Category Archives: life

T. M. Alexander blogs about the life of an author, mother and wife

off down memory lane with my mum, the evacuee

My mum (in the photo with my daughter) was evacuated in World War II to Norfolk, South Creake near Fakenham to be precise. She was separated from her younger sister when she got there and for a couple of weeks Mum shared a bed with another young girl, a stranger, but went to see her sister, Eve, as often as she could. Eve was with a lady called Olive, her husband, Herbert, and their only daughter, Elizabeth. They lived at 2 Bluestone. Mum was polite and obviously close to her sister and so her dream came true and Olive said she could join Eve, and leave the strange girl and the house where Mum didn’t get her fair share of the rations. There they lived for the next three years. Mum cycled seven miles to get to school. They were shooed up to bed every night before news of the war came on the radio. And Olive put Marmite in the gravy. Those are my memories of Mum’s stories. Mum didn’t see her Mum in all that time. My nan stayed in Farringdon Street with her husband who was a night watchman. London was bombed throughout, but they survived. Mum and Eve went home. My mum’s dad died in an accident some years later so Uncle Herbert, as he was then known , gave Mum away at her wedding.

Aunty Olive and Uncle Herbert were a rare but constant presence in our lives, visiting for a day or so every year, and telling tales of Mum at the dinner table. They were kind and laughed a lot, which was not how Mum remembered them, but they were mellowed by age and peace by that time. When I was about five and my sister was eight there was high excitement as we went to stay with them, on our own. We had gravy with Marmite, and collected seaweed on the beach which we then ate. There was a narrow passage by the side of the house through to the garden which was laid out like a vegetable patch from Beatrix Potter. That’s all I remember, apart from a letter I sent to Mum and Dad on green paper. I drew a girl with a bonnet and said I was having a nice time.

At some point they died, of course.

So, on Monday we are heading off to spend a few days in the vicinity. Mum is attending the famous Norfolk Painting School run by Jane and Martin Kinnear, and I will be roaming the country and coast with the children. Looking forward to pub lunches and wind-chapped faces. In between we’ll visit 2 Bluestone and the seaweed beach and Mum’s old school. I haven’t been there for over forty years. I so hope I remember it.

Book Week at Bishop’s Hull Primary School

The whole of Key Stage 2 worked with me yesterday afternoon to make up stories. The first batch were Years 3 and 6, an unusual combination but it worked really well. A credit to the school that the Year 3s felt confident enough to participate and the Year 6s didn’t do any ‘dissing’. They really got the idea that we were creating a story using the character profiles we’d made up, and staying true to them, rather than ignoring them and doing whatever we fancied. The other message was that you should try and work with what you’ve got, which in our case was props and the characters. It’s so tempting to bring in monsters, magic, artillery or aliens, but the story is always the better for adhering to the constraints. It sounds counter-intuitive but I find a blank page inspires the least creativity whereas working within agreed limits fires the imagination to a different level. I was meant to have a break before Years 4 and 5 but there were so many clocks on the wall of the school hall from different time zones that I couldn’t tell the time and over-ran. In trooped the second wave, five of whom are in the picture. They chose to use a skull, gentleman’s hat, monkey (he always gets chosen – he’s like my mascot) and recorder from my getting-famous dustbin of props. At the end of each session I read the beginning of Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks, the latest Tribe book, and it was very satisfying to see how keen they were to know what happened next. I had a welcome cup of tea after the afternoon’s activities and settled down to chat, sell and sign books. The Assistant Head, Mrs Perks, bought some books for the library and offered to recommend me to other schools, so all in all, top day. (Won’t mention that I went to Parents’ Evening afterwards – don’t want to cloud the blog post.)

it’s lovely to receive flowers

My friend came round this morning to borrow waterproof trousers for her daughter who is doing her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze. I was pleased to be able to not only satisfy that need but to pass on some clothes that no longer fit my son but will be perfect for her nephew. She, in turn, had brought flowers. We had coffee and swapped tales of Upper Sixth – her daughter, Lower Sixth – my son, Year 11 – her other daughter, Year 10 – my other son – and Year 8 – my daughter. There was also concern for a dying in-law and a quick scoot round the garden to share plans for autumn tree planting. We both left feeling buoyed by the other’s advice and empathy. Friendship is so valuable, when it works. I have a gauge that sometimes springs to life to remind me to be sure to see those people who make me feel better, and to notice those who leave me feeling less so. I don’t mean that I only want to see happy folk, we all go through ups and downs, but despite our personal circumstances we can support and share, or demean, tease or gloat. My close friends are a mutual appreciation society, a sisterhood. And that’s what I was thinking when I looked at the beautiful yellow lilies resplendent  in the sun pouring through the window this beautiful October afternoon.

