Letters from Spain – numero tres

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal

Mum and Dad editedHola folks…I believe I left you back in 2005, when there was excitement in the air due to the imminent short story competition being run by the Cultural Department of the Ayuntamienta (Town Hall) There was a natural, keen interest among members of our Torrevieja Writing group to enter and everyone was busy scribbling away like mad, me included. Being fairly new to the town, compared to several others, I needed to do more research, which is something I always enjoy, so set to reading up on its history.

salt lake tour editedI soon discovered that Torrevieja and environs was home to a valuable substance, once known as “white gold,” now a common or garden product – sal (salt!). Roman soldiers in the area way back were paid salt in lieu of wages it was so precious, and put the town and countless acres firmly on the map of the world. In fact, Torrevieja was such a tiny pueblo, it depended on the product for its economic survival. The famous salt lagoons of La Mata and Torrevieja are now designated as National Parks and are home to a huge variety of bird species, with over 200 sighted on the lakes.

Delving further back into history, I was fascinated to learn that via 15th C Roman Chronicles – in fact – local salt funded the travels of Christopher Columbus! As it also preserved fish, salt was found to be invaluable when travelling long distances, and who could eat a boiled egg without it!

Flamingoes editedMeanwhile, just how was I going to handle writing a riveting story about such a place?! I’d already written a few, modest tales but never entered one in a competition before…Umm. An idea then struck which sounded a reasonable ‘peg’ on which to hang my story. I’d become a TIME TRAVELLER. I knew nada about such a mode of travel (Who does… ), but what the heck, I’d give it a go and it worked out a treat. I mentally travelled backwards and forwards at will, incorporating actual history, linking it neatly to fiction. Of course annoying doubts gathered along the way; they often do. But at least/last it was finished and the dreaded judging time arrived. The Palacio de la Musica was packed, fingers were nearly nibbled to the elbows, etc., and I thought I heard my name called out. It was! Wow and eek… I’d won first prize. Being something of an introvert when it comes to crowds and public speaking, AND being interviewed in Spanish, twice, was a bit disconcerting, while sweetened by a generous cheque and a most friendly reception. The international competition was held for two further years, when I was one of the judges, which was great fun and a privilege.

Before moving on, I’ll just share a few excerpts from my story:

“…Spain – after much barbarism (via) the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans – finally emerges as the most advanced of the provinces under the Romans. I became a Time Traveller before the Visigothic Kings succeeded Rome’s domination and witnessed too many tragedies… and did much century hopping when the Vandals were around…”

Moorish edited“Spain attained her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century. Although bloodthirsty, that period was exciting and the Moors left behind an admirable legacy of wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, (and) exquisite textile designs…”

“Men seem to have a penchant for war but, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look to the sky.”

“It is March 2lst, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. Around lunch-time, there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have been over 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast, and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp; my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable … I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and, inside Carlos’s villa, plates fall and smash on the filed floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes: in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish, along with 36 animals and 67 people are injured. As in many other households, tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’s wife Maria is making paella in the kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos is out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – now a bent, old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes; a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness as Maria was so full of life. The reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Fernando VII.”

***

Treasure Island Ship editedTorrevieja slowly grew into a town buzzing with activity and industry and 250 ships were built in sight of the Casino. Two of the ships became famous in later TV and films: one in ‘The Onedin Line’ the other ‘Treasure Island.’

Today, it is a modern-leaning, fascinating and cosmopolitan town of 100,000 people, with beckoning, clean beaches and green parks aplenty, eager to cater to the curious traveller.

Adios until next time.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Pics via: Euromarina.com, servigroup.com, Michael C Snell. Treasure Island painting by Geoff Hunt

Another letter from Spain

“In each human heart is a tiger, a pig, an ass, and a nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity!”
Ambrose Bierce

Mum and Dad sml 2

Now, where was I… Not ‘the bravest girl on the block,’ I nevertheless had a handy store of optimism and surprised myself by my determination to beat the pesky, would-be burglars I was aware of lurking like wary wolves. No exaggeration! OK there was no snowstorm, north wind blowing or eerie howling, but we (the seven or so couples residing on the site) knew that cigarettes glowing in the darkness of half-built houses, meant itinerants camping out and keeping watch. We quickly formed a “Neighbourhood Watch” after the window frame and intricate metal grille of the house behind us was removed and electrical goods stolen, and I disturbed a guy using a pole as a battering ram to break in the font door, three houses down. I never thought I could yell so loud… but three male saviours came running and the guy quickly disappeared. Although my brother: a building surveyor in the UK, had examined and put his “Seal of approval” on the standard and quality of our property, there was a small design fault in that the Spanish had a liking for a miniscule, additional, walled enclosure at the side of the house, in which they housed their washing machines, which was open to the elements, and – you guessed it – a burglar’s dream come true. We covered ours up pronto. Not so our neighbour, who unwisely left everything of value in one bag, available, along with his pin number… You couldn’t believe it! Perhaps, having lived through W.W. II, we were more stoic than we thought. You know… “Can’t let the buggers win…” sort of attitude. Fortunately, after that, the police made regular, visible appearances and the villainy was more contained and gradually lessened and more or less disappeared.

