Monthly Archives: March 2017

Nellie at Higher Grade Girls’ School, Cambridge

Back in 2002 I was a part-time tutor for the Worker’s Education Association and, after one series of talks, one of my audiences kindly allowed me to copy some essays written by her mother. I felt they were worth publication and was given a freedom to proceed providing accreditation was given to her mother who would be 100 on 4th August 2002.  I was very happy to agree with that.  Unfortunately things didn’t go quite as planned from my end and the world never had a chance to read some of the writings of Nelly Gladys Lant age 15. Fortunately I kept those photocopies the family kindly gave me.  A lot has happened since then – but I still have Nellie’s writing, it doesn’t age even if mine does!  We’ll be picking up bits of Nellie’s life in school in the next few weeks but to start with let’s have a look at her term report of 31st March 1916.

Nellie Lant is in class IV – and is one of a class of 54. She has been absent twice during the term but has never been late.  She has been marked on 18 different subjects in class – one of which is homework! Three of the class subjects – Composition, Arithmetic and Algebra – have also undergone examination as has the non-class test of Dictation.  Shorthand, Typewriting and Book Keeping are on the sheet but do not appear to be part of this term’s work.
Her marks are good and her Class Mistress remarks: ‘Nellie again deserves prais for her steady managing of cooking.’  She is registered as: Position 6   Exam 15   Class 7

Beneath all of this is the notice that:- ‘The next Term begins on May 1st when every girl is expected to be present.  No one is permitted to absent herself at any time unless she is ill.

We’ll learn more about Nellie in the weeks to come.

Scott of the Antarctic

It was on this day – 29th March 1912 – that Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his men died.

Work had been going on for most of 1911 setting up a base, laying provision depots, doing geological surveys, collecting various specimens and experimenting with their equipment and rations.  It was in September when the group of 16 – mainly support – men set out towards the Pole. Bit by bit the support headed back to base and, on 3rd January 1912, Captain Scott decided who would be with him on the final trek to the Pole.  It was himself, of course plus Edward Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Henry Bowers and Edgar Evans.  14 days later, on 17th January 1912, the team reached the Pole.

There they saw Amundsen’s flag that had been planted there a month earlier.

It’s hard to imagine the overwhelming disappointment the five must have felt.

Captain Scott wrote in there book: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.

The return journey started out well, but rations were low and the men lost condition. Evans’ frostbite worsened and he died on 17th February. Oates also suffered frostbite.  This delayed the rest of the party and, on 16th March, he put on his boots for the last time and stepped out into a blizzard saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time.

Scott acknowledged his sacrifice recording that: “We knew that Oates was walking to his death… it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.

Scott, Wilson and Bowers continued towards the ‘One Ton’ depot which they knew could save them.  However, an unseasonal blizzard halted them just 11 miles short of their target and, malnourished, frostbitten, weak and trapped inside the tent by the weather, they knew what was coming.

I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.”

Scott was probably the last of the three to die on 29th March 1912.

Eight months later a search party found the tent and its content of rolls of photographs, meteorological observations, diaries and fossils that had been gathered on the way back from the Pole.

They left the bodies in the tent and buried them under a mound of snow.

The Wedding Photographer

As the daylight hours start to expand; the temperature gently rises and love begins to plan for the future I thought it a good time to introduce the work of a particulat craftsman and his very important partner – the wedding photographer’s wife. This is her story.

Being the wedding photographer’s wife has its problems you know. I’m a bit like the mother of the bride I suppose – like me, she can be a bit of a nuisance to the main player, but indispensable. The times my husband wants me out of the way – then needs me to take this, fetch that, etc., etc.

The bride’s mother is the same, one minute being told to stop fussing, the next vital because the bride’s hair has blown loose.

My main problem, though, is what to wear. Peter – my husband the photographer – works across a wide area. Churches, registry offices, hotels – you name it, we’ve been there. Some summers we are at the same place half a dozen times.

The wedding families and the guests change from wedding to wedding – well most of the time anyway – but onlookers pretty much remain the same. They all come to ‘have a nose’, to compare and to criticise. Many of these onlookers recognise me now and stop to chat. It’s nice – but it’s a problem as well. What will they say if I wear the same outfit as I wore at the last wedding here?

