Sunday, 21 February 2010

Saturday Nights

Every Saturday I came home from work, ate the warmed up meal that my family had eaten for lunch, and got ready for my Saturday night out. I went out every Saturday whether I had a boyfriend or not. Well, how was I going to get another one if I didn't go out? There was one time my father told me "You I can't go out wearing that." I couldn't see the problem so I'm glad I had a father who cared enough to put his foot down.

Someone in my town of Aylesbury was very enterprising and booked up-and-coming bands to play every other Saturday night at the Assembly Rooms and this event was called Friars. He would book the band before they were famous, so they were cheap, and by the time they played, they'd sometimes have their first record out and be on TV. It was very popular and I attended each fortnight. Whilst I was still too young to go, my brother went to see David Bowie. My mother was disgusted that my brother would want to go see a man who wore makeup. I remember seeing Wizard (a few times) and Mot the Hoople, but I can't remember the names of others although I think I saw the group that Brian Ferry was in (or was that Mot the Hoople?)

It was the sort of small town venue where, each time you went you saw many of the people you knew, so the times when I was boy-friendless, I would just go on my own. When I got to know some of the lads from the boys' school at our after-school ballroom dancing lessons, I would do some ballroom dancing with them at Friars for a laugh. I went out with a guy who created the posters for a while. They were hippy-like and very curly black and white line drawings and just the right style for the time. I don't know whether he got paid (he was still at school) but he got free tickets.

The entrance fee was 50 pence and bus fare about 20p, so I didn't have much money to buy drinks. I would buy a drink called Bitter Lemon and that would last me all night, but I would ask people if I could taste their drinks, so I got quite merry. I would always have to leave before the end, because my last bus went at about 11:30 pm.

On the Saturdays when Friars wasn't on, the only places to go were the pubs or an occasional disco at the Methodist youth club. I have a feeling the actual youth club night was not a Saturday. I went there a few times.

One of the misfits I went around with at school sometimes, was called Heather. She was the ugliest girl I've ever seen, but she wasn't one of those people who were ugly on the outside but beautiful inside. No, she wasn't particularly nice there either. I was a little reticent to walk outside of school with her but I consoled myself with the thought that by contrast to her I must look lovely.

She went to the youth club and met up with Graham who went to the boy's school. He was the ugliest boy I'd ever seen and they started going out with each other. They were so happy together and I was glad she had found someone, if a little incredulous. They soon got engaged and I wonder what their children look like.

I enjoyed the discos. They were much more fun than going to a night-club because we knew many of the people there.

There were two pubs that I frequented in Aylesbury. One was the Bell. Like all the pubs around the market square, it was old with a black-and-white exterior and low beams inside. I enjoyed going to that place with a group of people but it wasn't a place I felt comfortable going to on my own because as well as us school kids there were older people. However, I felt very at home at the Dark Lantern. It wasn't as plush as the Bell as it had wooden benches and stone flagged floors, but the atmosphere was friendly. The barmaid was the mother of the boy who created the posters for Friars and so I was careful to stick to buying just bitter lemon drinks. Looking back I am amazed I liked the place because it was a centre for drug dealing and many of the people there were stoned. I was very exuberant at that time, and would dance (on my own, with no-one else dancing) to the music. I didn't feel shy. It was amazing that all the times I frequented that place, no-one ever approached me to sell me drugs. I was a little miffed that I couldn't put into practice saying 'No'.

I sometimes went to the Dark Lantern during lunchtimes. When someone in my group at school said they were going up to the library we would say. "Are you going to the library or the 'library'?" The 'library', of course, was the Dark Lantern.

Those were the happy Saturday nights, but there were a few unhappy ones as I recall. The ones when I didn't have a boyfriend but all the girls I knew did. The ones where I walked the streets, not the pavements, but the middle of the road, feeling self pity and fed up with being alone. Each Sunday morning my mother always asked how I had enjoyed myself and I snapped at her because of course I hadn't enjoyed myself at all and felt bad because I didn't want to admit t to her.

