110. My Little Poppet

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

I was always bored at my Nanna’s house. She didn’t have any good toys and her felt-tips were all dried up. I liked it when we baked. If I stood on a stool, I could reach the top shelf where she kept a tiny tub of silver balls to sprinkle on top of wet icing. It was only water and sugar, but it was important to get it just right. There was another little pot with lemon and orange slices that were small enough for a dolls house. When I used those for decorating my buns, I squeezed a drop of juice from a plastic lemon into the icing sugar instead of water. Mummy said the baking ingredients were “out of date” but Nanna said that people worried about far too much these days. She had seen a programme about someone eating honey from Egyptian times, and that sugar didn’t go off. I thought it was strange how when she wanted to read something she held it out at arm’s length. Surely it would be easier to read if you looked at it close up? One day, Mummy took out all of the tins and jars from Nanna’s cupboard, then put most of them back in again.

Nanna said her fingers were too old and stiff to play the piano anymore, but because I had just started to learn it, I was allowed to practice my scales and play some tunes. I liked listening to her telling me of her concerts, and her stiff, swishy dresses. People used to stand up and throw flowers at her and she was in the paper once.

Sometimes in the afternoons, she would fall asleep in her chair to “rest her eyes” but I heard her snoring. I only peeped in the drawers in her dressing table once, but then my face felt hot and I got a stomach ache. Nanna said my tummy hurt because I’d done something I shouldn’t have, and it was my body’s way of telling me not to do it again.

On day, Mummy and Nanna were having a cup of tea and talking. They were crying and holding hands and saying something about it being twenty five years ago today. I wanted to make them feel better, so I played my new song on the piano that Hannah Ruth had taught me. I tried to not make any mistakes and so I was a bit slow. They didn’t clap afterwards like they usually did. Mummy asked me if I had heard that tune at school, but when I told her, she put her hand over her mouth and stared at me, which scared me, so I went and cuddled up next to Nanna, who stroked my hair and kissed my head.

Mummy went into the spare bedroom and took down a dusty old suitcase from the top of the wardrobe. Inside were shoeboxes, a fur coat and some photograph albums. I had never seen those photos before. I pointed to a picture of Hannah Ruth and another girl, who were both were wearing yellow checked dresses and straw hats. Mummy said she didn’t know who the other girl was, and then started to cry again.

The next time I went to Nanna’s house, she gave me a gold necklace with a little cross on it from her jewellery box. She told me that Hannah Ruth said she wanted me to have it. I was pleased and felt grown-up, because Mummy wears a necklace just like it.

 

 

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109. Answers on a Postcard

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Photo by Wherda Arsianto on Unsplash

I went to a small college in a small town, in the early 90s, with about 500 other students. Education was free then, I was given a modest grant to live on, and cheap basic, accommodation. My weekly food bill was more than my room. Everyone was there to learn the modern Business Studies methods of the day, conveniently with our tutors’ own published books as set texts. We had optimistically enrolled on a handful of randomly specialist, semi-practical courses, to find out about the future of electronic mail and networks of personal computers that were not yet part of our working environment. However, less than a decade later, that knowledge was obsolete.

There were 24 six inch wire cubes (aka pigeonholes) fitted to the wall outside of the Student Union office. A ritual daily gathering for the latest gossip coinciding with regulation mid-morning coffee break. The arrival of the mail was a big deal, so we’d hang around for our fix of letters from home, whilst desperately trying to not look overeager. It was clearly an inefficient method of distribution by Surname, as some of the cubes, (H, S, B) could barely hold a day’s delivery, yet others, (U or Q) were nearly always empty. If we wanted to leave a message for a tutor, we’d pop a note into their personal wooden pigeonhole in the Secretary’s office.

This was pre-internet, pre-mobile phone times. I’d ring home once, possibly twice a fortnight from one of the payphones dotted around campus, using a prepaid phone card. I was glad my room wasn’t located near to the phone in my halls of residence. The perk of having the convenience of a phone so close by, would quickly dissolve, as most of the calls were for other people. You were damned if you took a message, as whatever you did next was bound to be wrong. Do you leave the message on the pinboard next to the phone, push a note under their door (if you knew where they lived) or hold onto it until you found them? Were you supposed to go looking for them? If you saw their friend first, do you tell them what the caller said? Living closest to the phone also meant that no-one else would ever answer it, including during the night. You were fair game to be scolded if someone’s boyfriend had called and they’d missed them, because you couldn’t be “bothered to get out of bed” at midnight to answer the phone.

Whenever an essay or assignment was set, I’d go straight to the library after class, to check out the recommended research books, and get first reserve on the others that had to be ordered in from other libraries. On the first Monday of every month, new magazines went on display, so I’d spend many a glorious afternoon reading the latest issues for free. With hindsight, it would have been better with a grande latte and a granola bar on the table, but we were years away from food and drink coexisting in a public space with books. We didn’t know we had to carry our own water with us at all times back then, and only our grannies had a thermos. Staying hydrated was reserved for hot days or hangovers.

Information about the outside world arrived in the form of giant newspapers attached to long, wooden rods. These were apparently required to deter theft of the biblepaper-thin sheets. I figured that if something important happened, I was bound to find out eventually (people would be talking about it and I would hear or they would tell me!). Hence, my knowledge of history from that period is sparse. We felt no responsibility (or addiction) to stay up-to-date with current affairs.

Music magazines, flyers on record shop counters, photocopied fanzines made by dedicated sixth-formers, and postcards from that place in Leamington Spa, provided all we ever needed to know about what was happening in our own music bubble.

We weren’t missing out if it hadn’t yet been invented.

In a decade from now, will facial recognition, spyware, satellite surveillance, contactless payments, automatic numberplate recognition technology and body microchip nano implants be the norm? Will it even be possible to go off-grid? Will it seem an incredible waste to cut down trees for paper, when they’re needed for much more important things like clean air?

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Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash