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

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

A tribute to my dear mama/mum

Until I went to school aged five, I called my mother Mama. Her birth name was Lila Elizabeth Havard, after a Fairy Queen her mother had seen in a play! ‘Mama’ was my God-mother, Aunt Doris,’ suggestion as she had grandiose ideas as to my up-bringing and saw me as a little lady of breeding who would doubtless learn to play the piano beautifully, knit Fair-Isle sweaters, blind-folded, embroider as if to the manor born, and POSSIBLY end up marrying someone higher up the ladder (and I don’t mean a window-cleaner.) As it transpired, while I may have mastered Chopsticks, and The Bluebells of Scotland, sewed a fairly neat hem, and even made a peg-bag, and a few cushion covers, etc., I’m afraid I disappointed in all other areas. And, because a strange, deranged little man with a moustache wanted to dominate the world and promote a “Master Race,” I didn’t attend the Convent School my aunt had mapped out for me. Meanwhile, I enrolled at the local, Dagenham village school, before being whisked away to live on a Welsh mountain when war was declared in the September of 1939. Then, realising I just belonged to the hoi polloi, I thereafter called my mother mum.

The Mansfields (my paternal relatives), needed to “set the scene,” thought they were a cut above. There was Royal Doulton china and crystal cut-glass in the display cabinet and a framed picture of Churchill on the wall to prove it!! The ladies of the family also bought glossy periodicals which “the toffs” purchased; and shopped in the very best West End stores whenever possible. Oh, and both Dad’s sisters owned FUR COATS, and wore Perfume by COTY… But I mustn’t give the wrong impression as, with the (later) exception of one of their number, they were consistently kind, caring, charitable and generous. But quickly back to mum…

Lila - editedSo, what was she like, my pretty, loving mum? Imagine a blue-skied and sunshiny day, with a soft breeze blowing and birds wheeling in the sky… That was my mum. She epitomized Spring and was blessed with a sunny, happy personality. (On later reading Laurie Lee’s book “Cider with Rosie,” mum put me in mind of his quirky mother as their sense of fun were similar!) She was a perfect foil for Dad’s no-nonsense: a spade is a spade, sterner make-up, although he had an earthy sense of humour, was as reliable as the clichéd Rock of Gibraltar and loved her to bits… Around five feet two inches, with a slender figure, mum belied an inner strength which repeatedly revealed itself.

Born in 1906, she lived to experience the Great Depression in South Wales and helped look after her two younger sisters. Grandad said she had ‘Dark brown hair like fine-spun sugar…’ A brick-layer and later, shop-keeper, he may have been, but he was a gentleman and charmed the ladies. Mum had left school at fourteen and worked selling ribbons and cottons in the market and in her parents’ greengrocer’s shop/and on a pony and trap serving customers living in the mountains. Too soon, everything was ‘on the slate, please, mun’ because of The Great Depression, and money was fast running out. Aged seventeen, mum begged to go to London to work but Grandma was convinced it was worse than Gomorrah. ‘Duw duw, you could be murdered, or worse.’ she cried. But, when feeding her family became critical, Grandma relented. Mum pointed her “winkle-pickers” in the East End of London’s direction and worked as a Nanny for the two children of talented Jewish tailors in Stepney.

Soon Lila was not only a Nanny, but taught how to cook Jewish dishes and do intricate beading work. Linking up with her best friend, Edna, the pair went dancing on their one day off and, as she said ‘The streets weren’t really paved with gold,’ as promised… but the lights were brighter and you could have ‘six-penny-worth of fun’ and watch American pictures too. She saved hard and soon had the requisite ten pounds to add to her mother’s hard-saved purse. Her family: Mam, Dad and three siblings, caught the train to Dagenham Dock station with packed suitcases and little else and were given a new Council house in Becontree, which her enamoured mother announced, was ‘Like a miniature Buckingham Palace!’ Mum said that was pushing it a bit… But it had a new roof which didn’t leak and a bathroom downstairs, three bedrooms up, and a proper garden at the back. ‘Not like that old slum in Dowlais,’ Grandma was heard to say.

Leaving the Soloman’s employ with regret, Mum then became a cinema usherette, also working part-time in the building’s café with her sister Peggy. She found life fun as she loved to dance and, being pretty, caught the eye of many a would-be suitor. One in particular pursued her and they became engaged, but he spent too much time on his motor-bike and Mum wasn’t cut out to play second fiddle to a bike! The move couldn’t have been luckier for another dancer and natty dresser (first in his crowd to wear plus-fours, it is said… ) called Charles (Charlie) who quickly stepped into the breach. He and Lila won a few prizes for their prowess on the dance floor – including “The Black Bottom’”- of the Cross Keys public house in old Dagenham and were soon seriously courting.

