Thursday, 25 August 2016


Very few of us go through life without at some point picking up something which appears to attach itself to us. I’m referring of course to those odd little objects, pieces of jewellery or shells and stones which mean nothing to anyone else, but a great deal to their owners. They are usually small, easily tucked away – and equally easily lost! I suspect they are collected when we are young, particularly talismans which often have ‘powers’ of some sort attributed to them. Lucky charms may also appear to their owners to hold some kind of influence, magical or otherwise. 
I was about eleven years old when this funny little picture came into my life. Many of my school friends had small items which they were allowed to take with them into exams, and I was desperately searching for something which I could use when my mother suggested this. It was hers, and I must try and remember to ask her where it came from – although it must have belonged to one of her parents. It is a little spherical disk measuring just under an inch and a half (3.5 cm) in diameter. The glass top has a bevelled edge and covers a photograph labelled ‘Sandown Bay and Pier’. The back looks as though the picture was stuck on to a card or some kind of souvenir from the Isle of Wight, and research has indicated that the photo dates from the 1920s – so it’s almost 100 years old! But the appeal comes from two areas where, either through a fault in the glass or the insertion of early holographic strips, a pearly green glow shines out of the picture.

This picture accompanied me to every exam I ever took, right through school to my very last Chartered Accountancy exam. It took on a significance which belied its humble origins. Every time I sat down at a desk, out came the picture to be placed – together with pens, pencils and – later – slide rule and a packet of polo mints at the top of the desk. It travelled around my schools in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, up to North Wales for accountancy and back to London for my final exams. It has survived house moves, storage, relationship break-ups and being lost, only to turn up again when we moved here to Tavistock. I can’t claim to have been influenced in any way by this object, because I didn’t always pass the exams I sat, but it had to be there on my desk and it always returns to me, even after years of being mislaid.

Why do we attach so much importance to such items? I have listened to, and argued in, many debates about superstition and religion over the years, but I hold no conclusive opinions. I have also come across a multitude of different talismans owned by both men and women - all of whom refuse to let them go. The saddest ones are those which end up in charity shops and house clearance auctions, betraying their deceased or impoverished owners by continuing to exist. They have served their purpose and they move on, perhaps to become someone else’s lucky charm.

Whatever your opinion, you cannot deny the attraction of talismans, which have been around for thousands of years. Google the word, and you will come up with hundreds of the things, some incredibly valuable, others priceless – in every sense. Humans are sentimental beings, I conclude with a smile…

A small turquoise and gold brooch, another sentimental keepsake

Saturday, 20 August 2016


I have been writing about 1970. A whole chapter is set in that year, and nothing so much invokes the past as becoming immersed in it in this way. I was forced to research the weather, and the internet makes this such an easy task now. My chapter is set in March of that year, when it was cold after a hard winter. 

But my thoughts quickly moved on to the warm days of June and July, when the sun seemed to be shining endlessly and in the background to my last weeks at school Mungo Jerry was singing ‘In the Summertime’.

These memories shine with bright colours which time has failed to dim.  At eighteen I was full of joy and anticipation, longing for what the future might bring yet terrified of leaving behind everything which seemed so safe and secure. Rooms were familiar, daily haunts: the light-filled Art Room where I applied thick acrylic paint with a spatula to large pieces of manila paper; the Common Room in our Sixth Form house where we lounged in miniskirts whilst the room above became fugged with cigarette smoke. Rules began to be abandoned as we worked our way through our exams. The library…

At this point I have to face the awful memory of what also happened at that time. Tthe morning of my best friend’s Maths ‘A’ Level. Nothing prepared our other friend and me for what was about to transpire, as we turned out of the Sixth Form house and walked along the pavement to the point at which we usually crossed the main road to reach the school. I think we were chatting, I’m not sure, but I remember saying casually,
     “How’s your mother, E?” because her mother had been quite ill with something no-one was clear about.
E dropped the bombshell as though she was telling us the exam would be held in a different room.
     “Mum died last night. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I don’t remember crossing the road, but I do recall the sensation of the pavement almost falling away from my feet. After that the next memory is of sitting, stunned, in the library. I didn’t have any exams that day. E had walked straight into the Hall and was taking her exam – for which she subsequently received the highest grade. I will never know how she achieved it, but she was – and still is – clever, focussed and extraordinarily determined. I, by contrast, was deeply affected by the whole thing and did not do as well as I might have in my own exams – although who is to say I would have fared any better if E’s mother had not died?

Everything changed after that June day, but there are good memories as well as bad. In the long summer holidays I found a job at Boots the Chemist which I loved so much that it put me off going to Teacher Training College – which probably upset the whole balance of my life at that time, as I only lasted one term at the College. I spent days with E and her bereaved family, and other, more carefree times with my own. The photographs of my cousin's wedding in the September - all the talk of her wearing a hat rather than a veil - are full of laughter and well-remembered faces, many of whom are long dead now and sorely missed.

I feel as though I have been on a journey, not only to another place and time, but revisiting the scared, hopeful young person and her friends trying to make sense of everything being thrown at them by life at a most sensitive time in their lives. Would I go back? Ah, no. Those days are gone.

“In the Summertime
 when the weather is high
You can stretch right up
 and touch the sky…”
(If you really want to listen to the song, here is the link. I wouldn't advise watching - it's too painful!)

And yes, it's me in the middle of the school photo...