Blending Your Stories with those of Your Community

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As we know, writing life stories is popular at the moment, recording stories from our past so they are not lost to future generations. We may all think we have nothing special to tell but, from experience, what we find everyday and uneventful, others find fascinating.

Have you ever considered blending your stories with those of your community? Social stories give a reader so much information about the past. Take the hotel in the photo above for example. There are many stories I could tell about this building, from my own family and personal experience back to fascinating things I’ve learned about its history.

All communities have buildings that have been demolished, replaced with more modern constructions. There are also buildings that may be in danger of vanishing some time in the near future. If the stories relating to these buildings are not recorded, part of your community social history is lost.

Why not blend your own stories with those of your community. Start writing them down while you can.

Making a Start on Writing Your Stories

So many people tell me there life is not worth recording, they’ve never done anything interesting that others may want to read. Of course, I tell them that is absolute nonsense. No one else knows our life as we do. What seems ordinary to us seems fascinating to others. That is why it is important to get your stories written down.

As I go about my research for my latest writing project I’m grateful that people in the past have recorded their everyday stories, so that every day details are not lost. In the future someone may be grateful to you for writing your stories down. Even the smallest details may prove to be informative or interesting to someone in the years to come.

Why not start writing down your stories today?Image

Remembering my Old School friend Shirley

Life seemed much more simple back in the 1950s. At school everyone seemed the same, regardless of their ethnic origin, home circumstances or anything else that may label someone as being different. We were all just kids, learning and playing together. Life was good.

When I was about eight I had a friend called Shirley, a Chinese girl, who lived on the edge of town in a market garden. Whenever I went to play with Shirley we’d sneak along the other side of the hedge, so the old wrinkled Chinese man sitting on the front verandah of the house smoking, her grandfather, didn’t see us. I don’t think he liked kids much.

Shirley and her family moved to another town the following year and a brand new tavern was built on the site of the garden. I often think of Shirley whenever driving past the tavern, now well within the city boundaries.  The sight that met my eyes the other day came as a surprise. The now old tavern, closed a few years ago, had been knocked down, demolished, reduced to nothing but memories.

Quite by coincidence, this coincided with a short visit to Wellington, where I’d listened to some exquisite Chinese street music played on an erhu, a traditional Chinese two stringed fiddle.

http://www.bubblews.com/news/1295592-the-old-chinese-man-and-the-magical-fiddle

Once again I thought of Shirley and wondered where she is now. I did have contact with her brother many years ago, but they weren’t a technology minded family and so we lost contact again.

How simple life seemed back then. In today’s world I would never have been allowed to go and play at a Chinese market garden on the outskirts of town, with a family my parents didn’t know. No harm came to us back then, but we can’t be quite so trusting now.

That’s sad, isn’t it?

Keeping Warm in the 1950s

Many of you are currently sweltering in the Northern heat, while I look for ways of keeping warm down here in New Zealand. Yesterday, while dressed in three layers and wearing thick socks, I thought about my childhood. Were the winters really as cold then as they appear now? The aging process has possibly increased my awareness  of the cold.

I grew up in an old wooden house with its share of places for the drafts to creep in, but  I don’t remember being cold at home. Maybe during the day we kept warm busy playing vigorously outside. The evenings inside seemed to radiate warmth, unless I’ve forgotten the cold times.

Our home had a large room we called the kitchen, a bit like a modern house with kitchen, dining room and lounge sharing an open space. The cooking happened in the kitchen on a gas stove and oven. Wedged between the stove and the hot water cupboard, a small fire place, a chip heater, burned all day, heating both the water in the adjacent cupboard and the whole room.

I loved chopping the kindling for the kitchen fire once old enough to be trusted to not chop off too many fingers. The tiny fireplace churned its way through firewood, coal and carbonettes and food scraps after meals.

Not only the warmth from the fire that filled those winter evenings. The whole family gathered, talking, reading, playing cards and board games and listening to the big old radio in the corner, creating a room of family warmth. At bedtime we kids trundled off to bed with a hot water bottle, taking the evening’s warmth with us.

The fire died down over night, but by the time we got up in the morning either Mum or Dad had re-lit it, enabling us to eat our breakfast at the big table in warmth.

Snow rarely falls in the part of New Zealand I live in, but we did experience heavy white frosts during winter months, so the nights were cold. Electricity was never used to heat our home in the 50s, so we maintained a good supply of wood and coal.

Your childhood winters no doubt differed from mine, depending on the part of the world you live in and the era of your childhood.

I sit here in the warmth of my home this morning, heated by gas, thinking about the sunshine that will arrive back here in a few months from now.

Uncovering Treasure through Journal Writing

We’ve all heard more times than we care to remember how daily Journal Writing is essential for any writer. I love writing in my journal, pencil to paper, but until about two months ago was never consistent. Now I write two or three pages of random writing on a regular basis and I’m surprised at the potential writing ideas emerging. Take last night for example, for some reason I started thinking about clocks as I wrote.

Clocks ticking can add suspense. Tick, tick, tick into the silence. Breath held, waiting in anticipation. What will happen next?

