Monday, 27 June 2016


On Saturday 25th June, we held a Family Day at Amersham Quaker Meeting House, with all sorts of activities for young people, including story-telling and a story writing challenge. Q Writers came along and displayed a selection of their family memories in prose and poetry.

Di - Di - Di- Di !!!!
Dah. - Dah -
Dah -

I was 7. I was in the middle of a huge Fairground. I was surrounded by hundreds of people but I had become separated from my Mum and Dad and I was frightened.

Suddenly I heard a very familiar tune whistling through the general cacophony of fairground music and noise.

Di - Di - Di- Di !!!!
Dah - Dah -

It was the tune that Granddad had taught the whole family and insisted we all learn it by heart. Every now and then he would test us. 'Whistle our family tune,' he’d say.

'Oh Granddad must I?' I would say.

'One day you are going to understand why this is so important,' Granddad would say. And suddenly I realized what he was on about.

The whistle I heard could only be my Mum or Dad.

Immediately I remembered Granddad's instructions.

'When you hear it, stand still and whistle back.'

I whistled back and mum and dad whistled again - this time it sounded nearer. I whistled again and suddenly there they were moving quickly towards me.

A most welcome hug and I was safe once more.

Thank you Granddad.

Cupboard Love

When I was about four years old, my sister and I were left alone in a room. I was playing with some toys on the floor and my sister, who was at the crawling stage, kept picking things up and throwing them randomly about. In exasperation I enticed her into a nice dark cupboard and shut her in. I was then able to continue with my game undisturbed.

When my father came into the room and demanded to know where the infant was, I believe I may not have answered. She certainly wasn’t banging on the door to be let out, so it was a little while before she was discovered.

The One-Eyed Fish

Mum was choosing plants at the garden centre while Dad and I mooched around the pets' section. Peering into an aquarium, we noticed a large fish with only one eye. "Poor thing," I said, "who's going to buy a one-eyed fish?"

I wandered off to find mum. "What's your dad doing with that assistant"? she asked.

"I think he's buying a one-eyed fish."

Mum shuddered. "Why?" 

"I felt sorry for it," Dad said.

Next morning the fish was gone from the garden pond and a heron had a satisfied look in his eye. We all felt sorry for the fish. 

Beware the Monthly Meeting Scones -a Cautionary Family Tale

It's the Friday before Monthly Meeting long long ago. Gran is busy baking for the customary Monthly Meeting competitive confectionary display. This occasion is unusual in that the offering is not burnt. Gran places the scones on the dining table to cool.

Granddaughter is preparing for one of those interminable summer examinations. She has not been much in evidence in the house preferring to hide away with her nose in a book. Gran asks if she will accompany her to the Monthly Meeting. Granddaughter refuses. The meeting can be a bit boring and is full of elderly ladies who possess an uncanny ability to guzzle an inordinate quantity of cake. The refusal provokes a litany of intense criticism from Gran. Granddaughter will never ever account to anything very much at all.....Although this has all been uttered before, this time something snaps. Accompanied by a banshee scream, the sacred scones are hurled, one by one,at the retreating Gran.

Then, gradually, Gran rescues the scones, brushes them down and places them in a tin. They are not to be wasted. Monthly Meeting will not be deprived of its scones.

Family Lunch

Lunch is planned on a warm, sunny day. 
Not easily arranged, but 'tis done - hooray!
Daughters and spouses, grandson and bump
The family'll gather to commune in a clump.

Well...... first there's a call from two of the party. 
We're stuck in the hospital, as bump's less than hearty,
But all will be well, no need for a fuss,
Carry on lunching and don't wait for us.

Black burgers and limp lettuce to share,
The infant gives up and sleeps in his chair.
By 3 though, others need to be gone
But back they'll come, if all can hang on.

The sun has gone and so has the day.
Plans gone awry but glum are we? Nay.....
By 5, they've all trickled back, by gum!
A family together. Ahhh!.....What's for tea, Mum?

Family Fun?

One cold and very frosty morning my big brother suggested that he, my little sister and I walk to a pond which we knew would be frozen, to watch the bigger boys from the local school skating. Their skating was impressive but rather overwhelming, and after a while we decided to go home.

