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Friday, 29 June 2012

Soap gets in your eyes... (or how Lifebuoy saved my life)

A fascinating reminder of the past - from Guernsey Museums (below) - landed in my in-box yesterday and got me thinking about soap. Not Coronation St or Eastenders, you understand, but the sort we used to wash ourselves with long ago!. My grandfather had a greenhouse in his garden in Guernsey when I was a child, and he wasn't allowed back in the kitchen until he had 'got the dirt off' his hands.  So by the back door he kept a 'dipper' - a metal bowl with a handle - where he  used to scrub his hands (and mine) with Lifebuoy toilet soap.

In the early nineties I visited Port Sunlight Village on the Wirral - home of Lifebuoy (and, of course Sunlight) toilet soap.  In the factory shop they had several bars of Lifebuoy on display and I asked if I could buy  one. 'Sorry, no,' said the assistant, explaining that manufacturing had now stopped. When I asked if I could get hold of the soap, to bring back childhood memories, (it smelt of carbolic) to my embarrassment, my eyes filled with tears.

Later in the day I went back to the shop for one last look and the assistant beckoned me into the back room. 'I want you to have this,' she said, pressing the soap into my hand. 'I've been worried all day after seeing you so upset.' She made me promise 'not to tell a soul,' which I haven't, till now.  Needless to say, I still have that bar of Lifebuoy today, and wouldn't part with it for anything.

Do you remember Sunlight Soap, Kensitas cigarettes or Pepsodent toothpaste? Our next exhibition is a trip down memory lane, looking at the brands and packaging from yesteryear. To tie in, the Museum Shop is stocked up with vintage branded products.

Beautiful things we sell.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Eighty-two thousand poppies...

Guernsey poppies growing wild...

How I wish I could have seen the 82,000 poppies
released into the sky by the last-flying Lancaster bomber today.
The poppies represented the tens of thousands of men who died in World War Two and, no doubt, the trail of 
broken hearts
left behind.
God bless them all.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Noah had his ark in the right place!

It was Club Day  today in Lytham, Lancashire, where no-one stopped the carnival, despite the weather. An amazing array of floats appeared, full of freezing children  who had long-awaited this special day. Floats, in case you're not familiar with the word,  are lorries, boats, trucks or trailers - adorned with  flowers (mostly paper but sometimes real) - with the relevant church, club, school or studio emblazoned  for all to see.

As a cub reporter on my local paper in the early seventies, I dreaded the thought of covering Club Day.

'Just look up last year's report,' my fellow hack said helpfully, 'and change a few words  to suit the occasion.'  It was easier in those days. 'The sun shone brightly on this special June day as the carnival came to town...'  said the archives. I hardly had to change a word.

Today, the sun did not shine, and the floats might well have been on the water, so dire was the flood warning.  (Amber, according to the Met Office, means storms imminent.) But no, we survived, in true English spirit, as the band played on...

Supporters at a recent gala day in nearby Poulton-Le-Fylde
History is  going full circle. While we all limped home, drenched to the skin, Noah clearly had his ark in the right place.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Come into the garden Maud - why weeping willows make me smile...

I love summer: it means I can write under my wonderful weeping willow tree, pictured here.

'A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.' So said  the acclaimed  landscape architect Luis Barragan who was born in Mexico in 1902. If you've read  Kate Morton's 'The Forgotten Garden,' you'll understand what he meant.

When I was a child 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett  held me in its spell; so much so that I once bought a house with a secluded walkway leading down to a separate garden. This riot of greenery grew as it pleased, except for a lone magnolia tree which appeared every spring as if its star- shaped flowers had been carefully  crafted by hand. Sitting under a willow tree gives me the same sense of seclusion. 

Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called' Under the Willow Tree' in 1853 and many others have followed his example. Even Billie Holiday was famed for singing 'Willow weep for me.'

Underneath my  tree I hear the branches rustle in the wind and watch as they tumble to the ground. It makes me feel happy, it makes me feel creative and, sometimes, it's the only place I want to be.

Perhaps that's why Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote 'Come into the garden Maud...'

Friday, 15 June 2012

Newspapers? Which one are you reading now?