Lila and Charlie - editedEager to show off his new girl-friend to his family, Charles invited her to tea, much to the delight of his father, also Charles: a well-heeled Freemason, who had a penchant for pretty faces… The females in the family, however, on being introduced to an uneducated girl “from the Welsh valleys” almost had them reaching for their smelling salts… but Lila was polite, friendly and possessed a winning smile and they gradually accepted the inevitable. Charles was smitten, but found it difficult to ‘write my own life script’ as he later discovered. The happy pair were married in a – horror of horrors – Registry office, while the Mansfields were staunch Catholics, a fact the Father of the local church found difficult to comprehend and led to harsh words being exchanged. Although to keep the Mansfields’ happy, when I arrived on the scene, I was Christened by a Canon, no less. (Dad said ‘She should have been fired from one!’ when I decapitated his row of red, soldier-erect tulips, aged two.) After the birth of my second brother, the Priest visited our house and tried to persuade Mum to marry “in the church,” but went beyond the pale when he suggested all three of us children were illegitimate, and was quickly shown the door.

Like most working-class women then, mum was familiar with the Monday-wash-boiler, the scrubbing board and the outside mangle. Although we had indoor plumbing, we had no central heating until the mid/late 50’s – and only had a gas-fire for warmth on in the bedroom if we were very ill (once with measles). The stove in our tiny kitchen was much cosseted, as was the rare fire in the lounge fireplace. And the telephone, also installed in the 50’s, was almost revered, as was the “new-fangled” TV set.

Meanwhile, mum – by then a trained hairdresser – crimped and cut hair to help expenses go further, cooked delicious meals for the five of us and was everything a good mum should be. Then – wouldn’t you know – the lunatic little man mentioned above, started strutting his stuff and war, an incomprehensible state to us children, was declared. When rationing was introduced, Mum made all sorts of filling dishes, using more potatoes and vegetables from our garden, bread and fruit puddings and ‘apples in blankets’ (pastry) to fill our corners…she also made sure we had concentrated orange juice, cod-liver oil (ugh!) and Virol to keep us healthy, as – in due course – did dear aunt Sal. If any of us children received a B or C for our school-work, she’d give us a hug, sympathize and say ‘Never mind, you’ll get an A next time…’ while dad was the opposite of impressed…

paul-jespers-114448-unsplash plane - editedDad, having been an Air Force Cadet at the end of World War I and in love with aeroplanes, re-joined the Air Force and was one of the first wave of airmen to be called up for duty. After hastily digging a huge hole in our pristine, green lawn, he erected an outdoor air-raid shelter, as instructed, and then accompanied us three children and mum to South Wales. We were to stay in the relative safety of her cousin Sarah Jones’– Aunt Sal to us – tall, thin house, set into the side of Mountain Hare, just above Merthyr Tydfil. It didn’t have all ‘mod cons’. like ours, but I was enchanted with gaslight and candlelight… not so with the outside “lav,” with squares of the Merthyr Express on which to wipe one’s bottom!

Mum stayed on awhile, but dad had to join his unit in France. Having entrusted brother Bryan to the loving care of another aunt in Ebbw Vale, as Aunt Sal couldn’t cope with three children due to a badly ulcerated leg, mum left to stay with her mother and do “war work.” As mentioned above, Mum wasn’t very tall and quite slender, and we were surprised when next we saw her, as she had developed muscles…after working on a moving assembly belt of Army lorries at Ford’s Motors. She later moved to another company, where she was taught welding and became even stronger. Fortunately, during the first part of the war, it was fairly quiet, so we were transported back and forth a few times, especially as dad was given leave from France before things hotted up. Thereafter, Dagenham, and more specifically: our house became a dangerous place to live in as it was near the River Thames; Ford’s Motor works, churning out war machines; a huge drug factory and a railway – all likely targets for the German planes. A land-mine fell at the end of our street and demolished many houses and killed several people, but our house was only marginally damaged. In all, we were evacuated three times: to Merthyr, Neath and – with my secondary school, to Derbyshire. Towards the end of the war, dad was stationed near enough to visit our home and mum gave birth to my third brother, Royce (despite being warned about the aphrodisiac quality of eels to which he was partial). As mum was unwell, the doctor advised her to stay somewhere quieter, and the most generous family, who lived in Neath, Wales – and had two children of their own – took the five of us in, as aunt Sal was ill. You can imagine our sheer joy when peace was declared and we were all able to return to our own home: shaken and stirred but still intact, and dad was, at last, demobbed.

