Tuesday, September 30, 2008

High and Dry -- and Soaking Wet!

As a family one of our most favourite vacations was to rent a cabin cruiser and go boating on the Norfolk Broads.

The Broads is a fascinating area with a rich history, reflected in the many wonderful places to visit and the unique wildlife. There are restored windmills, medieval churches, beautiful gardens and great places for family visits. If you enjoy walking or cycling, there are also many routes to choose from. For many people, a great way to explore the Broads is by water, as much of the history of the Broads revolves around the way the rivers have been used over the years. For many, the charm of the Broads rests on the illusion of remoteness you get when you're on the water. You can be near a village without knowing that there is anybody or anything for miles around. (http://www.broads-authority.gov.uk/)

It was absolutely thrilling for me, when at age six, my family decided to take a broads' holiday. We browsed through the boat companies' catalogues choosing which boat to rent. This is what a page of the catalogue looked like:
Our boat was a little larger, probably a six-berth, since there was five of us.

The day came when we loaded up the car and drove down to Brundall, on the River Yare, to pick up the boat and head out for an amazing week cruising the broads.
This is the Brundall boat-station today
And here we are on board; my sister, my mom, me and my father. My brother is taking the photo. As you can see by the life-belt, our boat was called Amethyst.

We were vacationing with another family, friends of my parents. Ray Mercer, a hair-dresser in Bridlington, and his wife and children.

We had lots of lazy, sunny days meandering through the waterways.
Crossing Breydon Water was a challenge, however. It's a vast stretch of water that can get very choppy, and crossing it can sometimes feel like going out to sea. But it is also very shallow, so boats must keep between the posts marking the channels. Deviating from the channel can.....well, it can lead to this: Yes, that's my father, none-too-happy, aboard the Amethyst, high and dry, waiting for the boat-station tug boat to come and tow us out. When the tide is high, the water depth can be very deceiving, but when the tide goes out -- well, the truth is made known. I am not sure what went wrong, but obviously he didn't stick to the channel! I do remember this being quite a stressful time, and I was scared that we were never going to be able to move, and perhaps never get home again!
But I guess the incident didn't daunt my courage.
This is Ray Mercer. My sister and I are closest to the camera, and his children -- seems to me his daughter was called Bubbles, and his son was Peter -- are on the other side. I was not too fond of Peter. He was a little older than me and teased me mercilessly. This is their boat, the Black Swan (each of the boats towed dinghies behind for little sight-seeing trips).
There came a day when both boats were moored alongside each other, probably right here, since I think my brother took this photo from our boat. Peter was standing on his boat, on that narrow ledge that goes all the way around, and I was standing in the same place on ours. He began to taunt me "Yo-ou're only si-i-x years o-old, and yo-ou ca-an't swi-im!"

Well, I'd had enough. I drew myself up as tall as I could, and responded, "Ye-e-es I ca-an!" and promptly jumped in the water -- six feet of fast-flowing tidal water, no less! And I couldn't swim!

I can distinctly remember sinking down. I can see the green, murky water and the bubbles, even now. I don't remember panicking; in fact there was quite a sense of peacefulness. I do remember surfacing (someone said I went down three times) and I have this picture of my brother indelibly etched on my memory. He was looking over the edge of the boat and very calmly calling out "Someone throw the life-belt in." He was standing inches away from it!

I'm not exactly sure where Ray Mercer came from, and I don't remember being fished out of the water, but they tell me he jumped in, clothes, wallet and all and had to swim quite a little distance to catch up to me -- but he saved my life! It was said afterwards, "Wasn't it lucky she was wearing that little pleated skirt!" Apparently it floated upward and acted like a life-belt (no thanks to my brother!).

I was quickly bundled in warm blankets and rewarded for my folly with some slices of delicious, crusty french bread with chunks of chicken -- yummy!