Forget politics and actresses with well-paid PR companies to support them - honesty is still what we  want - and need. As I writer I try to read all the newspapers, but my favourites are The Times and the Daily Mail who present such opposing views that, between them, they amount to genuine entertainment. Today, while the Mail front page declares 'Nancy's masseur cleared of molesting 18 women,' the Times asks: 'Have Oxford scholars discovered the hand that baptised Christ?' And, as the former  proudly announces that Mail Online is the 'Number One choice for sharing news on Facebook' (my sister calls it Bookface - don't ask) the Times talks solemnly of  'Dawn raids on downloaders of child abuse.'

But, suddenly, an about turn. The Times devotes two pages to the fate of five-year-old children,  headed 'Obesity is the chief suspect as girls reach puberty at the age of 5,' while its rival tells us of the Christian GP who discussed faith with his patient.

In more familiar mode, the Mail shows us photos of Peaches Geldof with new baby Astala (a boy in case you didn't realise) with a succession of computer generated cartoon hairstyles.  The Times, on the other hand, tries to make a money-spinning artist out of a girl ages three...

Anyway, you get the gist.  When I was a child, men in bowler hats with umbrellas aloft walked along reading copies of The Times. And the sort that read the Daily Herald, sorry, I mean Mail, were more interested in who did what with who (or should I say whom?)

There is, at least, one good thing about newspapers today.  They offer a Father's Day meal for Two including main meal, side  dish, dessert and a bottle of wine for just £10.00.   Now I'm not sure which newspaper I found that in, but I can't stop now. I'm off to M&S for the bargain of the year...

Sunday, 10 June 2012

My train of thought...

I had a brilliant time at the York Railfest this weekend, where wonderful steam trains filled the air with lots of reminiscent smoke ( choke, splutter!)  But I had to smile, as I wiped the soot from my face, at the sign above that limited cigarette smokers to a very confined space of their own...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What I'm saying is...


Have you noticed that in every conversation today someone adds 'What I'm saying is..' as if you didn't understand the first time? As if using different words might actually help to convey the same message?  But even that doesn't annoy me as much as the plight of poor little 'yes' which has been replaced by 'absolutely.'  My dictionary definition of absolutely is 'completely, utterly, perfect.'

And then there's 'iconic.' I heard the word so many times during jubilee weekend that I ended up yelling  at the commentator to stop. Five minutes later he admitted:  'We do keep saying iconic a lot today, don't we? We really must think of another word.'  You  just couldn't make it up. ( And that's another hackneyed phrase.)

So why, when there are171,476 - and counting - words in the Oxford English Dictionary (see below,) do we resort to the same ones over and over again? I'm not going to go on about kids  saying 'and stuff' all the time because each new generation inevitably creates  its own language. It makes them unique.

The only difference today is that 'text speak' (of which I, too, am guilty when texting) has now become formal language for some who may never actually learn how to spell.  So what, you might say.  Languages evolve.  Accents change.  Even the Queen has toned down her 'posh' vowels of the early years of her reign.

Several years ago I bought a hilarious (or should that be an hilarious) book called The Queen's English subtitled (High taw tawk prawpah-leah) by Dorgan Rushton (Pelham Books, London.)  My daughters used to read it out loud until we all howled with laughter.  For example 'Aim hevving rid Waynne' means I'm having red wine' and 'Laugh-lear sah-vis, Veekah' means - well - imagine you've just come out of church!

Believe it or not, I do like regional accents,  but I'm not sure why every commentator on every channel has to have one. They should,  at least,  include subtitles.

Meanwhile, at this moment in time, er sorry I mean now, I've got to put on the leccy kettle, make a brew and catch up on the latest new words in my dictionary.

How many words are there in the English language?
There is no single sensible answer to this question. It's impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning 'a kind of animal', and a verb meaning 'to follow persistently')? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (e.g. dogs = plural noun, dogs = present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since it might also be written as hot-dog or even hotdog?
The Second Edition of the 20-volume  Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. 

I'd better go now - I've got a lot of reading to catch up on....

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Long May She Shine...

Why do I know, without waiting for tomorrow's headlines, that the tabloids will  come up with a version of 'Long May She rain...'  So it rained - what do you expect? This is Britain.  Enjoy all the pomp an ceremony because, one day, it will all be gone.  Then, whether we believe in the monarchy or not, we'll look back and remember the end of an era.