Going to sleep on Saturday night was usually painful. I mean physically painful, whether or not I'd had a good time. This was because on closing my eyes the residue from the cigarette smoke that was stuck to my eyeballs stung my eyelids. However sometimes I didn't notice because as soon as I sat on my bed I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later still in my clothes with dirty teeth. Today in Britain the pubs are all smoke free by law but I never go into them now.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Saturday Job

I started my first job on my 15th Birthday because that was the minimum legal age to work. My birthday fell on a Saturday that year and I had lined myself up with a Saturday job working at Boots the Chemist. (It's a drug store for my American readers.)

The shop was laid out differently than it is today with a cash till at the end of each island of shelves. I was given the soap and shampoo section. Being surrounded by so much soap made me sneeze. I would help anyone who needed it; finding the soap they required and take the money at the till. Those were the days of lots of shop staff and you could always find someone to help you.

Someone paid me with a £50 note and as I'd never seen one before, I doubted it was real money. The customer assured me it was, because he had just been paid with it. I felt foolish. Many years later I remember holding a £50 note that was part of a large amount that I'd got from the bank to pay for a car, and I said "I've never held a £50 note before in my life!" But then I recalled the incident at Boots and realised that I didn't consider the money I handled in that job to be real money because it didn't belong to me.

I was relieved a few weeks later to be 'promoted' to the chemist counter because that soap really irritated my nose. It was prestigious to be on the chemist counter because it was a responsible job. People would come and ask advice about what they could take for certain ailments. I just love giving advice and so I was in my element. Behind the counter there were lots of little drawers full of packets, jars and bottles of pills and creams. They were in alphabetical order. It didn't take me long to know where everything was and what it was for.

Of course the potions we sold were all 'over-the-counter' medicines and at one end was the pharmacy. Our job was also to take the prescriptions from the customers and process them for the pharmacist to fill.

At the pharmacy end there was also a box with little packets of condoms in. Durex was the brand name and I never heard the word condom mentioned. The chemist counter was not the official counter for condoms. That was the surgical counter in another part of the shop. However, some people would ask at our counter for them and the senior shop assistant, Mrs Kemp, told me that they were there to save embarrassment to the customer. I had no idea what these things were or what they were used for. I found out about this box when a customer asked me for a packet of Durex. I had not seen the name Durex in any of the drawers or on the display counter so I called to Mrs Kemp, who was usually at the Pharmacist end of the counter, "Where's the Durex?" She rushed up to me with the box, sold a packet to the customer and in a hushed tone told me where the box was kept.

My father told me he was friendly with the senior assistant on the surgical counter because he talked with her each time he went in. I wondered why he would frequent that counter. I hadn't noticed him using lots of Elastoplasts (Band Aids) when he was shaving. And I also wondered why he didn't ask me to get them with my discount on Saturdays. (I'm glad he didn't.)

I enjoyed working on Saturdays. I got £1.50 a day. My mum told me, "Now you're earning money you can pay for your toiletries and clothes." Boots was next to the market stalls and my first purchase was a little burnt orange velour jacket that zipped up. It cost £1 and was unlined and didn't keep me warm at all but it looked as if it might and it was stylish and modern. I was proud of that jacket because the clothes my mother bought me were definitely not stylish.

I worked on that counter each Saturday for three years. I sometimes worked in the school holidays too but preferred Saturdays because they were busier. It was quite a different job during the week. There was the stocking of the shelves and drawers, cleaning the counters and serving the odd customer should they wander in. I remember replenishing the counter when a customer came up wanting to be served and I was irritated at the interruption to my work, when I realised that if there were no customers, I wouldn't have a job. The days, being a slower pace would drag along and somehow I felt more tired. We would pull out a drawer and perch on the edge to take the weight off our feet - very uncomfortable. Occasionally someone would trap a packet of glucose sweets in a drawer to break it open. "Oh dear, we can't sell that now. Well, we may as well eat some."