In spite of it all, I never lost my love for the Norfolk Broads. Below depicts my last trip, at age 14, before I left for Canada a couple of years later. My dad took this photo of my brother, me, my mom and friends Vi and Don Jackson of Goole, in 1958. The old wooden cabin cruisers have long since been replaced by streamlined, luxury boats. Here is a lovely video of what a trip on the Broads was like in my day and even is today, accompanied by some beautiful British minstrel-type music too!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happier Times

Although my days in Goole were not particularly happy ones, there were some occasions that brought joy.

For example, our Sunday afternoon drives into the country. Sometimes we would pack a picnic lunch, bring along a blanket and head out across the Yorkshire Moors. We could travel the roads for miles through luscious heather-covered hills that would open up to panoramic vistas of the moors. Then suddenly the road would descend into a picturesque, tiny village tucked away at the bottom.

Or sometimes we would find a quiet country lane and pull off to the side of the road, where we would picnic on the blanket. For my parents, who were 'on call' 24 hours a day, six and a half days a week in the hotel, this afternoon trip was a time of sweet relaxation for them.

Ah, forty winks! Blessed rest for my mom. And yes! We even had sun-roofs in those days!

My sister Chris got married in Goole, in 1959. I was the one and only bridesmaid -- that's me, to the left of Barry, the groom. My mom is to the left of me; my dad is third from the right. Since I was a real tomboy at that time, I wasn't too happy about wearing that fancy orange organza dress!

Having my sister around once-in-a-while was always a pleasure for me. She is seven years older than me and had long since moved away from home. I'm not sure of the timing of this, but she, Barry and I did spend a terrific time together once - while I was still living in Goole I think - hiking in the Lake District.

My parents drove me to Keswick, where I met up with Chris and Barry. I waited for them at the foot of this clock tower.

We spent lots of fun hours hiking up and down the hills, and through the quaint little villages around Derwentwater. Sometimes we would get caught in huge downpours of rain that passed over as quickly as they had arrived! Loads of fun! But the black-headed ram wasn't quite as amused.

We actually made it to the top of Mount Skiddaw. I remember hearing that it was 2000 feet high, which doesn't sound so high to me now, but it did seem like a long way up, then! (Wikipedia says it's 3000 feet above sea level)

But we made it! (I'm on the right)

And so did Barry -- more recently known as MOTH (Man of the House)...

and there was nothing better than coming back down to the B & B, after all that hiking, and having a lovely hot mug of Horlicks. Mmmm...yummy!

Next post, we are moving on to holidays on the Norfolk Broads, where I once gave my family a terrible scare!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In the Twilight Zone

I'm not sure what I expected from this student exchange venture. I'm sure I hoped I would be speaking fluent German by the time I returned to the U.K. I know I hoped that this friendship with Brigitte would be a great one -- and really it could have been, if her family hadn't been so weird.

I knew I was in trouble when, alone with Brigitte's mother for less than an hour, I was asked to vacuum the house. It wasn't that she was a slave-driver, she was a hypochondriac (or, on reflection, maybe she just hated housework). She had been in the middle of vacuuming when I arrived, and got back to it after our awkward introductions. But suddenly she put her hand to her forehead and made as if she was going to faint. She turned off the vacuum cleaner and collapsed on the couch.

Terrified, I ran over and asked if she was ok. She held out her hands and pointed to her nails. I did understand the word for 'blue' and realized she was telling me her fingernails were turning blue -- and clutching her heart she began to pant. She thought she was having a heart-attack. But she was well enough to point me toward the vacuum cleaner and make me understand I was to finish the job for her - which I did. I hadn't even seen my room or unpacked yet! She had a miraculously recovery soon after I finished.

Later, when I asked to use the bathroom, she showed me a bathtub full of clothes, lying in dirty water. The smell was overpowering. She explained, rubbing her back, that she was in great pain and hadn't been able to do the laundry. The pile of clothes grew, the water rose higher, and I didn't have a bath in those three weeks.
She asked if I was hungry, but said I'd have to wait till her husband arrived home before I could eat, as she had a tremendous headache. All this was communicated via great drama and miming actions.
I was happy to finally meet Brigitte, and eventually her dad arrived home and we had something to eat. It was a rather hurried meal as his favourite TV program was coming on and with great pomp and ceremony, he settled Brigitte, me and her mom on the couch. He pulled up an armchair and positioned himself in front of us, as close to the TV as he could get.