a 1989 mini is sitting on the drive

My son is 17 today. Automatic rewind to this day in 1994 when the midwife’s manner changed from that of gentle encouragement to threat, because he was coming out the wrong way round and if I didn’t push NOW he was going to be stuck. I got used to that change in pace from calm to controlled panic when my next two babies also decided to be OP (occipito posterior). Never mind. They all came out, albeit in helter skelter fashion. 17 is the magical age of the provisional licence. Having said, like all sensible parents, there was no way he was having a car, there seems to be one on the drive. The reason for this isn’t entirely clear. It’s either because we only have an automatic and therefore nothing for him to learn to change gears in, or it’s because I’m married to a petrolhead. Either way, it’s here. It’s red. And birthday boy is already searching for film quotes for red minis. In case you’re interested, he also got a grappling hook. He didn’t get the webbed wetsuit gloves, or the shoes with Oscar Pistorius blades that were on his list. I expect they’ll pop up on the Christmas version. Thank you, Firebox.

LA to San Francisco -part five

The one but last stop on our summer road trip was Yosemite. As we drew nearer the huge rocks started to dominate the landscape and the traffic slowed to accommodate the roads and the numbers of tourists stopping to take snaps. We struggled to make sense of the map but found Curry Village easily despite that. We had booked a tent, which was basically a wooden base and tent sides. Four beds were sardined inside. Light bulb. That was it. The shower block was a hosepipe away. Not bad. We wandered around to get an idea of the facilities – pool, canteen, bar, wifi lounge, enormous car park. Amazingly, after our eat-all-you-can alcohol-free buffet, we slept like a row of logs. After the all-you-can-eat breakfast we hired bikes and toured around the lower levels of the park. We were incredibly lucky to see a two-year old black bear within the first hour of exploring. We’d left the bikes and taken a trail that was blocked further up by a rockfall. Presumably the reason we were alone was that no one else was interested in a trail that was advertised as ending abruptly in a brick wall. Anyway, we were completely alone and turned a corner to find a bear thirty feet away. My husband immediately raised his gigantic lens to capture a great photo, I however was already about-turning everyone. At the time I didn’t know the bear was two and therefore living alone. All I knew was that he was small and therefore could have a mummy nearby, and getting between a mummy and her baby is bad news. In my panic to save my own babies I immediately fell over. Husband didn’t get the shot because I was shouting for him to retreat, a call echoed by my sons, and filling my daughter with terror. An adrenalin start. Next stop, after telling all our American fellow tourists we’d seen a bear and having them all say ‘We’ve never seen one in 25 years of coming’, was Lower Yosemite Falls. (‘Lower’ featured a lot because it was too hot to contemplate ‘higher’.) It is massive. We clambered down and found a pool to sit in, and one by one decided to scale the rocks leading to the bottom of the waterfall itself. Not the best idea. I got nearly to the base and started to panic because I couldn’t see any of the children. The boulders that looked large from the bridge down below were unbelievably huge close up. I was hot, red and breathless and had no choice but to go down, to climb up further was beyond my ability. About halfway back and at least 20 minutes later I found a son. Evidently the children were all safe and had been panicking about me and my husband. He ambled along some time later. Vowed to stay together next time. We had a swim in the pool, grateful to cool down. There are only so many eat-all-you-can meals you can eat, so we opted for the pizza place. It was idyllic actually. We sat in rocking chairs on the verandah of the wifi lounge with beer and food, read and chatted. Without trekking for hours there is plenty to do in the park, from floating down the river, to swimming in it, to riding. We did the water ones, ending our third day with a five o’clock swim in an icy river with a couple of other overheated families. Our last night we opted for the burger bar. I queued at the beer bar for the drinks. At the front I ordered two large glasses of Trout, a local beer. It came to $21 but I only had $20. Thank you to the man behind me in the queue for his dollar. Leaving Yosemite for San Francisco my daughter said, ‘I could have stayed there for two weeks.’

travelling from LA to San Francisco with the kids – part one

It’s been a while. I’m back from our summer holiday and thought I’d run through the schedule for anyone interested in exploring the West Coast with a family. We flew into Los Angeles and stayed the first night with friends. If you think America is full of broad ugly streets where everyone drives and no one walks (which was pretty much my view) Sierra Madre is a revelation. A lovely village centre with pedestrians and nice cafes and an old cinema converted to the community theatre. We’d have appreciated it even more if we hadn’t just got off an 11-hour flight. Venice Beach was next, full of eye-watering sights from iron-pumping pecs on Muscle Beach to yogis, tranquil and composed amongst the mania. We cycled along, narrowly missing the eclectic on-coming traffic – skateboarders, roller-skaters, uni-cyclists, walkers straying onto the cycle path, tandems and tri-dems (is that the word). Supper was at an amazing Italian where they give you free unlimited garlic-dripping dough balls, and an honesty bar with Chianti on tap. They also break into song midway through the evening and you join in, or look like a sour puss. I joined in heartily. The song was “That’s Amore”. We liked it so much we went back a second time. Given that there were eight kids in total it was hardly surprising that we ended up at the Raging Water waterpark. The food was hideous and nowhere NOWHERE sold coffee, but the slides were great fun. Santa Monica was a complete contrast, classy shops and a Real Food Daily vegan restaurant where we had great cakes. I was dragged into Abercrombie of course.