Torre smlOur nearest, lively, town: Torrevieja – just three miles away – has a buzz, even in the cooler days of winter. There are ample shops, a Salt Museum (the area famous for its generous salt lakes), an Art Gallery and two theatres, plus a multitude of cafes and restaurants. And I mustn’t forget our fascinating old Casino of Moorish design. It is a most pleasant place to sit and watch the world pass by while sipping a Café con leche or something stronger. (Although the Casino wasn’t completely destroyed in the serious 1829 earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1896 in the “Fin de Siecle” style by the architect Aznar. It became the “Sociedad Cultural Casino de Torevieja” and many Concerts, Balls; Art and Photographic exhibitions have been held there).

Despite the original, most annoying hiccups, there were so many distractions and the weather was so glorious, our enthusiasm was only slightly dampened. The fact that we could see that cobalt-blue Mediterranean sea lapping the shore in the near distance from our large solarium, was a huge plus and there were so many places to explore and friends to be made… Ever since living in a small, friendly community on a mountain-side in Wales during the last war, I had unconsciously hankered after a repeat of the rewarding experience. We all seemed to need each other for one reason or another. My husband made furniture and was a dab hand at DIY, and being a practical and helpful man, found himself, at 73, much sought after. In fact, during the first five years there, our house was a bit like Piccadilly Circus with human traffic requesting help of one form or another. In between the graft, we had many, jolly parties on solariums to celebrate everyone’s birthdays, new life, or their dog’s arrival in their household!

House smlWith not enough hours in the day, we continued to make our new house a home, and set about titivating it further, until satisfied. Meanwhile, there were acres of beach-side and countryside to explore and our car’s wheels were ever turning. Between Torrevieja nearby and Moraira: a favourite destination, further along the coast, were many attractive coastal towns to visit, one in particular called Altea. Chosen as a ‘seat of learning,’ the town houses a University and is justly proud of its cultural standing and artistic bent. Answering a call of nature, I soon realised the bohemian side of Altea by the shape of the handles in the loo; (“Shield your eyes, Mabel!”) and the ‘his’ and ‘her’ paintings on the doors were an amusing surprise… Many concerts are held in Altea, and the Cathedral at the summit is an impressive building. The day we were there, we were blessed by the impromptu, soulful, guitar playing of a visiting musician. Optimism was in the air! I wish I’d had my camera with me as the view from a high balcony across the ocean to Benidorm, was memorable with sea and sky competing and the ‘white horses’ playing by the hem of the rocks.

It’s a strange phenomenon, retirement, because every now and then, I was aware of not working – or going out to work – and felt a tad guilty just swanning around so much… (I didn’t know what was around the corner then) but I at least joined a Pilates class to save my ageing body from wrack and ruin. One other, equally important, issue was bothering me. I wasn’t writing!! How could that be… I set about writing a monthly “Donkey Oti” (think about it…) Urbanisation Newsletter” with the competent assistance of an aptly-named Ron Merry (always obliging) to distribute among our ever-growing urbanisation (eventually 172 properties). And, yes, our swimming pool was finished, and a large, handy supermarket built in walking distance, so lucky us. Things were looking up

2019-10-22_145613 (2)As studying human beings and what makes them tick (from a lay person’s viewpoint) colours some of my time, I must introduce several characters who gradually peopled our “Urb.” The first – she could not be ignored – was a former, just retired, ex Fleet Street journalist, clutching a very RED pen… A Miss with a capital M, she showed much interest in my Newsletter, so I asked if she’d like to help. ‘In what capacity?’ she asked. ‘Assistant Editor?’ I suggested, for our Newsletter was growing as more and more casas rose to greet the sky and tenants filled them. For obvious reasons, I shall refer to my new assistant as Loretta. She proved to be a hard-hitting, down to earth, masculine-woman, who preferred dogs to most people; disliked children and smoked her living-room (who needed a brush?!) to a dull shade of yellow. BUT what tales she told of her travels around the world! Sadly, she is no longer with us, but we will long remember her acerbic tongue and strong presence.

Two other, male tenants rented a villa nearby and raised a few, conservative eyebrows. The older man of the two – well tanned – sometimes popped in for coffee of a morning wearing nought but a satin – G-string and a smile, and his partner, Marlon, was a sweet, most likeable guy. We hit it off straight away and he now and then asked my husband’s “permission” to whisk me off to shop… They were the source of great fun and we had a few, beautifully catered for, parties on their patio. They planned buying and running a small hotel and we inspected several likely properties further afield with them, but they were too fussy and ended up buying a house instead, and – being fidgety souls – ended up returning to the UK and opening a café there.

house and flowers smlWith gardens gradually blooming – with the ubiquitous, colourful Lantana, Bougainvillea and Hibiscus popular, plus the more reasonable cost of living when compared to the UK/Ireland and Sweden, and the more settled climate, the majority of newcomers in our maturing “village” seemed happy enough. And, although I wasn’t actively looking for more work, IT found ME! As many of the householders were part-time, we were asked to “Please look after our spare keys/switch on the electrics/buy a few groceries for visitors,”etc. With me being a bit of a soft touch, my husband held up his hand and said “Stop” and I became a paid “Home Service Operative” alias cleaner. Eventually, on a part-time basis, I looked after four/five villas for a few years. It kept the corpuscles working and me in trim. Although then in my 70s, I still had plenty of energy. Thereafter, I had a few minor health issues, so decided to cut back the work and concentrate on my writing.

Joining the Torrevieja Writing Group was a wise and desirable move, and I – along with my husband – also joined The U3A (University of Learning). I became a group leader of the latter, which led to a lot of fun and meeting more interesting, talented people. I then learned that the Cultural Department of the Torrevieja Town Hall were running their first International Short Story Competition…

More “Spanish shenanigans” soon…

Hasta la próxima

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

A letter from Spain, olé!