Those few words enabled an image of a clock to appear in my mind, a clock that would have probably been ticking at a meeting of important people I’ve just written a short scene about for my writing group monthly piece. Great, I’ll add a little clock detail into my piece today and at the same time throw a portrait of a previous Mayor on to that same wall as well.

Then I remembered the large timing clock high on the wall at the swimming pool. This will add more detail to my Work in Progress.

There’s no indication in my journal as to how I moved from writing about an incident that happened during the day to clocks. But I’m glad my mind made the transition, as the image of clocks will improve both pieces of writing.

I started my journal writing last night thinking that many of the words tumbled onto the empty pages were wasted words, never to be used. I now know writers are like gold miners. They have to dig through a lot of rubble and discard it before uncovering a tiny gem.

So keep up the journal writing, you never know when your next little treasured piece will reveal itself to you.

A few Beers Shared with a Circus Star

In the 1950s my Dad liked to stop off at one of the local pubs for a beer on his way home from work. Pubs closed at 6 o’clock in those days, so there wasn’t any problem of having too much to drink or coming home too late for dinner. What he did at the pub didn’t interest me, until he came home filled with the story of having a beer with one of the circus stars.

The circus train trundled into town once a year, bringing with it all the excitement of the big top. The train ran through the centre town, arriving late afternoon. And it always stopped a few hundred metres from the railway station, quite close to the Grand Hotel. A small entourage left the train at that point, workers keen to throw back a few drinks before they started setting up for the next day. The group on its way to the hotel included one very excited fellow, one circus star who looked forward to throwing back his beer more than any of the others.

Dad arrived home that day at the usual time, quite animated and with a story to tell. We thought he’d had a few too many at first, but no, while the beers may have helped in the telling, his story focussed on who he’d been drinking with – one rather hairy, beer drinking orang-utan.

Now remember, those were the days when no one considered the rights and wrongs of animals working in circuses. And this old orang-utan loved his beer. No doubt he’d have refused to perform without it.

When the train rolled to a halt, the orang-utan’s work mates pulled out a pram, one of those old cane ones, and he leapt in, ready for the short ride to the pub. He clapped and waved his hairy arms in anticipation. He knew why the train had stopped and where he could swill back his nightly allowance.

No doubt this stunt was an arrangement between the hotel owners and the circus, as the event always attracted quite a few locals eager to share a drink and a few stories. Dad certainly enjoyed telling his story of the night he drank with an orang-utan for many years to come.

At the circus the next day we enjoyed all the acts, laughing at the clowns and oohing over the trapeze artists. But the highlight was the beer drinking orang-utan. It was our Dad’s drinking mate we’d come to see. After all, once you’ve shared a few drinks with a friend he almost becomes one of the family.

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Life in the 1950s – Will You Come to My Birthday Party?

By the age of nine a very important social reality hit me with a wham – if you wanted an invitation to birthday parties you had to throw one yourself. These social events were reciprocal and the urge to be a party goer called loud and strong.

I managed to persuade my parents I’d be a social outcast if I didn’t have a party for my ninth birthday and was allowed to offer four invitations, with the assumption my little sister would be allowed to attend. You can see the size of the smile on my little sister’s face in the photo below. You can also guess we’re sisters by the unshapely haircuts and the fact we’re the only ones without a stiffened petticoat beneath our party dresses. Yes, we’re both the middle of three in the front and back rows.

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Fifty one years later the only person in the photo to attend my 60th birthday party was my sister. The others had long disappeared from my life. However, I’ve had contact with all but one of the other four in the last twelve years.

First there was Jillian. Against all odds we ended up standing side by side amongst thousands on Wellington’s crowded waterfront on the Millennium’s  New Year’s Eve. After staring at what I thought seemed a familiar face, I uttered her name, to find I wasn’t mistaken. What a fantastic reunion that made. Next came April, in recent months, discovered quite by chance after an online transaction. This re-connection was closely followed by Susan, connected with again at our primary school Centenary reunion.

The only girl in the photo not yet connected with in adult years is Helen. She moved away from our town not long after this birthday photo. Helen and I kept in touch for many years, writing letters and meeting up whenever I went to Wellington, where she lived. But as is often the case, our lives went in different directions and we lost contact.

Today birthday parties, both the giving and the attending, are huge events in many kids lives. My friends and I played games such as Pass the Parcel and Blind Man’s Bluff, while kids today enjoy sleep overs, pool parties and gatherings at fast food outlets.

Times may have changed, but birthdays are still times to be celebrated. I wonder how many of today’s kids will look back on their ninth birthday and smile.

What about you? What memories do you have of childhood birthdays?

Writing Prompted by the Words of Others

Last night I sat down to write, having not written for almost a week. My writing brain took fright at being expected to think, to come up with something, to produce some writing. The blank page stared up at me, like all good blank pages do, chastising me for my neglect.

Something had to be done, so I wrote the following at the top of the page. “Open the book I’m reading at a random page. Choose ONE SENTENCE from the page and write it down. Then keep writing for ten minutes.”