The other outing was to Universal Studios. The tour at the beginning was brilliant. We were in a bus being attacked by 3-D King Kong and a bunch of dinosaurs. It was SO real, believe me. We were hanging onto our seats and at least one of us was screaming. The sets were interesting and many were recognisable from the films and series, like Desperate Housewives and Back to the Future. We saw the Blues Brothers (or someone like them) sing, and drive the clapped-out car, Marilyn Monroe was there, we watched a special effects show and Scooby Doo popped up. The sun was hot and the sky was blue. Time to move on, up the coast to Monterey via Santa Barbara.

the clay mummy and missing my daughter

It’s nearly time for supper and the kitchen is extraordinarily quiet. Usually my daughter is hanging about but she’s on a residential hockey course – has been since Sunday – and I’m fed up with it now. My companion has been sorely missed. The boys (her brothers) aren’t bad company but they don’t hang around unless there’s food, whereas my daughter and I can pass several hours of the day happily doing kitchen-living-chatting stuff. I’ve made a blackberry and apple loaf to follow the gammon with potatoes, carrots and peas. I’ve wrapped a parcel for my nieces birthday. I’ve stacked the mail. I’ve cleared the dining table. All because my fellow female has deserted me, albeit temporarily.

So, enough of that. Let me introduce Clummy – see above. Clummy was made by my daughter on Woolacombe beach when the tide was very high. She carried water in her hands from the sea to the hard clay half way up the dunes at Mill Rock and made body parts. She then assembled the key elements on Mill Rock and this was the result. Its real name is Clay Mummy but Clummy for short.

Picking her up at 2.30pm tomorrow. Can’t wait.

British summer

We’re good at making the best of things, so even though the beach at Croyde was deserted we braved it. The children weren’t entirely keen to get out of the car so I had to bribe them with the promise of tea and cake, or rather hot chocolate and cake. It was quite fun dodging the huge puddles on the sand. Every time we forgot to look down we stumbled into one. Luckily we’re welly-wearers – essential holiday attire for Devon. The cake was good at Sandleigh Tearooms, as was the service, but the guests, or to be fair one particular party, were not. There were four of us, and no tables inside. However two tables with a total of nine chairs were taken up by a group of six, including two toddlers. Now I fully respect children but if it was me I’d have asked the kids to shove up and would have offered the table to the new arrivals – us. No such luck. We sat outside under a large umbrella and played Rummy. As the table-hoggers left one of them said, ‘It’s so cold out here, and it was so warm inside.’ We’ve taken a contract out on her.

messy hair, good day

I was in the cafe at Putsborough yesterday and I overheard a conversation between two twenty-somethings. ‘Messy hair, good day,’ said one. ‘I love it when you say that,’ said the other. They laughed. I turned to take a peek. Yep, two windswept mops framing two smiley faces. I smiled too, and turned back to finish my tea bread showing my equally war-torn half-in half-out ponytail.

Finished the day by playing French cricket on Woolacombe beach until the sun went down.

hopscotch at M Shed with two little Victorians

I’ve been to Bristol’s new museum twice already, the first time with a 16-year old boy and this time with girls aged 10 and 6. This time was better as the teenager didn’t want to dress up. As you can see I played hopscotch with the girls resplendent in costumes courtesy of the museum. It added a certain authenticity to the street game, now passed over in favour of iEverything. The other exhibit the children spent ages at was the old-fashioned shop with scales. Amazing how much role play can result from two bags of flour, soap flakes and custard. We dashed out in between visiting floors one and ground to take a trip on the steam train down to the Create Centre. The sun shone on the rained-on seats for our trip. It was all happening down at the waterside because Water Aid had organised a mass outside singing affair and the Matthew was sailing, mooring and welcoming visitors. Lunch was a delicious panini and salad for me and the children’s five-items lunch bag for them, back in M Shed. Both girls used the interactive computers to record their stories and were sent emails to confirm receipt which they found rather thrilling. Last stop was the bus, fondly remembered from the Industrial Museum. Home by 3 o’clock to welcome back the post-GCSE reveller, fresh (or perhaps not so) from a week playing house in Bude. I won’t share the stories.