Lila 2 - editedDuring our absence, we soon discovered, Mum had re-decorated several rooms herself. There was a shortage of wallpaper, so she had “stippled” the walls with a design in a contrasting colour and I spent many odd times imagining all sorts of animals and magical “objects” floating up to the ceilings… It seemed, Mum was able to tackle most things, and a great advocate of “make do and mend.” She was always darning socks, turning shirt collars and bedsheets, and aware of the hard times, often said “That will do…” if an item of clothing had a vestige of life left. A keen dancer herself, she encouraged me when I reached my teens and joined the youth club. Mum and her father both won prizes for dancing and she played a mean piano. I recall her pounding the ivories in our Welsh centre during her visits. “Amapola,” “The Seigfried Line” and various popular tunes and songs were requested during her time with us, and she urged me to take ballet and tap lessons, which I adored.

As far as “lessons subtly-learned” while under my parents roof were concerned, Mum in particular emphasized that I should ‘show willing and be helpful to others’ as she did…and, while sex was never actually discussed, whenever I went out with a boy, she always told me to ‘be good now!’ which I interpreted as ‘keep your legs together,’ which I dutifully did, much to their annoyance. Every week, Mum and I went to the local cinema to see the latest British or American film and lapped up all the glamour and fantasy and she loved reading “Nell’s Books on Wheels” delivered locally every week She was particularly fond of romances and favoured medical tales. Mum had a knack of bringing sunshine into the house with some of her embroidered tales of people she worked with and even when it rained for a few days, managed to lift our spirits. Fortunately, both my parents were able to enjoy several holidays abroad as we children grew older, and still managed to impress on the dance floor!

As time wore on, and after I married, mum took advanced cooking courses and learned “Silver Service Waitressing,”securing an excellent post in the directors’ canteen of a large company nearby: May & Bakers, and worked there for several years. When she retired, she hated it, so arranged wedding functions and 2lst birthday celebrations and the like, with the able assistance of one of my sisters-in-law, Doreen; and made beautiful, iced celebration cakes. She also did flower arranging and made bridal bouquets, buttonholes and the like… (and even won prizes for her arrangements at the local Town Show.)

When my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding, as my husband and I were then running a hotel, we were able to entertain them with family and friends, for a fun weekend. It was so good to be able to make a fuss of them for a change! Sadly, as dad approached eighty, his lungs started letting him down – he was a heavy smoker when young and in the war, apart from working for so many years on the river. But he made it to eighty-three. Mum was, naturally, at first desolate at his passing, as were we. But we sold her house for her and bought her another, smaller one, just around the corner to ours.

Her hands were rarely still thereafter. She made delicious petit fours and boxed them up as gifts at Christmas time, still made large and small assorted cakes, and embroidered many pictures which my husband framed for her. She also knitted toys, covered coat-hangers and sewed lavender bags. We were able to take mum and a friend on two continental holidays – which she loved, and we spent many happy hours together. She so enjoyed being in the company of our three sons and her other grandchildren, was alert and keenly interested in them and what was happening in the outside world. She only went on one “Old people’s outing” as she termed them (aged eighty) but said: ‘I shan’t go with them again…Some of them clicked their teeth and talked about their operations all the time’

It was tragically ironic that mum – apart from a worn heart – and comparatively healthy for her age, was struck by an unlicensed car a few inches from a kerb, while out visiting a relative, suffered a broken hip and lapsed into an unconscious state for six, long weeks before dying. It was the most cruel blow of my life and I was bereft, but I still carry her treasured memory in my heart, as I will until I fall of my own perch. Mum loved all us four children unconditionally and, despite our faults, thought us “the bee’s knees…” and, as we thought she was too, you can’t ask for more than that. Can you?

If you’d like to read more about Joy’s life during Wold War II, order her book: “My Gentle War” which went to No.1 on Amazon Kindle in the Social history and memoir category.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Plane photo by Paul Jespers on Unsplash

Condoms, Carols and a Crème Caramel

Back-tracking, I actually found a few minutes in my frantic day to recall the first day we ‘opened for business’ at the hotel, and giggled … I must explain here that my ‘Gordon Blue’ can – to use a favourite expression – “turn on a sixpence.” If he didn’t turn back as quickly, it could have proved a problem … He has a complex personality that quite intrigues me, as he is also kind, thoughtful, romantic and very funny at times. But … on that morning, he was understandably feeling both tired and maybe a little edgy. As I walked into the kitchen, I had to quickly duck as a slice of burnt toast sped in my direction like a frantic frisbee … ‘Seig Heil’ I said and goose-stepped as he barked out an order. ‘Count to ten … that helps sometimes!’ He did and sanity prevailed. We had worked together before when we had a shop, so were soon running things smoothly and good humour reigned. With a fully-booked Christmas on the horizon – 26 bums on seats – fractious hosts would have spelt disaster.

