Stay A Little Longer

There are never many new programmes on television, plenty of reruns though. Perhaps the lack of imagination and wit of the older writers, but we seem to be stuck either in ‘Big Brother’s House’ or somewhere in a jungle. I am not a fan of reality programmes in the least, but some of the reruns from another era are interesting in comparing the way we lived, and seeing the changing world of fashion.

Floral dungarees are just as much in fashion now as they were 70 years’ ago, with a few minor changes of course. I doubt however, the fashion from the period dramas are likely to be repeated.

In the world of clothing, the corset, ‘stays’ as they were originally known, have been around from the middle ages. Worn by both men and women to change the shapes of their torsos. Until the whaling industry brought in whalebone, bodices had been laced and stiffened with paste to smooth the female figure. The ‘whalebone’ is actually a keratinous material found in the upper jawbones of whales and was used to filter plankton. It’s a flexible material as well as robust and was cut into strips to be inserts into linings of outer garments.

It was during the 17th century, that stays were used as undergarments which moulded corset thinthe figure into a conical or ‘V’ shape. During the 1800s, the ‘stays’ became corsets when the hour-glass figure was very much fashionable and a necessity for social stancorset,,mending. It did have some pitfalls though, the small waist which was desirable at the time reduced the human torso to as little as a 16 inch waistline, causing breathing problems and was no doubt the reason for the need to carry smelling salts, to relieve the feelings of faintness.

corset full

The corset never died out, although becoming less of a fashion undergarment and more of a surgical appliance. It was still used to shape the body and reduce bulges but it also became a support to prevent backache.rollon

The roll-on girdle was liberating from laces, hooks and buckles and general ironmongery involved in getting the right shape and control, but until tights came on the scene, suspenders were still necessary to keep stockings up.

I was considered to be an ideal size for my height and taking a size 12 (UK), I thought I was too thin and wanted to put weight on! Perhaps due to fashion magazines which promote very small sizes, the shapelier female figure was replaced by a thin, shapeless, boyish figure with common sizes being as small as size six or eight (UK). With no shape to control, gradually fashion became less restrictive, it could be the hippy era which appreciated comfort, leaving the corset fashion to Burlesque, Goths and as an outer garment once again.

Cooking Up Family History

If you have an interest in family then you will know the super sleuth in you will want to investigate any information regardless of where it came from. Having both my grandmother’s recipe books, I sometimes browse through them and when a local area community hub wanted local history information and recipes, the books came out again.

As it is my paternal grandmother was born about half-a-mile away from where the grandma-grandpa-uncle-wullie-ccommunity hub is located, I selected her recipes. They were handwritten in a notebook which has now seen better days but it also multi-tasked as an address book. I was familiar with one of the names mentioned, a nephew of my grandfather’s who moved to Rhodesia (as it was then) when his wife died. Other names I was not so familiar with and the little flame of  ‘curiosity’ was lit.

Of course it’s much easier with the internet in searching for lost souls and since I am already one of the older generation of the family, there is no-one left to ask except Mr Google. I soon found names in Australia which I was pretty certain were of the family I was looking for. Although they would be descendants, the names matched, but what clinched it was the name of the house, given in the record of a young man, killed in action in WW2, was the same name as our local village. Their family tree had been published on the internet and fortunately so were the contact details of it’s owner.

I had to write in the desire to find out more. Within two days, I had my reply, not a long email but enough to give me the information I needed to find out who my two mystery people were. I know now I share a 4 x great-grandfather with my contact. It showed me one thing, since our grandfathers had been second cousins once removed, they had still been in contact with each other. In the present day, many families are so far apart from each other, they have no contact with even some of their close family. It probably accounts for all the names I have in my family tree I have known about yet I was born after many of them had died.

Wha’s Like Us?

As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, there are people who are looking forward to not being shackled to Brussels and being able to get back to being a country on our own again. Being integrated with Europe has seen a loss in farming, manufacturing, fishing etc. so it’s an opportunity for rebuilding a nation hopefully with the help of younger visionaries.

Of course there are those who are still wringing their hands and wailing ‘woe, woe and thrice woe’ at the thought of Britain falling off the end of the world because we are letting go on Europe’s grip. Some of course are the ‘Doubting Thomases’, believe that nothing will work ever again regardless of what way the vote went, simply because they are afraid of change.

Before the European Union, Britain offered the world many inventions and in fact as part of the United Kingdom which was a treaty between Scotland and England, Scotland did it’s share in being a useful part of our union. Some will ask ‘what has Scotland ever done for us?’ Although I can list many things, I think the following tale is representative:

“The average Englishman in his home he calls his castle, 
slips into his national costume, a shabby raincoat, 
patented by Charles Macintosh from Glasgow Scotland. 
En route to his office he strides along the English country lane,
surfaced by John Macadam Ayr, Scotland. 
He drives an English car fitted with tyres, 
invented by John Boyd Dunlop, Dreghorn, Scotland.
At the office he receives the mail bearing adhesive stamps,
invented by John Chambers of Dundee, Scotland.
During the day he uses the telephone,
invented by Alexander Graham Bell, from Edinburgh, Scotland.
At home in the evening his daughter pedals her bicycle,
invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan from Dumfriesshire, Scotland.
He watches the news on TV,
invented by John Logie Baird from Helensburgh, Scotland,
and hears an item about the US navy,
founded by John Paul Jones from Kirkbean, Scotland.
Nowhere can an Englishman turn to escape the ingenuity of the Scots.
He has now been reminded too much of Scotland and in desperation he 
picks up the holy Bible, only to find that the first man mentioned in the 
good book is a Scot, King James the VI who authorised its translation.
He could turn to drink,
but the Scots make the best in the world.
He could take a rifle and end it all,
but the rifle was invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson 
from Pitfours, Scotland.
If he escapes death, he could find himself on the operating table 
injected with penicillin, discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming 
of Darvel, Scotland.
And given chloroform, an anaesthetic,
discovered by Sir James Young Simpson from Bathgate, Scotland.
Out of the anaesthetic he would find no comfort in learning 
that he was as safe as the Bank of England,
founded by William Paterson from Dumfries, Scotland.
Perhaps his only remaining hope would be to get a transfusion 
of guid Scottish blood which would entitle him to say ...

Of course we have done a lot more and add to that what England, Northern Ireland and Wales have also contributed to the building of a nation as well. Some of the Scottish/English rivalry is ‘tongue-in-cheek’, but sadly there are the extremists. 

Sometimes turning the clock back can give us time to gather strength to face the future of opportunity. One of my favourite authors is William Shakespeare, who wrote the following in  the play, ‘Julius Caesar’ 

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
 Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
 Omitted, all the voyage of their life
 Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
 On such a full sea are we now afloat,
 And we must take the current when it serves,
 Or lose our ventures.”


How Clean Is Your House?

Some years ago, I became a member of a local gym. I felt that sitting in an office for long periods would speed up stiffening of joints as I raced towards retirement age. My idea of going to the gym was purely for exercise, and to lose weight or alter my shape would be a total waste of time unless I was prepared to stick to a rigid diet as well. At first I joined a private health club and paid my annual fee, thinking that it was the cheaper option than a monthly membership. It was a lovely club, quite luxurious although also small and friendly. I used to welcome my short spell on the exercise machines followed by relaxing in the jacuzzi. You felt good after the visit. Looking forward to going home from work and to a dinner of meat and two veg. but on coming out, all you wanted was a nice fresh salad. Unfortunately, I had a minor car accident resulting in a whiplash injury, so my membership came to an abrupt halt.

I always felt more comfortable in joggers and tee shirt and some others obviously felt the same. Although the local, popular gym in town was somewhat different, all lycra and make-up with the would-be Adonises competing to be Mr Universe.

Years ago, gyms were more associated with sports training. With less gadgets in the house, housework was the only exercise you needed. No fitted carpets, so whatever was on the floor had to be cleaned. Scrubbed with soap and water or if you had linoleum (no vinyl then), it had also to polished. Can you believe people pay for the same exercises we did at home for nothing and had the satisfaction of having a clean house as well?

Fitted carpets are notoriously unhygienic but we will tolerate living with the dust, grit and these monsters just for comfort.

The floors would have been covered by rugs, perhaps even one large rug, leaving a varnished wood surround or a linoleum covered one. The rugs were taken out regularly, thrown over a rope or fence and beaten well to get rid of accumulated dust and bugs.carpet-beatersIt’s still reckoned to be the best way to clean rugs, especially handmade or antique ones.

I wonder if anyone realises what modern life is doing to us?

A Little Puff Of Smoke

I found it strange that out of all of his family, only my father and one uncle smoked. My father must have started as a young man but any objections I had to living in a smoke-filled house were met by my mother’s defence of ‘it’s his only pleasure’. That was a really sad statement in my mind.

Dad did have hobbies as a young man, he fished, tied his own flies and had a motor bike and ultimately, a car. Being brought up in a corn milling family, he didn’t have much time for anything else. He started off work in the outside world as an engineer though it was some time after that, he met and married my mother. He had long hours at his work and any spare time he had after that was spent decorating their first home and making furniture for it. Although it was the habit for the family to donate furniture to young married couples, they didn’t always get all they needed. The first piece of furniture my father made was a wooden trolley. I still have it. He also made a sideboard which had added handmade inlaid handles to doors and drawers. The house we lived in was a small terraced cottage and beyond the kitchen, he had a workshop. He started making pokers with decorative, multicoloured handles made of different coloured layers of some sort of plastic which fitted in well with the contemporary colourful decor of the period.capstan

There was nothing my father couldn’t do but I can still see him, whatever he was doing, he had a cigarette. He smoked 20 Capstan Navy Cut cigarettes a day, so it was probably modest compared with some. If he had to nip the cigarette out, it wasn’t thrown away, it was put in his pocket until he had time to smoke it again. Sometimes they were forgotten about and if he ran out of cigarettes, he could rummage through his pockets for the ‘dowts’ (cigarette butts). At that time there were no filters on the cigarettes he smoked.