We were watching a program about the Second World War -- specifically about the bombing of Germany by the British. B's dad was getting angrier and angrier as the program progressed. His face was beet red, and he was waving his arms and stomping his feet...I was petrified. He began to rant and rave about the British and all the damage they had done -- and kept turning to me and shouting: "See? See what you did to us? Bah! Englander!" and then he would spit on the floor (honestly!). This went on for the rest of the program -- and this was my first day there!

I was so relieved to go to bed, but I was scared of this man who blamed me for the whole war, so I moved a chair up against the door -- not that it would have kept him out. I buried myself under the thick, feather duvet and cried myself to sleep. I quickly learned that there could not be a more inflamatory subject than the war, to this man -- and it came up time and again. To think that I had to go through three weeks of this!

The aroma of coffee woke me up the next morning and I crept into the kitchen in my PJs, hoping he had already left for work. But no, there he was -- bright and chipper, smiling, welcoming me as if nothing has happened the night before! Brigitte and her mom joined us and we had a lovely breakfast together: coffee, rye bread and cream cheese and some slices of ham and tomato. Breakfast became my most favourite and welcomed meal, since just about everything else we ate was always floating in a few centimetres of oil.

Sunday came and Brigitte's mom insisted that we go to church. She herself was 'just not well enough' to go, but conscripted her husband to take us, so that we could go light a candle and say a prayer for her. B's dad was none too pleased but relented, so off we three went in our Sunday best -- to the local pub! Off came his tie and jacket and he sat us at a table outside. Giving us strict instructions to stay there, he brought us some apple juice and disappeared inside. We didn't see him again for an hour and a half!

On the way home, he told us to be sure to say what a great message the priest had given, and yes, we confessed our sins, and yes, we put the money in the offering. And yes, we enjoyed it so much we'd like to go again next week! So the Sunday morning jaunt to the pub was a ritual for the next two weeks.

One day, Brigitte's 18 year-old cousin came to visit. She'd told me how good-looking he was -- I thought he was pretty geeky-looking. Anyway, he came to invite us to a party the following Saturday. Brigitte's mom was adamant. Brigitte couldn't go; she was too young. But it would be a great experience for me, and Hans would be a reliable escort. I was 15, the same age as Brigitte, and had never been to a party in my life, and the thought of going with a boy 'so much older' than me scared me to death. Besides I couldn't dance, so what was the point?

No problem, says Hans, I'll teach you. It was torture. I was mortified; blushing from the roots up, not wanting to hold his hand, never mind have his arm around me. I had two left feet and was stumbling all over the place.

He finally gave up.

The party was in someone's home and as we entered the door there was an awful smell. The lights were all out, just candles everywhere, and there was a haze of smoke hanging over the room. Couples were curled up together on couches, in chairs, and in corners, all wrapped around each other. We walked through the house and every room was the same -- candles, couples and strong-smelling smoke. I was so naive, I had never heard of marijuana until Hans asked me if I smoked it. I'd never had a panic attack before, either, but I launched into a major one -- crying and shaking and pleading to be taken out of there. It was quite a scene.

He was none too pleased when we arrived back at B's house, and I was in the dog-house for the next few days. B's mom and dad were most upset that I had spoiled Hans' evening.

I could continue to tell you of the constant, violent arguments that B's mom and dad had with each other. And relate to you the nightmare trip into Cologne where I could see for myself the terrible after-effects of all "YOU did to us in the war," and where they refused to take me to the top of Cologne Cathedral because it was too expensive, even though I offered to pay for us all. And, oh, so many other incidents.

But I'll end it here simply to say that I was so grateful to get back home to England. I never did tell my parents the worst of the stuff that happened, and Brigitte never did come on her return visit to me. We received a letter from her mom saying that B just 'wasn't well enough or old enough' to travel all that way to a strange country and face new circumstances. Ha! She should worry!