During my last year there I was given charge of the gift vouchers which had been put at the far end of the chemist counter to the pharmacy. I was the chief seller and had to cash up the till each Saturday, but still serve the medicines. After doing this a few months the manager, who was the father of a girl in my class, told me that some company investigators were coming that day and wanted to interview me. "Someone's been stealing gift vouchers over a period of time. I don't think you've done it but you've been at work each time it's happened. So I have to let them interview you. I'm very sorry." I hadn't stole them, but I thought of the sweets I'd eaten and didn't feel very honest.

The grilling was terrible. There were three of them, one woman and two men. They told me repeatedly to confess, or it would be much worse for me later. I cried. A permanent member of staff from my counter gave me a cup of tea in the canteen and told me not to let anyone see me crying.

Near the end of the day the manager came to me and told me that Roseanne had confessed. She was based across the isle on the diabetics counter and often popped over to help out selling gift vouchers if we were all busy.

A few months later I was in the magistrates court with a group from school as part of a general studies class. The first case was a guy who drove with no bumper (fender) on his car to take his wife to her nursing job at an unearthly hour in the morning. He was acquitted with a warning. The second was Roseanne accused of stealing the gift vouchers! I was so shocked at the coincidence of this that I don't recall many details apart from her plea that she gave them to her poor family.


Davey was still my boyfriend when my 15th birthday came around. He gave me a lovely watch. It wasn't expensive but I liked it and I needed a watch at the time. However my mum told me to give it him back.

She had this idea that if he gave me a present then he would expect 'favours'. I couldn't get her to understand that this wasn't the case, that he was giving me a present because it was my birthday and nothing more. So I gave it back and explained to him what she said. I was so embarrassed, and sad to see a perfectly good watch go back to the shop.

We didn't always stay with the group. Sometimes we would walk into the local small town and go to a pub there. One day Davey said to me "The landlord keeps looking at you. Why don't you smoke a cigarette, it will make you look older." Well, my parents both smoked and I hated the things. Davey smoked but I wish he didn't. I really didn't want to smoke. He lit a cigarette and gave it to me. The landlord was probably amused at the scene with me holding this lighted stick, feeling self-conscious, trying to put it to my lips but not being able to get it nearer than 6 inches. So I just sat there with the cigarette between my fingers while it burned down and tried to expertly flick the ash into the ashtray. I never went through that charade again.

Phyllis Briggs lived in my village and she had been in my class at Primary School. She would often make some remark which made me feel awful and I was upset when we ended up at the same secondary school. For the first few years she was in a different class but by age 14 we were in the same class again.

Before Davey started going out with me, he went out with another girl in my class called Lindsey Brown. I think she was one of the girls I sat with at lunch, who introduced me to the Sunday club. There was an advert on Television at the time for Hovis bread which had the slogan "Don't say Brown, say Hovis." So Phyllis Briggs, called her Hovis and would often quote the slogan as she walked by.

Lindsey happened to be away on holiday with her family the day I met Davey and, I didn't know this but, they were still a 'couple' before she went away. Of course she was upset when she got back and found she'd lost her boyfriend to me. It's funny that Phyllis Briggs, who up 'til then had shown no affection for me whatsoever, sided with me in the 'discussions' about it at school. I'm sure it was because she felt more affinity with me than with Lindsey, because of our shared primary years.

One Sunday afternoon I couldn't find Davey anywhere and so I asked around to see if anyone had seen him. One guy said "I saw him walking down the road with a blond Scottish girl." I laughed, not believing him, but sure enough it was true.

He came to me an hour later saying we were finished because he was getting married. The girl had come to visit him because she was pregnant and he was the father. This was a bit of a shock because he had been quite a gentleman with me, probably because of my age.