‘You’d think she’s have more than that one dress or suit wouldn’t you?’

But if I do ring the changes, and wear something different every time, I can imagine the gossip that will go round:

‘She’s got another new outfit I see. They must be rolling in money.’

‘Have you heard how much he charges to take the pictures? Now we can see where the money goes, can’t we?’

Perhaps more critical, though – what if the colour I am wearing is the same colour as the wedding outfits? Or even worse – what if it clashes?

So that I don’t get lynched – or cause Peter to lose bookings – I keep a careful record of what to wear, where I wore it and when. Peter also takes a photograph of me and my outfit at every wedding, and it all goes into a detailed file we keep.

The one weak spot here is that too many brides don’t know, or don’t want to tell Peter, what their colour scheme will be. Even more annoying is when they tell him chapter and verse – and then change their mind at the last minute!

You know – it’s not easy being a wedding photographer’s wife.

Still – it’s better than Peter having some young floozie as an assistant – dolled up to the nines to outdo the wedding party. Turning up dressed to be seen, rather than dressed to merge into the background in a professional manner.

I know all about that as well, you know. I was a floozie once – ‘eye candy’ as they call it now.

I was a knife thrower’s assistant in my younger days – days before I met Peter. Knowing what to wear then was no problem at all. Bright, sparkly and as little as possible was the order of the day. Long legs in fishnet tights; bare arms and shoulders, and a pronounced, scarcely covered bust with obvious cleavage, was the rule.

I just had to stand there smiling, provocatively posed with a handful of knives to hand to the ‘star’ of the show. I posed, and he was the poser. Off stage he was a right pain in the left foot. There were times when I could cheerfully have put the knife into his heart rather than his throwing hand during the show!

I often wonder what the gawking ladies at the weddings, and the ‘mothers of the brides’, would say.

But that’s another story – the story of how I stopped having knives thrown at me and started dressing differently!



My shock – and the story of a Balloon

Sunday 21st March 1999 proved quite a shock to me when I was trawling for snippets to write. Why? Because it was on this day that the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight was completed. It was a two-man balloon and one was Bertrand Piccard – no real surprise there. It was the other that amazed me because his name was Brian Jones! I just do not remember doing this flight – and I certainly would remember it because I just have NO head for heights! I think I need learn more about this man with my name – and I have.

This Brian Jones is younger than me, was born in Bristol and served in the RAF for 13 years.  The balloon in question was ‘Breitling Orbiter 3’ which had been built by Cameron Balloons of Bristol and stood 180ft tall when fully inflated.  It was powered by propane gas that fuelled six burners containing 28 titanium cylinders mounted in two rows along the sides of the gondola. There was some concern about fuel consumption so the team added four additional propane containers prior to take-off.  As it turned out these additions proved necessary to complete the trip!  The two set off on Monday 1st March from Château d’Oex in Switzerland.

The daily routine called for each man to spend eight hours alone at the controls, eight hours working with his crewmate, and eight hours in the single bunk. There was a unique pressure-operated toilet curtained off area at the rear of the craft. Despite the use of heaters designed to maintain a cabin temperature of 59 °F (15 °C), temperatures occasionally fell so low at night that drinking water froze and the ice had to be carefully chipped away from delicate electronic circuitry on the interior walls.

They landed on this day in Egypt after a 45,755 kilometre flight lasting 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes.
For his achievement, Brian Jones received awards including the Hamon Trophy, the Hubbard Medal, the FAI Gold Air Medal and the Charles Green Salver.

The gondola is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Dulles Airport outside Washington D.C.

Remembering some songs in Egypt

Tomorrow – Monday 20th March 2017 – Dame Vera Margaret Lynn will become 100 years old.  There has been – and there will be – a lot of stories about the lady who, during the Second World War, earned the title ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’.

I’m not going to try to compete with it all – so I’m just going to slip in one little thing a day early – something that my father told me many, many times.

It was a day in Egypt when ‘the Forces’ Sweetheart’ made him and his colleagues very happy young men.  After the war Dad told me about it and how ‘great’ she had been.  I didn’t really appreciate the story until, a few years later, when we moved into a newly built council house.  The house had electric and Dad went out and bought a record player and a whole stack of Vera Lynn records!