Next time, I'll tell of a couple of pleasant occasions that happened while I lived in Goole.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Looking Back - Part Five

The reward for months of agonizing over the conjugating of German verbs was that I was eligible for the student exchange program. Which meant I got to go to Germany and live for three weeks with a German family, whose daughter I had been getting to know as a pen-pal, via just one or two exchanged letters (no e-mail in those days, only snail-mail). This was both exciting and nerve-wracking. Nerve-wracking because I knew I was totally incapable of holding a conversation in German! Never-the-less, the thought of getting out of Goole for a few weeks was the greatest motivation.

So, on April 5th, 1960 I packed my suitcase and walked across the street to the train station with my parents, to meet up with the other students who were going to Germany. Here we would take the train via London to Harwich, and then catch the ferry that would take us overnight across the English channel to the Hook of Holland. There we would catch another train to go Bruhl, near Cologne, to meet up with our respective exchange families.

Here's a neat link to a video of Goole Station (sorry, no sound). The first train you see is the Yorkshire Pullman, likely the very train I would have taken, pulling into the station on its way to London. Amazingly, the video was taken in 1960! I hope you don't get as bored as that station master was. You will even see a little of the town centre -- unfortunately looking away from where the Station Hotel was. This is the same station where, just a few months earlier I think, we had said goodbye to my newly-married sister and her husband, on their way to live in Canada. Little did I know that in a couple of short years, I would be joining them in Toronto!

There was great excitement once we reached Harwich. For most of us it was the first time we had been on a 'big' boat. This is the old ferry -- of course it wasn't 'old' to us in those days:
We all thought we would have the run of the ship, but since we had arrived late evening we were immediately confined to our cabins -- two per room -- and told to sleep: "When you wake up, we'll be there!" Problem was, we never slept -- at least not my room-mate and I.
Our cabin was right over the engine room. The vibrating rumble of the engines, combined with the rolling of the ship and the smell of the oil fumes, made us both deathly ill -- and since we weren't allowed to leave our cabins, (we were very obedient in those days), and there was not even one porthole in the cabin, there was no hope of getting any fresh air . We had no idea where our accompanying teachers were, so we hung miserably, one over the tiny sink, the other over the toilet, the whole night. When dawn came and it was time to disembark, I could have kissed Dutch ground!

On arrival in Bruhl, I was dropped off at my pen-pal's home and left to fend for myself. Brigitte (name changed to protect the innocent) was at school, and her father was at work. So I was left alone with her non-English speaking mother for a few hours.

In the information letter that the school had sent home to the parents prior to the trip, one paragraph jumps out at me, as I read it again now, after all these years:

During the stay abroad, the English pupil stays with his/her pen-pal as a member of the family, speaking their language (ha!), and sharing their life. It provides our pupils with the opportunity of learning the language and the way of life of a foreign people by intimate personal contact.

If my parents had known the life I was going to share with this family they would have been horrified and would never have allowed me to take the trip!

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Looking Back - Part Four

I'm not really "Looking Back" in any particular order, but really just as the memories strike me.

In 1959, when I was 15, we lived in Goole, Yorkshire. It was not my most favourite place to live. We had left behind the beautiful north-east coast of England and moved to this dismal industrial, docking town situated on the River Ouse.My father had been hired by Ind Coope Breweries to take over the management of the Station Hotel -- which was, yes, right across from the railway station, right in the centre of town.

I had moved here virtually kicking and screaming -- I hated the place from the beginning. In sharp contrast to the blue skies and seas, seagulls, lighthouse, chalk-white cliffs and wild flowers of Bridlington and Flamborough, Goole was GRAY. Everywhere was gray; gray, overcast skies, gray buildings, the river was gray and dirty. Even the inside of the hotel seemed gray to me. I am SURE the colours in this postcard have been painted on!
My tiny bedroom had a window with bars on it, for some strange reason, which only served to emphasise the 'prison' to which I felt I had moved.