The book I grabbed was “To the River” by Olivia Laing, the story of the River Ouse in Sussex in England. The first page I randomly opened contained a historical story of no help at all. I tried again. Still no sentence appealed. The third attempt offered several gems and I chose the following:

‘And there was the Ouse, all of a tumble, the sun skating off it in panes of light.’

A vision immediately came to me of the swimming pool I spent so many years of my teenage life in, the pool my latest writing project is telling the story of. I noted the time – after all I needed to write for ten minutes – and started writing with ease, describing the atmosphere on the night of an important swim meet, with the lights beaming down on the water and the darkened sky above the outdoor pool. I wrote for about 20 minutes.

My short piece of writing wasn’t brilliant, but the pool at night wasn’t something I’d thought about including as part of my work in progress. I made a few reflective notes to myself at the bottom on how to make improvements, turned off the light and went to sleep.

A few hours later – as often is the case with writers – I awoke, my brain having processed my scribbling while I slept. There was nothing to do but turn on the light and write down the wonderful ideas drifting through my brain. I jotted down a few interesting words, a couple of possible metaphors and a few more surprising images I recalled. That was it, lights out and back to sleep until morning.

The prompt of a random sentence from another’s writing hadn’t occurred to me before. Although the book I read spoke of a river and my book is about a swimming pool, the water and reflection of the light gave me enough similarities to get started. I’ll certainly use the words of others as a prompt again if my writing is shy about revealing itself to me.

What about you? What tips do you use when the words refuse to come?

Celebrating the Month of May

May is a special month for me, being the month of my father’s birthday, my wedding anniversary and Mother’s Day. In New Zealand May falls in Autumn, when the leaves are at their brightest colour and the weather can’t make up its mind to let go of summer. May is also my middle name, my father being so disappointed I wasn’t a boy who could be named after him, insisted I took the month of his birth as my name. I’m pleased my mother convinced him May sounded better as a middle name.

May holds another story for me though, a story that took place over fifty years ago when a teacher taught us how to dance around a Maypole.  Imagine the task of teaching a group of eight and nine year old children with no prior knowledge of maypole dancing.  We’d never seen nor heard of this English custom and had no visual support such as You Tube in those days. Our teacher and a few pictures in books helped us along the way.

The teacher, pictured now all these years later on my “About” and “Recently Published” pages, obviously knew the challenge ahead. Practices must have tried his patience, but little by little we learned to dance the steps he required. Eventually we graduated to ribbons. By the time our parents saw us perform as part of a larger pageant, we danced with perfection as we wound our ribbons around the pole, in and out, creating an intricate pattern.

It may not have been Spring in New Zealand when we danced, but a love of learning was planted within me during my two years with that teacher. The maypole dance was only one of many fun activities he introduced to us to help us with our learning. I often think back to that colourful maypole during the month of May.

May is a month of celebration for many around the world. How do you celebrate during the month of May?

Playing Marbles 1950s and Present Day

Mention playing marbles and most people can recall stories of their childhood. The game has been around for hundreds of years and continues in popularity today.

I arrived at a local school today and to my delight the kids in the playground were playing marbles before school. The scene differed a little from my own school days in the 1950s, but the games purpose remained the same – to compete against a partner, trying to win your opponent’s marble rather than lose your own.

In the classroom I talked to the students about my own marble playing days and read the following passage from my 1950s school memoir book.

“Winter saw the emergence of marbles and knucklebones as favoured playtime and lunchtime activities. Marble season lasted a short time, the length possibly being dictated by teachers tolerance of arguments and upset players.

When marble season arrived I pleaded for pocket money and bought marbles from a toy shop in a corner of the Square. Mum made a little cloth drawstring bag to keep them in.  I’d start the season with a selection of small cats eyes, clear glass marbles with a colourful piece of glass in the centre and larger more sought after marbles called biggies. It wasn’t often I managed to win a steely to add to my collection.

We played at the edge of the field, on dry mud surfaces or where the grass was short. My marble collection was precious and I hated losing even the most boring looking marble, so I chose my playing partners carefully. The aim was to hit another marble, thus winning it from it’s owner, I didn’t want to go home with an empty bag. Sometimes my luck was in and I’d win a biggie off another player. Or, when a player was down on their luck they’d offer to swap a biggie for two cats eyes, keeping them in play.

Those unlucky enough to have empty marble bags watched on. Player concentration demanded silence and the click of glass marbles hitting each other preceded a triumphant cry from the winner.”

The children fascinated me by showing me the range of marbles now available to them. The largest, called Titanics, were so big I couldn’t imagine their small hands manipulating them with ease.

We discussed the differences in their game and mine, the major being I played on grass while they played on the asphalt courtyard. In my day we gathered in small groups. These children lined up in rows, facing their opponent, but still taking turns.

One boy complained that no one wanted to play marbles with him, as he is considered one of the best players and the others didn’t want to lose their marbles to him. So, some things haven’t changed.

Did you play marbles as a child? What are your memories of the rules of the game? What were the marbles like you played with? Take a trip down memory lane and tell us about your own marble playing experiences.