So that was the end of my first boyfriend and my last visit to the Sunday afternoon club. I was ready to move onto going out on Saturday nights.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Sunday Club

Reading about John Holt's observations on the school system has reminded me of my own schooldays.

I had the opposite view of school to everyone I knew. I loved the lessons but disliked the playtimes (recess). I enjoyed learning and found many of the lessons interesting, except when I had to hear a child, who was a slow reader, read. I was chosen for this task because I was a fluent reader, but I found listening to children struggling to read boring a tedious. Funny that I then went on to become a teacher (I didn't have the same view of hearing readers later in life fortunately.) I also remember feeling sorry for the teacher when I was 11 years old who had to hear the struggling readers every day, because these were the smelly kids and the teacher had to spend time being in close proximity to them.

I didn't like the playtimes because I didn't fit in with any popular group and didn't want to be with the other misfits. However, when I was a teenager at the girls school I attended, I decided that being with the misfit group was better than being on my own. It was very painful at lunchtimes because I felt the need to be sitting next to others so I wouldn't stand out as being on my own, so I found a group of girls whose parents were in the RAF and so lived on the nearby RAF station. They of course didn't fit in with any of the other girls because they moved schools so often, and had different life experiences.

I was 14 and they talked about the Sunday afternoon club they all went to on the station. I lived one and a half miles from it, a long walk with no public transport along the route. They invited me to go and so my dad took me in the car and I would call him when I wanted picking up 'cos the group would be going to see a film on the site after the club.

This was the first time I was exposed to so many males, although there weren't more than 15 or so, and there were about 10 girls. We drank coke and played records and some played pool and one guy kissed me. I didn't think much of it (and neither did he I learned later, giving me a bad report, to which my boyfriend Davey told me he refuted).

Davey was 18 like all the other lads and I was very impressed. He was from Scotland and we paired up and when we kissed it didn't come as such a surprise and I'm a quick learner so it was very satisfactory for both of us.

We all went to the pub after the club. I'd never been in a pub before, and didn't know what drink to order, but I remember my mother drinking a larger and lime when we went on holiday and stopped at a pub at lunchtime occasionally. Children were not allowed inside so we sat in the gardens. So I ordered a larger and lime. It's a good job Davey asked me what I wanted because I don't think I had any money. Ladies drank this drink in a half pint glass. I like the taste fortunately.

Outside, though, I didn't like the effect. I felt suddenly dizzy and off balance, but of course I didn't want anyone to know I'd just had my first alcoholic drink. I think I might have been within the law for being inside the pub at that age but no-one was allowed to drink alcohol until the age of 18. However the law didn't signify for young people then, and it's the same today.

We went to the place that was showing the film and, as we queued up I told Davey that he only needed to pay half price for me as I was under 16 but he quickly shushed me because the film was Dracular, and X rated, meaning only those over 18 could watch it.

This was another first (and last) for me. I didn't enjoy this horror film but everyone else thought it was hilarious. I've never seen another horror film. I don't see the point. - Oh, I think that's selective memory, because I'm sure I continued to see the Sunday films as long as I went to the club, and there would likely be more horror films shown.

So my dad came to pick me up and when I got home I told my parents what had happened (apart from the kissing bit). My mum, the spokesperson, said "We'd rather you stayed with a group than paired off with one boy and if the group is going into a pub, we aren't going to ban you from going. However, we'd rather you don't drink alcohol."
I said "Oh it didn't occur to me that I could have a non-alcoholic drink! What drinks are there then?" They gave me a list, and I was relieved because I didn't like the sensation the alcohol induced. (Unfortunately this reticence to drink alcohol only lasted about a year or so.)