A last look at my box of records

One last look into my box of records – and the first story I found this time was a number of 45s and LPs of Duane Eddy.  In fact – in a second look these cover virtually everything of Duane’s from Rebel Rouser forward.  To balance it out – or maybe distort the collection – is Charlie Drake’s version of ‘Splish Splash’ – Bobby Darin’s version had not appealed to me and my parents and any way, we had seen Charlie Drake in person – well ‘on-stage’ actually.

His ‘Dream Lover’ did, though, and as a result I got to see both Eddy and Darin in London during their 1960 tour.  Stage presence was not a strong point of Duane’s performance.  He just stood there and played – and the theatre crowd loved it.

The second half was Bobby Darin – and he sat at the piano and we had minimal performance but a distinct presence.  There was a nod toward rock with ‘Splish Splash; an outstanding ‘Dream Lover’ and then his new genre of swing-style ‘Mack the Knife’ followed by ‘Beyond the Sea’, ‘Clementine’ and a few more that I didn’t write down!

However, not everyone appreciated the change; it was not quite the ‘rock ‘n’ roll we expected.  However – he recognised the challenge, and thanked the audience for their requests, but if they didn’t mind he would stay on the stage and carry on singing!

Now – what else is there in my box that brings back memories?  Ah, a clutch of Billy Fury records.  Now there was a performer.

A part of the Larry Parnes collection of British performers toured Britain at the end of the 1950s and into the 60s.  We were on a Youth Club day trip to Great Yarmouth – primarily to see the evening performance of our idols.  We were on the Britannia Pier where Billy and Marty Wilde, Adam Faith, Joe Brown and the like could walk unmolested down the sea front between performances.  One such stroll killed all the passion for them as far as the girls were concerned when one of them said: “Look – they’ve got make-up in their ears!”

A more local venue for the travelling show as far as we were concerned was the Broadway Cinema in Letchworth, Herts.  Here they were regular visitors – and so were we – and it was one night in 1960 when I first heard Billy Fury sing ‘Wondrous Place’.

The stage curtains were drawn across.  The front of the stage was empty and the lights were dimmed – then, from one side there appeared the slight figure of Billy in a soft spotlight to provide a breath taking performance of his new record to a packed auditorium where you could have heard a pin drop.  It peaked at 25 in the pop-charts – why it never made number 1 I’ll never know but it still sends shivers down my spine – in fact it just has because I listened to it on You Tube!

I think this is all for now.  Now you know what my memories box is all about.  Do you have one?  If you do we’d love to hear about it.

Oxford & Cambridge Male and Female Boat Races

On Tuesday 15th March 1927, the very first Women’s Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities was held on the River Isis in Oxfordshire.  Crews of men from the two Universities had been competing since 1829 but this – 98 years later – was very different.  In fact – one could say it was not an actual/real race.

The crews were not racing as the men did.  The first difference was that the rowed course was a distance of about half a mile.  The second was they were rowing separately – one after the other – so it wasn’t an actual race!  They were judged on various aspects of style when they were rowing downstream and on speed when they rowed upstream.  It wasn’t an easy task to base the competition on style and speed and more than once the judges couldn’t agree on who was the winner! They, therefore, decided to go by speed and Oxford won in 3 minutes 36 seconds, beating Cambridge by 15 seconds.

For the first race The Times reported that “large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath” and The New York Times stated “a crowd of fully five thousand persons was on hand as a willing cheering section”

The next event – in 1929 – took place on the London Tideway.  For the 1935 event the crews took to the river together for the first time.  Oxford’s boat was sent off first with the Cambridge boat following thirty seconds later.  In 1936 the race was on the Isis River and was the first to take place side by side.

Now they race together – well not quite ‘together’!  This year the races will take place on Sunday 2nd April 2017 with the women’s race first up at 4.35pm with the men’s race following it at 5.35pm.  If you want to see it but can’t get to the River Thames BBC One will televise both races, with Claire Balding set to present over two hours of coverage.



