a train....
Tuesday, 9 November 2004
My Early Childhood
I read somewhere very recently (and I can't remember where!) that most people's earliest memories don't go back further than age three or four. The trouble with most early memories is that you don't always know exactly how old you were when something happened. Also, you may think you 'remember' something because you were told about it so many times or because you saw a photograph. Anyway, it got me thinking about my earliest memories and I thought I'd share some with you.
- Tasting salt! I was being carried and I know I was keeping my eyes shut and salt was put on my tongue. The only thing this could have been was my baptism and I was four weeks old. So, is this a real memory?
- I can definitely remember standing up in my cot. It was against the wall just to the right of the door inside our 'Drawing Room'. The door opened and my sister, Maud, stuck her head round and called out, "She's been sick" and disappeared.
- I think I can remember having a bath in the wash basin but I am not sure because there is a photograph of my eldest sister, Marie-Claire, sitting in the wash basin.
- I was in a long corridor with my mother and there was a nurse and a large pair of scales. My mother had to remove my clothes so that I could be weighed and I felt very indignant because strangers were walking along the corridor and I was naked!
- Further forward in time, I can remember being in a bed which was at the bottom end of my parent's bed. Again, Maud came in and this time she put bitter aloes on my thumb to stop me sucking it. It tasted AWFUL! I sucked my finger instead.
- Having whooping cough. I was sitting on a fluffy green rug in front of the fireplace in our front room, coughing away. My mother had just opened the door to someone who was in the hall looking in and who commented, "She is still whooping a lot".
- The sound of the Air Raid Siren. Standing under the stairwell and wondering why my sister Marie-Claire was rubbing and rubbing a plate with a tea towel (she had been helping with the washing up when the siren went).
- The droning sound of a doodle bug, the German V-1 unmanned rocket bombs in 1944, (I was 2?) - I told my mother "C'est un mechant avion" (a naughty plane) - she ran to the window to listen and I can remember her fear.
- Eating red berries growing on a bush outside the window and being given lots of milk to drink.
- Going to hospital to have my tonsils out, the sweet smell of chloroform on a mask a man in white put on my face, the nurse sitting me on a potty inside my cot and my upsetting it, my sore throat, my parents bringing me ice cream, the boy in the bed in the same room.
- A summer's day, Marie-Claire pushing me in my pushchair and I was urging her to run faster.
- Looking behind the garden shed and seeing several little spitting kittens. My mother didn't believe me at first but yes, there they were, as wild as anything. Later on, we saw the mother cat carrying her babies away one by one. A day or so later, my sister noticed our cat, Tibby, sitting staring at something in the garden. Every now and then, his paw shot out and patted something. It was one of the wild little kittens. The convent school gave it a home. It was a hot summer's day (probably July 1945) and I was playing in the front garden with the boy next door. He was called in and I thought of the kitten. So, off I went down the road. It was a nearly a mile to the school but I knew the way. I left my cardigans on garden walls. (My mother called the police). I remember being at the school - a summer fete was going on, someone gave me a glass of lemonade, I was having a great time. Then, I saw my sister Pauline coming across the lawn and telling me I was a very naughty girl. I remember going home with her on the bus.
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