On the way we passed another smaller pond and my brother suggested that my sister and I slide on its frozen surface. Unfortunately we did not realise that the leaves and other debris at the edge of the pond would not be so well frozen, and, encouraged by my brother, my sister and I ventured onto the pond. Our welly boots rapidly submerged below the water level.

We struggled out and a cold wet walk home followed, my brother, worried at my mother’s likely reaction, following a little way behind us all the way. My mother response was just to direct us towards large hot bath.....
Mud Larks

Shock horror.

"What do you look like! “Screamed my wife when she saw us.

We were on a sandy beach by the Baltic in Germany and I had gone for a walk with my children. We came to a place where a stream ran down from the small cliff and formed a pool. People were wollowing in the muddy pool. My son was horrified,but my daughter and I plunged in. How smooth and squelchy the mud was. The other people were squealing and throwing mud pies at each other. What a hoot. As we walked back to our spot on the beach my son kept his distance, but we just laughed at our state.

I have long walked in worlds unknown to you:

Aged seven, I set sail for Canada 
I boarded a ship named Carmania,
Sailing out of Southampton harbour on
September 1st Nineteen sixty five
I was sad because I’d lost my new shoe
In a mud puddle in the New Forest 
The day before. But we were going to
Start an adventure in a whole new world

My dad said I was a new Canadian.
When I became a landed immigrant 
Seven days later in Montreal, Quebec.
We did not remain, but travelled onward
By train to Toronto, where we lived in
A tall apartment block until we found
A home of our own at the edge of the
City. A village called Thornhill where the 
Pioneers built white clapperboard houses
More than a hundred years before we came.


Looking back to Manchester, Chorlton-cum-Hardy in the 1950s, Mother was making a point when she took on an allotment to grow potatoes. Dad’s ‘precious’ garden was the spur to her to do it. We were there; Mother away digging, I with a perfect friend, Margaret Morgan, and my little brother.

Excited by Margaret Morgan’s presence I had persuaded them that a neighbouring allotment belonging (Mother had said) to ‘nobody’ was therefore anybody’s. We picked the ripe gooseberries, had entirely stripped the bush when an angry allotmenteer yelled at us that those gooseberries were not ours and insisted that we put them back! This struck me at the time as impossible and slightly ridiculous.

We were marched home; poor Mother mortified, poor me very embarrassed - and misunderstood. Mother never went back to the allotment but did mention the incident from time to time - without, as I recall, any passion.

Wee Free country 

We’re off on our summer holiday. Saturday 6am, in time to catch the first ferry at Queensferry, long before the days of the Forth Road Bridge.

From midday, latest, come cries from the back of the car ‘Are we nearly there?’

‘There’ is Port Henderson in Wester Ross and if we’re lucky we will arrive by 5o’clock, in time to see the mail ‘bus’ disgorge post, people, packages and maybe a sheep or chicken. Whatever time it is on the clock it will be teatime, with high tea to follow, and the day will never end. It will never get dark enough to convince us children that it is time for bed.

Nevertheless, we get wee-willie-winkie candles to light us to bed.

Saturday late evening, and the woman of the house appears.

‘You’ll not be wanting these on the Sabbath,’ she says as she removes dinky cars, board games, jigsaws, cards, colouring books: every vestige of playthings.

Sunday dawns. The folk of the house all go to the Kirk, women in black, men in suits. Sinners that we are, we skulk off to the beach, hidden by the bracken that overarches the path, taking playthings and Mum’s home-made cake and gypsy cream biscuits - essential rations, as there’ll be no lunch till 3o’clock.

Tomorrow we can be free children again.

Saying Goodbye.

The year was 1956 and my brother David was 19 doing his National Service in the Navy serving on the warship HMS Forth moored in Valletta Harbour on Malta. The newspapers would have been full of the Suez Crisis that erupted in July 1956 when President Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company which had been run by the French with the British government as the largest shareholder. Britain and France decided to go to war with Egypt to protect their interests. The politics of the crisis were unknown to me at the age of 14, home from boarding school for the summer holidays. All I knew was that my parents were desperately anxious that David might have to go to war. Rumours were already filtering through that his warship might be one of the first to go.