Spain is the soul-searing Concerto de Aranjuez for guitar by composer Joaquin Rodrigo, the Flamenco danced by Sara Pereyra Baras or Antonio Canales; palm trees swaying by the Mediterranean sea; tapas or a glass of chilled Sangria. Spain is the aroma from the orange and lemon groves; the salt lakes and flamingos, the joyful fiestas, and so, so much more…

The Year was 2,000 – a new century and an auspicious date to start our new and final chapter together. With both sets of parents sadly deceased and no grand-children to fret over… we finally, having experienced the joys of life in Spain on holiday on several occasions, decided to retire there. Ah, but which part?

Windmills in Spain

We had explored La Mancha country: the patch-worked and windmill-dotted plains where Don Quixote roamed with his side-kick, where the mauve saffron crocus grows in abundance, and walked the castle ramparts where “El Sid” was filmed… Also, the slightly suspect delights of Marbella and environs (spot the fugitive?) and various other regions but were undecided. And then, my adventurous husband read an article which clinched the destination. “Hear, listen to this…” he said, excited. So I listened.

Oranges

No less a body than The World Health Organization declared that one of the best regions, weather-wise and health-wise in Spain was The Costa Blanca, so that’s where we ‘stuck our pin.’ The weather in the United Kingdom was/is? world-wide notorious for having ‘four seasons in one day,’ and as his last job involved much driving, he would often nearly pull out his white hair in frustration, and one could hardly blame the government for that. For the weather, that is.

Our eldest son, Jason, had decided to, eventually, move to Denmark, as his partner, Ann was born there, which meant leaving our other two sons to live in our house in Essex. All three were mature and house-trained so no problems there.

Torrevieja Spain

The month of May saw us exploring Torrevieja (Alicante province) and environs. Our guide, a most pleasant Israeli guy, booked us into a comfortable hotel for three nights, took us to excellent, reasonably-priced watering holes and restaurants and showed us some tempting apartments and casas (houses). Decisions, decisions. On the last afternoon, we inspected a modest but pleasing two-bed-roomed casa in the Los Altos (the heights) area, a few miles from Torrevieja, and put down a deposit. ‘It will be ready in October – around the 2nd…’ we were told, and it WAS! (This last fact was a surprise as building was going on at a phenomenal rate but rarely finished to date.)

Glossing over the upheaval of re-organising our old home for our lads (phew) and having my flight cancelled by the airline at the last minute, with no choice about a replacement date (husband had driven our packed to the rafters car over with a friend) I finally walked once more on Spanish soil. Time for a gulp and a ‘pinch me’ moment…

Torrevieja Spain

We rented an apartment with my middle brother and his wife, and set about furnishing and equipping our new home, which was an absolute revelation. We were open-mouthed on choosing the basic furniture, to be asked ‘Would you like it delivered this afternoon?’ We plumped for the next day. Ordered curtains and light fitments were also brought, with the curtains hung and lights fitted with bulbs by the delivery men!! Wow and wow. Where was the famous mañana we had heard about? A most welcome introduction to Spain to be sure.

Our communal pool wasn’t finished, there was no supermarket nearby; we were using the builder’s electricity – so no bills – and had no TV for a year, so listened to more music, hardly a ‘Mayflower’ situation! (Doubtful Home-stickers had said ‘Aren’t you brave!’ which we found amusing.)

Then came the determined burglars, doubtless sent to test our resolve, but it only strengthened our determination to beat them! How did we do it? More soon…

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Photo credits

Windmills: Javier Alamo pixabay.com

Torrevieja: Jason Lennick

Orange grove: Tyler Shaw unsplash.com

Canadian capers – part II

If you missed part one, it’s here

PHOTO - TORONTO - ST CLAIR W edit

Exploring further afield, we were struck by the almost comical comparison, size-wise, between the UK and Canada. Our roads were narrow and winding, theirs wide and impressive; our houses modest, many of theirs roomier, especially new-builds. And when it came to cars, ours seemed mostly ‘toy-town’. Food portions too made our eyes widen. Order a sandwich in the UK, and you received two slices of white bread with a filling, and that was it. No pickle or side salad; Canadian-style, you also received French fries and a salad. Our rationing system had been harsh! This extended to clothes. I was used to wearing a dress twice before changing. How embarrassing!

W96XOCe editIt wasn’t long before we all found jobs: husband eventually became a Driving Instructor, passing all the strict tests, while I became secretary to a Count de Salis, who had another home in Switzerland and was a friend of Charlie Chaplin‘s (I was very impressionable in those days). The company was Canadian Reinsurance and suited me just fine. Everyone was friendly, except one French Canadian girl, but she eventually forgave me for being English!!

P1010018 editLooking back, we made the most of every hour. Television was still a novelty, there were some excellent films to see and wonderful music to listen to. We attended a fabulous Jazz Concert featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet Dan Vickery, played cards, went bowling, drove on wonderful WIDE highways to picnic near the many, clear lakes. The sheer size of the country was mind-boggling: the trees endless…conifer and deciduous aplenty. We journeyed past forests bursting with pines and spruces, green and splendid in their majesty. We explored nearby towns and environs, read voraciously (well, I did) and wrote dozens of cards and letters back home extolling the virtues and wonders of Canada.