eric-rothermel-23788-unsplashThe attractive “sales goodies” the previous owners had either promised or predicted were like sand on a shore, and we soon discovered that some subterfuge had taken place. Bookings, or names in a ledger didn’t mean anything. There were no bookings … The three fish fingers, spoonful of peas and handful of frozen chips left in the fridge for our resident’s dinner the day we took over, spoke volumes. The “Burtons” had been stingy hosts! We, of course, binned the uncooked meal and Ms.Groves dined splendidly that night. But enough of negative talk. There was a large Christmas tree waiting to be purchased, plus presents and a special menu to compose …

As for the expected guests, we had worked hard, advertising and spreading the word what we, the NEW hoteliers, had to offer. Our eldest son, Jason, had designed an amusing logo for our stationery, and the gift tags for the presents, but was working, temporarily, in a nearby shop. We were charging an ‘all inclusive’ modest price as we were just cutting our teeth, which included four meals on the 25th (with gift from said tree) and three meals on the other three days. We were advertised as a family hotel, with a pool table for the youngsters, TV and books or soft music and a bar for the adults.

In the midst of our busy schedule, a most attractive young lady from Bristol booked a few days break, and her personality was such that we immediately clicked. Friendly and chatty, she requested that her mother join her from Chelsea for a few days. She duly arrived: a well-endowed, well-bejewelled, well-perfumed character who yanked the bell of my alert alarm system. A perfect “Madame” if ever there was one. Surely not …

invitation-3112030_640Proof arrived when I was dusting the daughter’s dressing table the second morning after they arrived as I accidentally knocked a largish clutch bag on the floor, spilling the contents. It suggested the following: a) that she was the over-zealous employee of a Birth-Control company, and carried a generous supply of their wares, b) had a rapacious sexual appetite, or c) was a prostitute. Mother and daughter owned cars … but would they try and smuggle in prospective clients later that night? But all had been peaceful the night before, and they hadn’t even appeared for dinner that night … GB was consulted and we were on red alert.

Our bedroom was, fortunately, on the ground floor, so when the door-bell rang at around 2.30 am (GB remained asleep … ) I grabbed my dressing-gown and hurried to the hallway where the younger woman was standing, brimming with apologies:

‘So sorry to wake you, but Mummy’s had news of some problem at home, and had to return immediately and my aunt in Bristol had a fall and I must go to her.’

More of the convoluted tale emerged as she paid me monies owed while we sat on the stairs. She then hugged me, thanked me profusely and disappeared into the night. At least she was honest re money!

The following days seemed marginally boring … but, thereafter, it was a case of sleeves rolled up and the business of extra shopping and cooking preparations, plus the fun of ‘”decking the halls with holly” etc.

gaby-dyson-1148582-unsplashAfter I had served a full, English breakfast and cleared the tables on the magical 25th, I made the largest crème caramel I’d ever attempted. The dish was gargantuan and I’d found an enormous round tray and covered it with silver foil to serve. Surely the caramel would crack. It didn’t! Hallelujah. After dinner later, one guest, who eschewed the traditional pudding, had three … portions. A light lunch was served at 1 pm, turkey/chicken/or pork, etc., at 6.30 and a light supper at 10 pm. (My non-Kosher husband is Jewish; sufficient food vital as air … ). To be honest, there were some guests who “pigged out” to put it crudely. They were going to get their money’s worth … or bust! As for our two resident ladies, Ms Groves “turned out” in her best finery, while Mrs Solomons somehow managed to look as though she’d dressed in the dark, bless her, but they both enjoyed themselves enormously. They engaged with the other guests, and as dusk descended and with lights dimmed, the atmosphere grew even jollier.

As Charles Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol:” ‘It is a fair, noble adjustment of things that, where there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.’

Satiated by good food, wine and music, the atmosphere mellowed in our dining room. Our inherited, elaborate, antique sideboard, stacked with edible, seasonalchristmas-party-780x450 treats, wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of Dickens scenes, but not in Tiny Tim’s humble house, that’s for sure. But laughter and fun are not exclusive to any strata of society and there was plenty of that around! We played a few, silly parlour games, cleared an area for dancing and played every seasonal song composed. We certainly slept soundly that night!

 

© Joy Lennick 2019

 

Photos: Eric Rothermel Gaby Dyson on Unsplash, Bru-nO on Pixabay, askideas.com