The girls at school were astounded that I told my parents about the pub. It didn't occur to me to not tell them. I didn't have a perfect relationship with my parents, but it was obviously better than the relationship many adolescents have.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


This is a quote from John Holt;
"Children (like all people) will live better, learn more, and grow more able to cope with the world if they are not constantly bribed, wheedled, bullied, threatened, humiliated, and hurt; if they are not set endlessly against each other in a race which all but a few must lose; if they are not constantly made to feel incompetent, stupid, untrustworthy, guilty, fearful, and ashamed; if their interests, concerns, and enthusiasms are not ignored or scorned; and if instead they are allowed, encouraged, and (if they wish) helped to work with and help each other, to learn from each other, and to think, talk, write, and read about things that excite and interest them. In short, if they are able to explore the world in their own way, and in as many areas as possible direct and control their own lives."

Just in case you don't have the experience of going to a school, this is what he is describing in the first part of the quote.
  • Bribed - with a star, or sticker, and/or a word of praise, and/or certificate given in assembly, and/or time to choose an activity of choice (within limits given) for 'good', meaning compliant behaviour.
    - and all of the above along with a high grade for 'good' work. the child will get a good job, be successful if he does the work well.
  • Wheedled - ever heard a teacher encouraging a class to 'behave' and 'get on with their work'?
  • Bullied - Sent to Head Teacher or Principle's office for not complying, given detention, told to sit still and listen, not allowed to go to the toilet/have a drink of water, when needing to, not allowed to move from desk when needing to get up and stretch legs, having to sit in silence because the teacher insists on it.
  • Threatened with - being sent to the Head's office, being given detention, a letter home, not amounting to anything if the child does not comply with what the teacher wants him/her to do in the lesson. The child won't get a good job and be poor if he doesn't do the work well. The parents will go get fined or go to jail of the child does not attend school, (if the child is enrolled in that school).
  • Humiliated - when having to read something out loud and cannot pronounce the words, the teacher tells the child (so everyone can hear) that they have question 3 wrong, being chastised when all can hear.
  • Hurt - you fill in the blank

  • Herding a large number of children of the same age into a small space for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, does not seem to be the best way of helping children to become the type of adult you would wish them to become. If they are all at the same level of maturity, how can they help each other to grow emotionally? If most of them don't want to be there, it's likely they will act out their anger and feelings of dis-empowerment on those around them.

    This is why I have ceased to be a school teacher.

    Monday, 8 February 2010

    Designer Handbags

    As I was finding my gate in Toronto airport, on my way from Raleigh, North Carolina USA to London, England, I walked through the posh duty free shop. I don't often venture into these places as they don't usually interest me.

    I wandered past the designer bags and was really pleased that I couldn't find one I liked! I'd recently bought a bag from Walmart for $12 which I much preferred to any of the ones on display. I was shocked at this reaction and so, just in case I was being swayed by the fact that I couldn't afford any of them, especially as I'd just lost my money purse with over $100, I imagined someone telling me to buy any bag I liked as a present. (I have a good imagination.)

    So I wandered past them all again, really trying to choose one for my present, ..... and couldn't find any that I wanted to own! I told my imaginary friend, and asked if I may choose something else instead, but was told "No. It's a bag or nothing." So I'm still using my Walmart bag.

    Monday, 1 February 2010

    It's Snowing!

    Friday Night

    It's snowing!

    In North Carolina.

    Of course for the last few days it's been the talk of the state. Some parts of the state were told to expect an ice storm and earlier today it looked like we would have one.

    Ice storms are not good news because it's highly probable that branches and trees break with the weight of the ice, causing power cuts (or outages) as they say here.

    I'm leaving on Tuesday (weather permitting) and so this evening I cooked everything I'd bought to feed us until I go but I had to wait for all the meat to defrost. If we end up with no power until I leave, the raw food would just go to waste as George does not cook anymore. If er keep the power the stuff can just be warmed up.

    After I'd been cooking for four-and-a-half hours, my inner child wanted to go outside to see the snow. So I went for a little walk with an umbrella at 10:30 p.m.