20190730_141448 editWe were wowed by Niagara Falls (twice), camped near a river when I heard my first rattler (but didn’t see it), I never moved so fast! Six of us hired a large tent and pitched it near Lake Penetanguishene (?) but never slept a wink as the men joked: ‘Hush… did you hear that? Could be a bear/snake or Indian…’ creeping up in the darkness, when all I saw were nervous Chipmunks.x

20190730_141500 editAnd then it snowed… Not snow as we knew it in England – where just an extra soupçon brings life to a sudden halt, but heavy snow and BLIZZARDS. At first, we were enchanted – the countryside was a beautiful landscape of glistening, silvery white, until getting to work was a chilly experience: ‘over-drawers’ and thick boots a must. But the street cars coped well for the most part and the snowploughs did an excellent job, except in outlying areas.

For leisure-time, our men made toboggans and we had great fun skimming down nearby hillocks. We were like pigs in mud! Then, quite suddenly, our tenure was changed by an innocent occurrence.20190730_141507 edit

A guy we befriended on board ship: Tommy, was an “expectant father” when his wife was whisked into hospital, where she gave birth to a son, who – sadly – was not expected to live. He eventually returned home, naturally deeply upset, when the phone rang and an apologetic nurse explained there had been a temporary mix-up, and not only was the newly born child a girl, she was also in the best of health, once, ecstatic, he had high-tailed it to the hospital to be reunited with mother and new daughter, he called on us to share the good news and out came the shnaaps. By then, what had been a light fall of snow had become a raging blizzard, so we suggested he stay the night in our spare TV room. Apparently, not a good idea.

The next morning, our zany Latvian landlady– who we often found sitting on the stairs watching and listening to us as if we were suspect drug addicts or something, came up in a great state of anger and over-excitement shouting “You go, you go, no-one else stay here. Against rules!” And so, in another blizzard, we trudged the streets after work, in the dark, looking for yet another retreat.

toronto-storm-vintage-image editWe found one, and yet again, our landlady said. “I don’t allow locks on the doors!” What was it with Canadian landladies?! We later discovered why this particular woman didn’t like locks. She was riffling though our belongings. We double-checked and were proved right. What was she looking for?! We decided not to stay any longer, but before we left, the police arrived and arrested her for threatening a child with a baseball bat for hitting her only son. We certainly knew how to pick ‘em…

Roost No.4 was something else altogether and we had fun there. Friend Tommy was ‘overseer’ of a rambling rooming house in down-town Toronto. The basement was “going cheap” and apart from needing a clean and paint-up – which we soon accomplished, we moved in. We painted “Hernando’s Hideaway” over the doorway (from “The Pyjama Game” on at the time) purchased a few bits and pieces and soon made it comfortable.

A “very friendly” young lady occupied the large, ground-floor front room and I commented on how many men friends she was lucky enough to have and how clean she was… Naïve’s not the word! She vacated the premises after a short stay and two men moved in. On the third night of their tenure, we were woken up by, what sounded like a battalion of men from The Royal Mounted Police, (fortunately sans horses) and the new tenants were arrested for drug-smuggling. Oh, we did see life!

20190730_141514 editThere followed a hiatus of calm and we went about our business and enjoyed life. There were countless cafes and restaurants to dine and wine in, and my company gave two fabulous parties; one in the summer on the Yacht Island on Lake Ontario, the other in the elegant house of our senior director at Christmas time, full of festive cheer. We drove to Ottawa and visited Montreal – where a cousin of my husband had moved after marrying a Canadian, calling on an Indian Reservation and meeting an educated “Chief Poking Fire,” and family. Educational and interesting.

Reading the above, you may be surprised to learn that, despite the good times and our great experiences, our feelings of homesickness grew rather than diminished. So, saying a sad farewell to the good friends we had made in Toronto, we returned to the UK. Home is where your heart is, after all. That’s not to say, once we had settled down again, that we didn’t miss Canada. We did and considered returning. But I then became pregnant with our first son and didn’t have the heart to deprive our mothers of grand-children!

Footnote: Many years later, we were lucky enough to visit Vancouver, and The Island, both of which we fell in love with. Two of our good, Irish fiends moved and settled there and were wonderful hosts. Canada is certainly a beautiful country and well worth a visit.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

 

Picture credits: John Chuckman collection, Scotch Moss on Imgur, The Vintage Inn, personal collection

Canadian capers – part I

The year was 1957, and while World War II was well behind us, surely another war wouldn’t break out over the Suez Crisis, would it?! Meanwhile – with the complicated political shenanigans proceeding and hotting up – queues at the petrol pumps were creating huge problems and racked tempers for drivers in the UK, more specifically, my dear husband! As he was a “door-to-door salesman,” he really needed his van to make a living! The situation grew so serious, Canada House became a target for would-be immigrants and the queues vied with those at petrol stations.

no warThe potted history of the situation was as follows: The catalyst for the joint British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt was the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser in the July of 1956 but because of bad vibes between Russia and the USA and talk of a ‘nuclear’ situation, Eisenhower intervened and the troops were withdrawn. Canada was still large on my husband’s horizon, less so on mine. Here’s what happened!

‘Im indoors, having a very positive and persuasive manner, somehow or other convinced me it was a sensible and advantageous move to live in Canada, and so we joined the queue, even though I shed a few buckets-full of tears at the thought of leaving my beloved family behind. (Hardly the “Mayflower” type at the time! I changed.)