One of my maternal aunts and some of her family smoked Senior Service. These pasenior-serviceckets were quite decorative and a new craft became popular, sometimes known as ‘prison craft’, it was something prison inmates could keep themselves busy with and they created picture frames and other items out of many cigarette packets. Because of the logo of the front of the packets, they provided an interesting form of art work.

I think now, considering how skilful and how capable my father was to provide us with our home, smoking was his own leisure time and would have been ‘the only pleasure’ in that respect. As work became easier and he did get more time, he added reading to that. I think that is why the smell of engines and tobacco are the ones which remind me mostly of my dad.


When Santa Calls

Our Christmases were quite low key, and definitely for the children. We didn’t get a fraction of what today’s children get but we were more than happy with it. We had a nice dinner although nothing like the big razzmatazz of today.

The house would be decorated with paper chains and honeycomb bells and balls and there would be tinsel and glass baubles for the tree. The tinsel I remember was quite scraggy in comparison to the thick fluffiness of now. The tree was real, and you couldn’t beat the lovely smell of pine which added to the Christmassy excitement.

We always hung up our stocking, or at least one of dad’s socks, it was bigger. In the morning it was filled with a tangerine, an apple, some sweets  and perhaps coloured pencils or similar. We usually got a bigger gift of a toy, some smaller toys and lots of books and annuals. I seldom got up before at least one annual had been read from cover to cover.


Christmas was a family day, we visited relatives, exchanged gifts and we could play with our cousin’s new toys and games. It was a lovely day.

It’s sad that commercialism has taken over, the Christmas bells are being replaced now by the sound of till bells ringing in the shops. It’s not what Christmas is meant to be. First we have the nativity, celebrating the birth of Jesus. Then we have Santa Claus – you may wonder where he fits into the scheme of things.

Saint Nicholas came from the Mediterranean area, he is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, students and repentant thieves. You would think that would be enough to keep him busy, but he was a kindly bishop and was reputed to give gifts secretly, and often slipped a coin into a child’s shoe. Known in some places as Father Christmas but he had many other names depending on the country. If you want to know more about the real Santa Claus, a visit to his website is quite enlightening. St. Nicholas Center

Perhaps we should think about Christmas and it’s true meaning and not so much spending money on gifts that often are excess to requirnativity-scene-7ements, or over-indulging children whose lives are already overburdened with parents and grandparents competing to see who can give the most. The usual excuse there is because they want to see their faces when they give them too much. That’s not giving the child a gift, that’s self-indulgence.

Think how many homeless people could be fed if all the money for excess gifts giving was given towards some real need. Remember St. Nicholas is reputed to have only slipped a coin in a shoe, he didn’t have a credit card to run-up debt.

Perhaps it would be nice to turn the clocks back and make Christmas a family day and remember the ‘reason for the season’. It’s not Happy Holidays, it’s Happy Christmas.


Afternoon Teas

It is nice to see the Victorian afternoon teas making a comeback. It’s disappointing though to see commercial companies offer afternoon teas wwaitresshich are nothing like the elegant teatimes of the past. Cakes and other dainties are served but there’s no crisp cotton tablecloth on the table, no dainty china cups and no real tea, only teabags. There does seem to be a difference on how you feel, depending on the type of afternoon tea you are attending. Add all the frills and fancies, linen serviettes instead of paper, patterned china instead of the standard hotel earthenware cups. Scones served with curls of butter and jam in proper jam dishes instead of prepacked portions. All that transports you to a genteel era, housemaids with black dresses and white aprons and caps serving dainty sandwiches and cakes on a tray. Also tea served from a teapot, kept warm under a tea cosy. Though a dedicated coffee drinker, I have a selection of proper leaf teas for the guest to chose from and not a teabag in sight.

I do wish I had paid attention to both my granny’s and mumtea-settable‘s baking though. Granny’s scones were second to none and none of the ingredients were weighed. Handful, pinch and spoonful were the measurements instead of pounds and ounces. When the milk was sold in glass bottles and cream would still rise to the surface, the short life without the fridge didn’t mean sour milk was wasted, we kept it all for granny to use in her scones. No science degree to tell you sour milk makes the scones light, I use active yogurt instead to replace the ‘live’ bacteria milk processing takes away.

Having inherited a number of recipe books, handwritten by my mother and both grandmothers, it’s quite comforting to see the titles such a “Mrs Hamilton’s Fruit Cake”, or “Sadie’s Chocolate Cake”, let your imagination loose and not only do you see these people in your mind’s eye, but you can almost smell the baking as well.

Many years ago, I bought an S.W.R.I. (Scottish Women’s Rural Institute) cookery book. Some of the recipes date back generations and one such recipe from the book, I will share:-

Hatted Kit (A very old Highland dish)

Warm slightly over the fire 2 pints of buttermilk. Pour it into a dish and carry it to the side of a cow. Milk into it about 1 pint of milk, having previously put into the dish sufficient rennet for the whole. After allowing it to stand for a while, lift the curd, place it on a sieve, and press the whey through until the curd is quite stiff. Season with sugar and nutmeg before serving, whip some thick cream, season it also with a little grated nutmeg and sugar and mix gently with the curd. This dish can quite well be made without milking the cow into it., although the contributor’s mother always considered that direct milking put a better hat on the kit.”