A large percentage of Goole's male inhabitants worked on the docks, and at the crack of dawn they would head down there -- all of them on bicycles -- returning when the whistle blew at the end of the day. Not too many families owned a car. My father owned a black Humber Hawk, like this one:
Only the rich drove these. You may think it strange, but every time we went out around town in that car, I would sink as low as possible in the seat, so as not to be seen by my school chums. None of my friend's families had cars, only bikes, and I was embarrassed. It was bad enough to be living in a hotel where I had all my meals in the dining room served by waiters and waitresses; where my bed was made for me, and my room was cleaned for me every day; where I would put my dirty school shoes outside my bedroom door at night, and in the morning there they were -- all clean and shiny; it was bad enough that my life was so tremendously different from my peers, but driving around in that beautiful black car was just too much. Hmmm...how times change -- sure wouldn't mind being waited on hand and foot these days :)

I attended Goole Grammar School, which was co-ed -- a huge adjustment for me after attending an all-girls high school. We wore uniforms -- yes, also the obligatory hats with elastic under the chin (can you imagine!), which came off the minute we were out of sight of the school.

Can you find me? I'll give you a hint. I'm on the front row. In the middle is my home room teacher, Miss Proudlove, who also taught German.

At this school we were given a choice of either Latin or German language classes. Believing Latin was an outdated, useless language I decided on German. What a mistake THAT was! Not only was it the hardest thing I have EVER had to learn, if I had taken Latin it would have stood me in good stead, some decades later, when I went to Romania and had to learn Romania's latin-based language. But how are we to know these things??

Anyway, because I was taking German lessons, I became eligible for the school's exchange program, where I was to be linked with a German student of similar age, background and interests. I would visit her for three weeks in Germany, and in return, later in the year, she would visit me in England.

Can't wait to tell you all about that -- my first time ever away from home. Oh, what a time I had!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Looking Back - Part Three

In 1960 my father became the manager of The Queen's Hotel, in Prestwick, Scotland -- which is now called, I believe, Queen's Nursing Home.

Here is a photo of my dad and me, and our dog Rip - taken outside the Queen's Hotel. I was 16; so now you can figure out my age!Sure wish I still looked like that -- but, unfortunately, I am now much older and much wider!!

Keeping up the family tradition, we spent many a Sunday exploring Scotland, and one of our trips was to Oban, a beautiful seaside town.

Oban Bay is dominated by McCaig's Tower, a replica of the Colosseum of Rome. A banker called John McCaig had it built between 1897 and 1900 as a memorial to his family, and to provide employment for the townsmen. It was quite a steep climb to the top of the hill but there were a couple of benches along the way on which to take a rest. The view of the bay was well worth the climb. I sat in one of the 'windows' with my legs dangling over the edge -- much to my mother's distress. There really isn't much to the tower, apart from the incredible view and that's probably why it is also known as McCaig's Folly.I took this photo of my brother, my mother and father as we walked through the town alongside the harbour, after visiting the Tower (behind, in the background). This is what the Tower and surrounding area looks like today. Hasn't changed much, except that the chimney on the distillery building is shorter now! I'd be grateful if someone could tell me what a 'Clearing Shop' is, as I have no idea!And this is the view today, from about halfway up to the Tower, I think.

We were in Oban around the time of my mother's birthday, so my brother took her to a gift shop and had her choose anything she would like as a birthday present. She made her choice, and I was SO jealous -- I wanted one, too! But it was not to be -- at least not then. My mother was thrilled with it,and actually stuck a little label on the bottom of it, to remind her of the occasion.And this is what brought her so much delight:He's a beautiful, black-headed, long-haired ram. He probably has a name, but I've looked all over the 'net and can't find one like him.

When my brother died of cancer in 1983, I am sure this fellow became even more special to my mom. And when she passed away in 2002, he became mine, and I treasure him as a reminder of my mother, my brother and our trip to Oban that year.