And so, with large trunk and suitcases packed, he and I, with several friends and family members in tow, and tears galore, bade goodbye at Waterloo station. ‘I’ll never see you again…’ wailed my dear, maternal grandma, my mother was beyond words… and then the tannoy system informed us that ‘Due to a dock strike in France, the “Il de France” sailing to Canada has been cancelled. Passengers due to sail on her will be transferred to “The Italia” which will be leaving in the morning and docking in New York.’ Surely an omen, I thought! Talk about an anti-climax… everyone went home, except us, and we spent the night in a flat due to be my eldest brother’s home in London when he married a few months later.

italia-editThe next morning, my dad, bless him, came all the way to Southampton to see us off. Mum couldn’t face it. We were the last on board ship, as there was a delay locating our trunk! Another omen?

I saw sense and pulled myself together. (‘If we don’t like it, we can always return,’ my other half soft-talked.) Our fellow shipmates seemed a pleasant, varied bunch; we were allocated a first class, huge cabin, and thoughts of walking down Time Square and exploring The Big Apple suddenly appealed.

Our very first, longer sea voyage (the previous short one being to the island of Jersey) proved to be most enjoyable, except for the presence of a badly scarred and obviously hostile German steward who we avoided when we could… All was fine and dandy – until we hit deeper waters and an unusual swell emptied the breakfast crowd like Houdini – my husband being among their number. Luckily I seem to have a good “sea stomach.” Soon all was tranquil again and we floated/swam in the pool; did lots of fine dining and sunned ourselves on a steady deck.

teddyIn the passenger mix, were famous British singers Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr, who serenaded us at the last-night party with their recorded and popular “Sing Little Birdie,” which was fun, and sailing past the famous Statue of Liberty looming out of an early morning heat-haze the next day was an exciting first. “Time Square” wasn’t and disappointed, but oh the delights of shops which never closed; supermarkets (?), air conditioning (?) and so much that was different in so many ways. It was June though and NY in June can be mighty hot for a Brit! We sizzled.

Generous, distant relatives: lovely, hospitable Bill and Mary Boyle, kindly accommodated us for three, action-packed, days when we ate our first pizza and hot dog (mixed reactions), visited Coney Island (a let-down but still a breeze – and we had the bruises to prove it! ) I bought a polka-dot dress in Macy’s, and we strolled in Central Park: an oasis of calm in a noisy, teeming city. The next day, we left – adrenaline flowing – for the land of the Maple Leaf and The Rockies.

postcard-torontoAfter a comfortable journey, we arrived in Toronto in a near Hurricane – some Palm trees nearly bent double – disappointed our expected friends were not there to meet us (we’d telegrammed) and we felt like a couple of refugees. Oh dear. We telephoned another contact and a most generous couple met us, fed us and put up for the night! How lucky was that. The next day was a total turn-around.

Awaking to bird-song: we were near, huge, Lake Ontario, a bountiful sun beamed down and we were brim-full of optimism. We were spoilt by the choice of apartments to let, a temporary plan, and soon found a large, immaculately clean rooming house nearby which proved to fool us! The owners were German Canadians, seeming pleasant: the wife a “House-Frau” with knobs on… There were no locks on any doors, which should have been a clue. There being two, single men on the premises, made for an uncomfortable feeling. We didn’t plan staying long, which proved prophetic.

Our “missing friends” found us, so we invited them around for a meal and a game of cards the following week. We played the wireless quietly, aware there were two children asleep downstairs. Apart from dear H divesting himself of a tie, there was no strip polka or any other raucous goings-on, and our friends left at midnight. Oh, had we blotted our copy-book. The next morning, an irate Frau said:

‘You must leave next week. We don’t allow guests in our rooms.’ So that was that.

psycho houseRoost No. 2 was something else… Imagine, if you will, the house in the film “Psycho” – innocent enough in daylight – but once dusk hovered, imagination came out to play. Nevertheless, it was solid, spacious, clean and had enough rooms to share with our friends, which worked well financially. It was near Castle Loma, Toronto’s only “Castle.” Again, there were no locks on any doors (?) The owners lived on the ground floor, we shared the first and a couple rented the floor above us. (Note: ‘He’ – we never met ‘them’ – played the organ every night from 11 pm to 12 pm. A noisy fact.)

Except for having to use the huge, creepy, claustrophobic cellar where the washing machine was housed (plus mysterious objects hidden and clothed), and where the sinister, gold-toothed lodger periodically appeared – quiet as a cat, making my heart pump – the arrangement with our friends worked well. We shared the housework, cooking and costs. Life was good.

End of Canadian capers – part one. Read Part two here

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

A tribute to my father

20181207_201010My dad – in serious mode one day – told me: ‘I lived for one day in the reign of Queen Victoria!’ (he was born on 2lst January 1901 and she died on the 22nd.) Other than it was a fact, it played no role whatsoever in my father’s life… but, while not destined to shine on the world’s, or any other, stage, for a modest member of the hoi polloi, he was a man to stand up and be counted.

Named Charles Edward, first child of Rose and Charles Mansfield, he grew up in the company of four brothers and two sisters: a Cockney, born to hear the bells of Bow church. Aspiring for better conditions than those surrounding them in the east end of London, not to mention fresher air, the family moved to rural Dagenham Heathway in Essex, and a small villa backing onto verdant fields, leading, eventually, to the River Thames. ‘Little Charlie’ was a nipper in a sailor-suit with golden curls at the time, as recalled in a wall-framed photo, while his hair darkened with the years and even grey was a late-comer.

