Thursday, 27 January 2011

Travel bag

8.  Travel bag.

My father used this bag for many years. He must have been traveling with it when he first met my mother on the boat to Zeebrugge in the mid 1930's. She was going to stay with friends in Denmark and he setting out for a painting holiday in Europe. He ended up in San Sebastian and the hotel sticker is prominently displayed. He had obviously made a note of my mother's journey home because he was waiting at the dockside on her return!
A large oil painting of my father's, with a view of the harbour and bay of San Sebastian, hung above the fireplace in my parents' bedroom for many years.

Some of the other hotel stickers remind me of later family holidays. Before there was an airport on the Balearic island of Ibiza we would stay at a hotel on the Ramblas in Barcelona and catch the overnight boat to the island, arriving in the morning after breakfast on board. I think that there is something very special about arrivals and departures by boat.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Party dress

7.  1950's  'Susan Small model' dress.

This was one of my mother's party dresses dating from the 1950's. It has a ballerina length, three-tiered lace skirt and a boned bodice with a broad velvet band and bow at the bust. There are spaghetti straps and a detachable scrap of lace to give the option of covering the back and shoulders.

Every year my mother and I were taken into town to choose our party dresses. My father loved the occasion as much as we did. He would be given a  chair to sit on at the shop and passed his opinion on each outfit as my mother or I emerged from the changing room. I remember many of the chosen dresses clearly, the colours and the feel of the fabrics. I particularly remember one of my mother's cocktail dresses, a neat little black crepe, asymmetrical style, with diamante clips at the neck, which I thought was the height of sophistication - and I dare say it was! 
I was usually allowed to stay up and see my parents when they were all dressed up ready to go to a dinner dance or some other function.  My mother would be sparkling with pleasurable anticipation of the evening ahead (even if she had been grumpy with me during the day!) and I always thought that she looked transformed.

Third generation to wear the Susan Small dress!

My mother at a dinner dance in the 1940's wearing a long, deep purple velvet dress.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Dressing gown

6.  1930's dressing gown.

The label on my father's dressing gown states that it was bought from Rufus Sanderson, of 18 Commercial Street, Leeds. It is a good example of his love of exuberant pattern and colour. Anything in our home that stood still for long enough was likely to be decorated; walls, ceilings or furniture. Grandma was treated to a design of large deer leaping amongst luxuriant foliage around the walls of her living room. My father's style owed much to that of the Omega workshop, quirkily innovative, joyful and rather slapdash. I took it all for granted as a child, it was just home and therefore normal. But when I became older and aware of other people's opinions I realised that the word, 'normal' was rather inappropriate!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Danish figurine

5. Danish ceramic figurine.

This little figure, standing 8 inches high, was a present to my parents from my mother's Danish friend, who translated it's title from, 'the girl with the beautiful back' to, 'the girl with the beautiful behind.' Because this interpretation was funny it became the title that was always used. 

My parents thought that the figurine was rather like me, prone as I was to running about the garden in a state of undress, with my hair, free of restricting plaits, an untidy tangle.
My mother was always keen to relate examples of my wild behaviour in childhood, a favourite being the occasion when I was spotted by our very correct, childless neighbour, Mrs Bolwell. She peered over the fence to see me in the strawberry bed, stark naked, twirling my knickers in one hand whilst picking and eating strawberries with the other.
"Eatin' 'tawbs."

Richmael Compton missed a trick when she failed to include me in Just Wiliam's gang!

Saturday, 15 January 2011


4. Japanese ivory netsuke.

These netsuke figures are all that remain in my possession from my father's collection of carved ivory pieces. They sat, together with seven intricately carved tusks and other objects, on the mantelpiece at home. Japanese netsuke were basically utilitarian objects, used as toggles on a variety of articles such as purses and tobacco pouches. They were threaded through a cord suspended from the obi.

These pieces came into my fathers' ownership in a curious way. A man came to the house with a sack over his shoulder. My mother, when pressed, was only able to remember that he was 'a foreigner, a man from the East.' He had been told that my father liked to collect china and beautiful objects. From the sack he withdrew a selection of ivories. It was the late 1930's and money was tight and the future uncertain, but the ivories proved irresistible and were bought.

My nephew now owns my father's collection but I have these remaining objects, very precious to me for the memories that they hold.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


3. Scottish deer horn and silver spoon.

This spoon was probably given to me as a christening gift, although there is no one, now, who can confirm this. The horn bowl is battered with use. In childhood, unlike metal, it was soft against the teeth and the long, gently curving handle easy to grasp. The family always referred to it as, 'Rosemary's haggis spoon' and I am the only person who has ever used it.
Haggis was eaten quite often in our house because visiting relatives from Scotland always brought one as a present for my mother, marooned as she was in Yorkshire without any proper Scottish sustenance.
My rather elegant looking spoon no doubt lent an air of ceremony to eating what is, after all, no more than spiced offal and oatmeal trussed up in a sheep's stomach until it resembles a cannon ball.
Haggis with 'neeps an' tatties' - what a feast!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Details surrounding my birth.

1. The bed that I was born in.

Before his marriage my father wooed his future bride with an ancient half-tester bed, bought at auction.He sent a photo of his purchase to my mother in Scotland where it must have been well received, for some years later both my brother and then I were born between it's curtains in considerable style. My brother's birth was quick and easy, but my own, at the height of the Second World War was a painful, long drawn out affair, threatening the free-standing wooden figures and the corner posts.

My parents represented the attraction of opposites and at this time the practical, organised, animal loving, decision making half of the partnership had been recruited into the army, leaving his totally impractical young wife and three year old son to cope as best they might.
My mother's morning routine was to milk the goat and feed the rabbits and hens on whom she relied for meat and eggs. 
Meehawl MacMurrahu, the family cat, was keeping my mother company by wandering around with a very inflated belly, threatening imminent birth. A bed had been made for her in the garden store, but MacMurrahu was planning a canopied bed for her own offspring and had taken up her position beneath the kitchen table. No matter how many times she was carried outside she always managed to return.
Our neighbour, peering over the hedge, took one look at my mother and sent her maid, Cissy, round to insist that the doctor be sent for. So my mother sat wearily at the kitchen table waiting for the doctor, while my brother announced one 'plop' after another as the kittens arrived beneath their feet.

During the war my father was an army sergeant and around the time of my birth was stationed not too far away from home. He arranged three days compassionate leave, organised all forty of his men to pick rosehips and borrowed a bicycle to  make the journey home. He arrived to a level of chaos unknown to a practical man.

Dr Pratt was the doctor who attended my birth. He was immediately enthralled by the marital bed. "Far more interested in it than in me!" said my mother. However, he was astute enough to liken her figure in the great, dark bed to Mary, Queen of Scots, quite the best thing to say to a homesick Celt, frightened by many hours of labour.
When my father arrived home he will have rolled up his sleeves in customary fashion and set to work on whatever needed doing. By the time I was born, too weary to yell, he had to get on the bicycle and peddle back to camp. He never found the time to process the rosehips and after a few days my mother stood by the jam pan and bottled endless supplies of scarlet syrup.
I was called 'Rose' and 'mary' and entered into a chaotic and happy family life.

The bed and its sideboard were said to have been made from material taken from Wakefield Cathedral at the time of the Dissolution of the Monastries. I still have the sideboard but sadly the bed is no longer in the family. I would love to know where it is and who now has the pleasure of sleeping in it.

2. Sideboard.