David had been home on leave from his ship. I remember him telling us that his time in the Navy was mainly composed of swabbing down the decks, alternating with dangling against the sides of the ship on platforms suspended on ropes to paint the hull from one end to the other, and then starting all over again from the other end.

I have a clear memory of the day of his return to Malta and of saying goodbye. We travelled to London to see him off from a mainline station, probably Waterloo, to get the train to Southampton Docks. It was still the age of steam and the Merchant Navy class of locomotives. The platform was jam packed with people who had come to say goodbye, all milling about with sailors in their crisp white uniforms with bands of royal blue on the collars, caps set at typical jaunty angles. Most had their kit bags slung over their shoulders ready to board the train, and many had cigarettes dangling from their lips trying to look grown up and not like boys who only a year or so before had still been at school. David didn't have a cigarette dangling from his mouth but he did have one of Dad's large white handkerchiefs firmly held to his nose. He had a nose bleed and was frantically trying to stem the flow. The groups of anxious parents and family around each sailor were trying to give one last farewell hug or kiss to departing sons or brothers. Memories of the last war were still too raw for this to be an ordinary goodbye.

The engine was getting up steam. Smoke was swirling around us which made eyes smart and it wasn't only David who had hankies held to eyes or nose. The memory still held vividly in my mind is of David boarding the train with his kitbag hoisted over his shoulder, the stark whiteness of his uniform, red stains of blood on the handkerchief clutched to his nose, and clouds of grey smoke enveloping the huddles of anxious relatives. He turned for a final wave and the loco steamed out of the station.

But no call came for David and HMS Forth to go to Suez.


Early in the morning we three sisters put on our swimsuits and went shrimping. We bounded over the rocks on our hardened feet – we lived in Guernsey and rarely wore shoes in the school summer holidays – with our little buckets and began to rehouse every shrimp within a mile’s radius.

They were transparent and therefore nearly invisible, so we had to lie down and search with our fingers amongst the rockpools, turning over rocks and stones and pulling up seaweed.

“Got one! It’s HUGE” we cried out as we scooped up a tiny shrimp on its way to visiting its mother.

Soon our seawater-filled plastic buckets were little marine worlds of shrimps trying to hide in the seaweed and bury under the stones and shells which we had collected. Sometimes we found starfish clinging (in vain) to the underside of rocks – in they went. Limpets could also be cruelly bashed off their rocks to add variety. Little crabs lurking under sand were picked up by their shells and dropped in to keep the shrimps company. Their eyes were on stalks, and no wonder.

At home we boiled up the marine life (no elf’n’ safety then). What joy when everything instantly turned orange! We even ate it all!

Gardening with the Grandchildren

It was a good day for planting seeds. Nell and Beatrice, my two grandchildren, carried the trowels and I followed on with the watering can and the packet of seeds.

‘I want to open the packet,’ said Beatrice.

‘Say please,’ said Nell.


Beatrice tore it open; half the seeds fell on the earth and half on to the path.

‘It does say they’ll grow anywhere,’ said Nell helpfully.

‘I’ve got some garden in my boot,’ complained Beatrice.

‘Which bit?’ asked Nell, looking interested.

‘The bit behind me, I think,’ said Beatrice.

After she’d emptied her boot we all dug little holes in the earth and sprinkled the seeds in. Then we scattered some soil over them and firmed them up a little.

‘Now we need to water them in to finish off’, I said. Beatrice picked up the watering can. Soon it was empty.

‘Should she have watered my trousers too?’ asked Nell grumpily.

‘Look,’ shouted Beatrice, ‘Those seeds over there haven’t got any earth on them.’ She picked up a large handful of soil and and stuck it on top of the seeds.

‘Now I need to firm them up.’ She took a big leap and jumped on them - twice. ‘There,’ she turned round and grinned at us. ‘That’s finished them off’.

Bedtime Routine

Sunday evenings Dad always looked after Jane and me. Mum at chapel with the others; Simon, bigger, elsewhere. Each week, same routine. Hide and seek. Supper – cheese and tomato sauce sandwiches. He’d read us a story from a comic or an annual.

But the best bit was next – a bear ride to bed.

Dad on all ours. Jane in front. Me behind. Hang on very tight! And up the stairs we’d go to say our prayers and bed.

I don’t remember how old I was when this started, or when it finished, but it always seemed the same.

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