The whole family worshipped in the Catholic religion: Charles senior threatened to belt anyone who did otherwise, and was a force to be reckoned with. Conversely, he was a giving man with a lively personality and was a Freemason. The whole family – while outwardly a tad arrogant, despite being gregarious and fun-loving – were most charitable and kind. Grandad was one of the founders of The Working Men’s club nearby, and it later amused me to see my other, financially poor, benign Grandad Samuel having a pint under a framed photo of the stern-looking “CM”…

Although all the boys attended state schools, dad’s two sisters were sent to a convent school and both were gifted needlewomen and did “good works.” Dad was a bright scholar, particularly in English and art, received high grades and a few awards, so it was a surprise that he chose to work as a Lighterman * on the River Thames, like his father before him. (While Mansfield senior had chosen to ‘rise in the ranks’ and had a financial stake in the company they worked for.)

As the First World War was then raging and Charles was seventeen, he just caught the tail-end and served as a Royal Air Force cadet, which whetted his desire to fly.
SEPIA DAD – circa 1918

A blue-serge clad, fresh-faced youth,

‘broom-handle’ back,

swaddle-legged “At ease” proud –

gazes at me – unseeing,

from his sepia world.

 

His eyes are filled with

anticipatory excitement:

for he flies in fancy with the stars

by night – gazes with ardent longing

on the winged air-borne phantoms

silhouetted against the moon.
No clairvoyant messenger

foretold the future.

How could he have known that

in but two decades

he would. again. experience the horrors of war;

be captured for posterity in similar stance?
The burning question remains unanswered;

What to do with tyrants?

A dichotomy…

Could genetic engineering one day hold the key?!

Joy Lennick

 

Familiar with the lively personalities of brothers ‘Prince,’ (named after a tug!) Harry, Basil and – the younger, much quieter, Bernard, I’m sure Charlie enjoyed the years between 1919 and 1928, around the time he met his future wife. The Mansfield brothers sparred and boxed, fished, and played raucous games of cards, in between cutting up many a rug in many a dance-hall, and downed many a pint too. Charlie, being the eldest, was often taken to the Opera by his father (much to his dismay…) but he enjoyed fishing with him on many a weekend morning, and it remained one of his favourite hobbies, of which there were many. Charlie also played cricket now and then, and enjoyed a game of football.

One night, while dancing in The Cross Keys Public House in old Dagenham,. he caught sight of a beautiful young woman called Lila, and was soon enamoured. They danced well together and that was the beginning of a loving romance which lasted fifty-five years.

Much to the chagrin of his parents, Charlie married his sweetheart, Lila, in a Registry Office instead of the Catholic church, and they settled for a VERY mock Tudor house in Rush Green, Romford, Essex where I first aired my lungs – moving to a newer house in Dagenham to be nearer the railway station and shops, where they remained throughout their long, happy, marriage. Dad eschewed cars, preferring cycling and enjoyed walking, and soon proved to be a dab hand at gardening. Being a plotter and planner, and a great lover of roses, he soon had his pride and joy mapped out on paper and in fact.

There were climbing roses, gloriously abundant and draped over fences, standard roses and bush roses in various shades and aromas: a favourite the yellow ‘Peace,’ and many other flowers vying for attention. He also grew beans, carrots and potatoes for a while, plus tomatoes, and we had wild loganberries growing over the back fence, which we drooled over. He loved pottering in his shed and cosseted a modest lawn. I can imagine how he swore when that nasty, infamous man with a moustache waged war on the world and he had to dig a huge crater in the middle of his precious plot for an air-raid shelter to be erected!

I was the eldest and only daughter, to be followed by three brothers. Terence John was born two years after me and Bryan Charles four years, while Royce Kenneth arrived just before the end of the war. Dad was an ethical, fair-minded man and only ever smacked me twice. Once when I beheaded his prize tulips (aged two) and mum warned him “Don’t you EVER hit her again!” but he was obliged to when, as an ardent reader, and teenager, I ignored his plea to help my mother one Sunday morning. He pulled me out of bed with such force, I hit my head on the door and vowed to leave home. But it rained, so I didn ‘t… We always knew when we had displeased dad by the stern look on his face, and quickly behaved as we were all a bit afraid he might erupt. He had that sort of strong presence we respected, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. Although fairly self-contained, he could and did wax lyrical now and then and wrote strong letters to the local paper on subjects he felt passionate about, but also loved a good, earthy joke.

During his leisure hours, my father was always busy as he enjoyed hooking rugs with my mother (they made several) and was drawn to making model aeroplanes. He had a small table in his bedroom and I can still conjure up the strong aroma of dope**… When complete, we often went to the local park to send them airborne. They didn’t always survive!!

Apart from reading a lot, being artistic, dad loved to do Calligraphy, of which he was a dab-hand. He also collected stamps and his decorated books were a joy to behold. And he loved words…Whenever the family joined in a Christmas or birthday celebration, he carefully planned party games, often including “Truth or Lie?” or some other word teaser.

Charlie editedIn 1939, while already serving in the Air Force Reserves, dad was one of the first to be conscripted when World War II started. After seeing us safely evacuated to Wales (Merthyr Tydfil), he then left for ‘parts unknown – probably France,’ he told Mum. There were tears and anxiety before we received two letters, from France, as suspected. In one letter, he told us (having thoughtfully packed a teapot! And tea…) after a long train ride: ‘Guess who went up to the train driver for some boiled water?!’