    The snow is coming down thickly but the flakes aren't as fat as I've seen before in this state. When I got back to the house I noticed that my footprints first had been covered. I passed some lads having fun in the road. They'd written something on the road, the initials of theur favourite team it seems.

    That gave me an idea, so further down the road I wrote 'The light of God never fails!" I like writing that. I remember writing it in the sand on a beach many years ago. (And now I've written it in my blog. lol)

    The snow looked really magical coming down in the light of the street light. I enjoyed standing and watching it for a long while.

    So I missed the British snow but had the joy of seeing American snow in North Carolina.

    Saturday Morning

    Everything is covered in white this morning, although the snow that was on the branches last night has disappeared and there are icicles hanging form the porch roof.

    It's sleeting but not like it does in Britain. British sleet comes down fast and all at the same angle - bent into shape by the wind. It hurts and it's a miserable experience to be out in the sleet. This sleet is coming down slowly at all angles like tiny snowflakes, Very gently soaking you even under your umbrella, but it doesn't hurt.

    My first thought this morning, when I remembered it was Saturday, was that the children will be thrilled with it snowing when they have time off school to enjoy it. But the I remembered that in this state they get a day off school even on weekdays when it snows! These are called 'snow days'.

    This is because the state don't have many snow ploughs because it may only snow for a few days each year and it's not worth the expense. (Just like British homes don't have air conditioning because most years it's only needed for a few days, if at all.) Those ancient school buses aren't deemed safe to negotiate the roads they need to travel down to collect the children.

    This means that a certain number of days each school year are designated 'snow days'. One year when I was here teaching in an elementary school we overrun the snow days and we even used up the designated teacher non-contact days and had to continue teaching a few days into the summer holidays to make up the designated days of education. This was not popular at all, especially as many of those 'snow days' consisted of huddling in blankets and feeling dirty from not washing, due to no power from an ice storm.

    My Principle gave the staff the option of coming into school on Saturdays or clocking up the required hours for non contact time after school. I stayed many hours after the children had gone home each day anyway so I was glad to have this time officially recognised. During the aftermath of the ice storm, when the school was closed due to having no power, he had told all staff to come into school if we wanted, but I was scared to drive on roads covered in iced-over snow.

    When I moved up to Montana and spent the winter there, I used the same car with the same all weather (I found out) tyres every day on roads covered in iced-over snow, and realised I'd just caught the North Carolina apprehension which was unfounded.

    The forecast is 10 degrees F tonight so George is keeping all the blinds closed today to keep in the warmth (although the temperature isn't particularly cold now).

    They seem to like living in a dark house because I'm the one who opens all the blinds in the morning. He only opened one out of 5 in the living room when I first got here.

    I have a thing about light, and if it's daylight outside I like to have as much of it coming into my living space as I can. I even open the doors if it's warm enough. The room I sleep in here had blinds and curtains closed when I arrived and it took me a while to clear some space so I could get to the windows to let daylight in. Then I had the challenge of opening the windows that had not been opened for about 30 years but managed that with some help. Now I have the window open all the time. So not only do I have the curtains open but the window open too but don't tell George.

    I may close it tonight but I'm reluctant to because the oil fumes come through the vent each time a new surge of hot air arrives. George says it's normal, but I buy natural products so I don't ingest petro- chemicals through my stomach (via dish washing liquid that sticks to plates to make them sparkle), or through my skin (via washing products and skin creams) so I don't want them entering my lungs with the air I'm breathing.

    I may go out for a walk later to find a place open that has internet but in the meantime I'm enjoying watching a dad pull his son in a sled up and down the road.

    Saturday Evening

    Well, I went to the library and two coffee shops, a 90 minute walk in all, and none were open. I suppose they were not essential services so decided to stay off the road. During the night there were 600 incidents on the roads. The people of NC are just not used to driving on icy roads.

    It was interesting to walk because underneath the snow there was a layer of ice from the sleet.