Britain’s 18 year olds have the vote

It was on Friday 13th March – unlucky for some, but not for others – 1970 that the British Conservative Party celebrated a big majority in a by-election in Bridgwater, Somerset. ‘So what’ one might say.

The ‘so what’ was the historic fact that, for the very first time, 18 year olds were now allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections in Britain!  The new legislation had come into force in January 1970 completing the updating of voting in Britain. Up until that point, you had to be 21 years old before you were eligible to vote. In fact it was only in 1928 that women had been given the same voting rights as men. Up until 1918, they could only vote when they had reached the age of 30.

Twenty-one had always been the point at which young people ‘attained their majority’ or ‘came of age’.  At this age they were regarded as adults and were allowed to vote and could get married without permission from their parents. When moves were made to lower the voting age to 18 it was considered a bit controversial, as some people felt that it was too young!

This result was totally unexpected as opinion polls had predicted an easy victory for Labour on the back of a healthy economy and large pay rises.  However – on 18th May Harold Wilson called a general election for 18th June.  His Labour Party lost that election to Edward Heath’s Conservatives.

More from my box of records

Let’s pick up from where we were last Saturday – with US funny man called Stan Freberg.  As I said – he’s in my box twice. The ‘British’ disc has Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ on one side and the take on Mr Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ on the other.

Well – in the summer of 1956 I went on a holiday camp holiday with my parents – probably Butlin’s at Clacton. There Butlin’s provided their typical on-camp entertainments of the time and every evening Red Coats performed to Stan Freberg’s fantastic version of ‘Rock Island Line’.  But they also did the other side of their disc – Harry Belafonte’s then very popular ‘Banana Boat Song’.  As I write this I can still recall situations from both pieces – particularly from the Banana Boat when the ‘Belafonte’ character was singing and when he sang: A beautiful bunch a’ripe banana, Hide thee deadly black tarantula he stepped away saying, very clearly, ‘I don’t do Spiders’.

Be it Rock ‘n’ Roll, Skiffle or Calypso Stan Freberg certainly had his finger on the pulse of 1950s pop music.

At this time, opportunities to see the new and the great performers in the flesh were rare for teenagers like me in rural Cambridgeshire.  However – there is one ‘live’ performer that sticks in my memory box.  Many of his disks remain safe and secure in my boxes and his performances in real life are still embedded in my memory box.

Who is this individual?  Well, if you are of my sort of age, records such as ‘Be Bop a Lula’, ‘Blue Jean Bop’ and ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’ may help.

It’s Gene Vincent – an archetypal rocker who moved to England in the late 1950s and toured small halls across the country.  One of these small halls was that of the canteen of the Kayser Bondor factory in Baldock, Hertfordshire.  It was used for regular dances and ‘not quite’ performers.  Sad to say Gene was one of those but when I was sitting on the edge of the low stage while the black leather clad rock icon performed, at times inches from me, and once standing on my fingers, is another lasting memory.

The Bondor factory ceased production in 1983 and was redeveloped by Tesco as a Superstore. The original façade remains but the factory has ‘gone’.  I wonder how many of today’s ‘visitors’ realise that they are in the land of Gene Vincent!

Anyway – I’ll call it a day here and come back next Saturday – same time, same place – with the third part of what’s in my ‘Memories Box’.

Virginia Woolf comments

One of the books I have on my bookshelves is described by The Times newspaper as ‘Utterly compulsive’.  I agree with them.  The book is called ‘The Assassin’s Cloak’ with a sub-title ‘An anthology of the world’s greatest diarists’ and was edited by Irene & Alan Taylor and published by Canongate Books in 2000.

You are seeing this on 8th March or later but I am writing it on 4th March while waiting for a man to come and rebuild a blown-down fence!

Now for the quality – this piece is written by Virginia Woolf on 8th March 1918:

‘Going up the lift at Holborn the other day I stood next to a boy of fourteen or so, whose head only was visible among the crowd.  I noticed that it was an extremely interesting, sensitive, clever, observant head; rather sharp, but independent looking.  One couldn’t tell from his cap whether he was well off or not.  I came to the conclusion that he was the son of an officer with whom he stood.  When we got into the street I looked at once at his legs.  His trousers had holes in them.  From that one could judge what a wretched affair his life will be.’