They called the first part of the war, “the phoney war” as there wasn’t much action in the UK or France, but it soon hotted up after dad had a brief spot of leave. Decades later, I was to read his diaries kept at the time (excerpts of which I re-recorded in my memoir My Gentle War). While out walking at dusk in the countryside… “Searchlights picked up a Jerry bomber and a Bofors gun was letting rip. Suddenly, a ball of fire headed towards me as a shell left the muzzle- It seemed to approach me at zero feet at about 400 miles per hour!! Needless to say, I dived smartly into a ditch. The shell was later described as a “Flaming onion”. It reaffirmed my belief that life is very precious.” He saw plenty of action after that incident and he and half a dozen of his fellow airmen were machine-gunned by a low-flying German aircraft but luckily escaped injury. Apparently, their ‘digs’ were in a huge, abandoned, farm building near Merville, and dad came upon a small café/homestead run by an attractive woman called Clemence, whose husband was in the French army. (Reading between the lines in his diary – maybe because of his very blue eyes and charming manner – methinks she fell in love with him!) He drummed up business for her café, urging her to cook egg and chips for the Brits and hamburgers for the American soldiers camping nearby. A firm friendship was formed, until the Germans advanced and Clemence begged him to: “Stay with me, Sharlie. I am frightened of the Bosch. We can live in the South of France.” He gently explained that he loved his wife and children and there were many tears before he left. The Germans were, by then, unstoppable and he and his unit were lucky to escape by ship to the UK before Dunkirk. He wrote in his diary of how terrifying was the bombardment by the German aircraft the night before they were shipped back. Many boats and ships were blazing out of control and he likened it to “Dante’s inferno!”

Clemence wrote to my parents after the war, and on my first holiday abroad, I spent several, memorable and enjoyable, unique days with my Godmother in her home just before I left school, when I was spoiled a treat! Clemence remained in touch with my parents for many years and even sent us a food parcel when things were a bit tough before rationing ended.

In the latter part of the war, luckily, dad was stationed mainly in Essex, so was able to spend short leaves at home with mum. My youngest brother, Royce was born in this period, just before the “all clear” sounded. Naturally, at the war’s end, we were all ecstatic to, again, be settled in our old home. Our head count was complete, unlike in our paternal grandparents’ house. My sweet, shy, Uncle Bernard, aged 22, (Dad’s youngest brother) a navigator in the Royal Air Force, went down with his plane, and plane and crew were never found. Grandma never wore black and always lived in hope he would return one day…

Dad soon adapted to “civvy life” and again working on his beloved River Thames. Our house was within “hooting” distance of the river and when I was curled up in bed at night and he was working late and it was foggy, I would listen out for his tug’s mournful “fog-horn” and hope that he was safe.

When he retired from work, dad embraced it with enthusiasm. He and mum had a few, enjoyable holidays abroad, and there wasn’t an hour that he didn’t know what to do with…We bought him a sheep-herding-type-dog – not much called for in Dagenham – he called Whisky as he was black and white, and they became good pals. There was a small lake at the end of dad’s street and it was arranged, through his love of fishing, that he kept it stocked with fish and an eye on it; like a Bailiff. He had a punt, and he and Whisky, I’m sure, spent many happy hours there.

Sadly, in his early eighties – having smoked a lot in his younger and Air Force days – dad’s lungs gave up. Mum was bereft and we all missed him and his very strong presence. Dad acquitted himself well while on earth and was always happy to help his fellow-man, especially in WW II when he came upon a poverty-stricken French family and gave them a Christmas they never forgot. As I grew older and thought more on the subject, I realised that dad, while not in the least ambitious, was one of the most contented men I ever met. He knew exactly what he wanted from life and it was kind enough to give it to him on a plate: a loving wife and children, enough muscle, brain and good health to work hard, and to indulge in many hobbies to his heart’s content. RIP dear dad, I always imagine you in your gum-boots, carrying a watering can… I bet your garden is the most beautiful.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019
*Lightermen transferred goods between ships and quays aboard flat-bottomed barges called “Lighters” in the port of London. Because of the many fogs in the early days, the river was a treacherous place at night and I recall dad telling mum on a few occasions: “We fished another poor sod out of the river last night!” when they chanced the narrow, slippery path leading from several pubs… There is a “Waterman’s Hall” in St.Mary at Hill, Billingsgate, London dating from 1780 and it is the only surviving Georgian Guild Hall.

** Dope is a chemical lacquer used in model making, not to be confused with the ‘waccy baccy’ variety.

“MY GENTLE WAR” is available from Amazon and Kindle, Apple, Nook (Barnes & Noble). Scribd, Kobo, 24 Symbols, Tolivo and Page Foundry.

 

The Mimosa in Spring and a cat called Basil

Further memoirs of a hotelier…

mimosa-1798388_640After the typical uncertainty of the British winter, the first sighting of the golden Mimosa tree growing by the gate, always created a great upsurge of spirits. My favourite season was upon us: Spring, tra-la, with all its inherent delights. Our hotel bookings were steadily growing; recent paying guests, already ensnared by our seemingly good care and cooking…had re-booked for their summer holidays (hurray!) and several travelling salesmen, who regularly chanced Bournemouth’s way, had re-booked for their business trips. So, we must have been doing something right! It was a good feeling.

The good feeling was further nurtured by the sight of a beautiful, half-Persian cat – just out of the kitten stage – offered to us by Mrs. Solomon’s niece: ‘I can’t cope with any more felines…’ she admitted. Vis a vis “Faulty Towers” (of TV fame) – while our establishment was nicknamed “Faulty Towels” – we decided that Basil was a fitting name for the latest addition to our family. I had always been drawn to dogs rather than cats, but this gorgeous little bundle of fun stole my heart, and being greedy…stole youngest son Robert’s too. In fact, it soon proved to be a case of “Basil the heart-thief” as even guests who didn’t like cats, took to his winning ways. Both regal and cunning (doubtless like some kings in history) Basil had other seductive traits which served him well. But one day, he caused disruption when the Captain of our local Bowls team, who played on the pitch opposite our hotel, rang our bell with Basil under his arm. ‘He loves sleeping on our pitch and has stopped play twice!’ he announced, through gritted teeth, so I had to keep him in one room thereafter, whenever there was a bowls match.

sunset-3008779_640On the rare evenings I had an hour or so off duty to watch a programme on the TV or read, Basil would drape himself across my shoulders and neck like a fur boa and take a nap – he knew how to play it, all right! He even brought me gifts now and then – like a grasshopper or a petrified sparrow; sometimes a wee, comatose mouse, all of which I tried, desperately, to save… Mostly, we lived in complete harmony, despite him being naughty enough to sneak in rooms and lounge on any bed he could… until one, fateful night when he decided to explore the terrain adjacent to our parking lot. Tragically, while dashing across the road, he was killed outright by a motor bike. I never knew I had so many tears in me…. and as we were half-full of guests at the time, I had to save them until I was alone. Robert and the rest of the family were also shocked and grieving. Basil certainly left his mark on us, even though he had only lived out just two of his lives in real terms.

Meanwhile, there were needy guests to deal with, and while I had always been a voracious people- watcher, I didn’t realize just how pertinent that would become in the near future. Looking back, we were quite lucky with most of them, although one annoying woman loudly announced as I passed her dinner-table, “Oh, by the way, there’s a cobweb on our ceiling!” I naturally apologised and later removed the offensive object. We had our first vegetarian book a room for a break, but managed to please her. In fact, she seemed delighted with our efforts. Life was rarely the same most weeks and the variety of guests was entertaining to say the least,

afternoon-2049485_640A Mr. Ham (payment courtesy of the DHSS)* tried to evade paying his way but GB** was up to his game, and on hearing that he hadn’t received his usual cheque (a blatant lie) suggested two things. That either GB accompany him to the Post Office to cash his cheque or the local police station… The fact that the guy’s name was Ham and the next one to book a room for a few weeks was a Mr. Bone, tickled us. It didn’t take much… Mr Bone, as it turned out: a lanky (boneless?) character, was a bachelor and an oddity and he told us that he trawled the churches each Sunday, after services, favouring those offering free coffee or tea, and biscuits if you please! Finding usually only lone women of a certain age, he would ask (shyness not being a problem) ‘Are there are widder women looking for another man?’ I believe he was eventually “rumbled” and none-too-politely asked to leave. I was reminded of the old saying: “There’s nowt as queer as folk.” Another, memorable, couple who booked in for a week, were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and told us ‘This is a first… we’ve never stayed in a hotel before!’ As we weren’t completely full that week, we were able to spoil them with extra-special treats, which was fun.

And so our customers came and went – one couple – he a salesman, she a local girl, became engaged and held their party in our dining room; and we had a party of four workmen: two Irish and two Scots. As they were working on a contract nearby and started work early, we cooked them breakfast an hour before the other guests, and to fill their obviously hollow legs, cooked them huge turkey legs and made meat pies and equally filling meals, which they ate with relish.

white-845071_640‘We’re on to a winner here, Mrs…’said one of the Scots. That was good to hear, especially after all GB’s – and my – hard work in the kitchen, but GB thought he was ‘taking the proverbial’ when he asked me to ‘Go to the store and buy me some new shirts.’ The cheek of the man.

After the workmen and Misters Ham and Bone left, we had a quietish week and then all systems go…as the summer season started. But, while we worked our butts off, we enjoyed the mainly jolly company of our paying guests who had stayed before and become friends – even if some ignored our “last drinks at eleven” ruling. The calm before a mini-storm comes to mind.

One evening, a young man booked in, ate a meal and went for a walk. He returned with a young lady and they watched TV in the lounge before smuggling her into his room, unbeknown to us. Come midnight, we heard their laughter…a tricky situation was afoot. I knocked on the door and asked him if he knew what time it was. He was flippant and rude when I asked the young lady to leave… but – banging the door behind them – a few minutes later, they both left. Relieved, I went to bed. He didn’t return, but left several police-1463975_640items of clothing behind and some underwear in a drawer. After two days passed, I rang the police and reported the incident. Two policemen arrived, examined what the guy had left behind, and hidden beneath the underwear, discovered a large knife, which disturbed a few hairs on my neck, literally speaking of course! I never saw “Joey Barton” again, but did hear he was later wanted by the police for staying in various hotels without paying. Hey ho.

For the remainder of our time in the hotel business, all remained harmonious and peaceful, except for one irate man – with family in tow – who ‘thought I’d booked a holiday!… ’ but hadn’t, during a Bank holiday period. I felt sorry for his family, but every bed was taken! Oh, the highs and lows of hotel life… A learning chapter to be sure.

*The Department of Health & Social Security

** GB – “Gordon Blue”

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Photographs via pixabay.com