Little Women Revisited…

With her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, off he cycled towards home with her riding pinion. Home, back then to both was in the Lane at Kent House. It was always a blast when Laurie met her outside the school gates and took her home on his shiny metallic blue Chopper bike. Chopper bikes were right on trend in the early to mid 70s. The other girls always looked a little envious, either because she got a lift or maybe because it was on a Chopper. If her Mum had known, she would have had her guts for garters, and most likely Jo would have been grounded indefinitely, or at least until she got round her Mum with a nice warming cup of tea or some other such bribe. Chopper bikes were decidedly dangerous contraptions, some would say death traps but they looked good, and were fun to ride but the handle bars were lethal, a visit to casualty in the waiting. He, Laurie lived at number 4 with the mustard yellow door with his Dad John, Mum Doreen and younger sister Sarah. She, Jo lived a little further along the lane, on the same side of the road five doors up at number 14, where the front door was a sort of muted red, not quite scarlet but lighter than crimson. At Jo’s house were Dad Hew, Mum Mary, and her three sisters Meg, Beth and Amy. Jo and Laurie were friends, childhood friends, and had been since 1974 or thereabouts when Jo and Laurie were heading towards puberty. Between 1970 and 1974 they saw each other but that was all.  Their friendship when it started was platonic, nothing more, nothing less, and if it was more than that they never said a word. Sometimes words can spoil a friendship, sometimes words can spoil a marriage. Words have been known to bring down governments and make complete fuck-ups of families. Can boys and girls ever have a platonic friendship? Some, maybe many would say no but who are others to judge? Sometimes things are left unsaid, and one day everything changes because kids become adults and childhood gets lost somewhere in the archives of time. It was the early 1970s, and they were just children learning how to live, learning how to love and trying to fathom things out as they muddled along the road that is life. There was a crowd of boys and girls who lived in the Lane who sometimes hung out and sometimes did not, each with stories to come and histories to make. These were the kids of Kent House Lane.

Jo was actually Joanne Mary Huett, the Mary being named after her mum. Being somewhat of a tom boy she liked to dispel with the ‘anne’ bit and just be called Jo. Short and to the point, just like Jo who was petite in stature, and down to earth in character, always saying what she thought, often without thinking but never meaning any harm. Her rosy cheeks demonstrated a love of the outdoors. She had a mass of wild unruly raven curls, and preferred to wear washed out jeans and tee shirt given the choice.. She had no airs or graces, loved being out in the fresh air, and sometimes wished she had been born a boy as they seemed to have all the fun, or at least more fun than their female counterparts.They never got stuck with girl stuff  like washing up, sweeping and tidying, though in truth when there were any chores to do Jo  somehow  always managed to sneak out of the house and back to play. Meg, the eldest also always managed to evade household chores. Amy was still too young to be expected to do much around the house, so poor Beth, who was always so helpful and  so responsible got stuck with being the helping hand of the family. Beth was the second eldest. There were just eleven months between Meg and Beth. Then came Jo, three years after Beth, and then two years later came dear little Amy, the baby of the family. They were the Huett girls;  four little women of the 20th century.  Jo was just seven when she moved to the Lane. Before the Lane she had lived with the family in Sydenham in a rather large caricature of a ground floor flat in a large red brick Victorian House but that’s another story. 

This is Jo’s story as seen through her eyes. 

1970 The Move

“Come on girls…it’s time to leave” Daddy called out with that beautiful precise diction that was Daddy’s . It’s what my Mum, Mummy had initially fallen in love with!

We were all enormously excited because we were moving house. It was a big new adventure! Up until now we had lived in a flat, a big flat but still a flat. We were moving to our new house, and we would be occupying all of it, not just one floor. Just us and nobody else. The new house was in Beckenham which was considered so lardy da!  Just a couple of miles away,  so not too far to go.  Mummy and daddy had got a GLC Mortgage in order to buy it, though at the time we did not even know what a mortgage was, let alone a GLC Mortgage.  We just knew we were moving to a brand new house. Well, not a brand new house as it had been built during the 1930s, another thing we were not really aware of at the time, as children do not tend to dwell on such things too much when they are very young but to us it was brand new. We had never lived there before, so it was to all intents and purposes as new as they came. We were to have our very own front door, a front garden and a back garden,  just for us. I do not really recall being sad when we left the old house in Hillcrest but children look at things differently to adults. Looking back, I am sure leaving Hillcrest must have been sad to some degree for mummy and daddy as they had history there, and it had been their first home without Nana, and Aunties May and Connie. It had been a compulsory order for us to leave the old house, as the remaining old victorian houses in Hillcrest were to be demolished to give way to new flats to extend the nearly new  Hillcrest Estate which was full of high rise flats, all granite grey and concrete.

When we arrived at Kent House we all piled out of the car, crashing unceremoniously through the garden gate, down the short path, and all but stumbling into the house, all trying to be first in, and not quite managing it. Meg and Beth were to have the back bedroom that overlooked the back garden and and an expanse of land beyond the garage and back alley. Me and Amy were to have the small box room at the front of the house which looked out into the lane so we would be able to see the comings and goings on. We were the little ones so it was the little bedroom for us. They were the big ones and got the big room. Of course Amy and me had bunk beds. Me on the top and Amy on the bottom, though sometimes Amy  would join me in the top bunk as siblings often do, at least until she fell out and really hurt herself, and then she stopped coming in to my bed.  Mummy and daddy took the front bedroom with the bay window which I guess was the master bedroom. There were no ensuites in those days. There was a compact, some may say tiny bathroom with a toilet next to Meg and Beth’s room, and there was no downstairs toilet as there are in many of today’s houses. So if someone was having a bath you had to check to see if they needed to go to the loo first, or they would just have to wait but you never really thought anything of it as it was just the way it was. It was just lovely having a new house. We were all going to be very happy here. When you go into a house or any building you can often feel if it is a happy home or an unhappy one. Kent House was the former. We were home now and you know what they say. Home is where the heart is and all that mushy stuff that us sentimental types tend to fall for, hook, line and sinker whatever that may mean. So what’s the story behind the girl? 

Jo

Sometimes you have to go back to before the beginning of the story.  It’s a lie or maybe not a lie but a fib,  when they say a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Most stories have lots of beginning, lots of middles and many endings. It just depends on who is telling the story.  The Storyteller gets to pick and choose, and tell or not tell but the Author gets to show.  Jo wanted to write, did write and wanted more than anything to become a published Writer. She wrote poems, stories, snippets and anything else that ignited her rather overactive imagination. At the age of 5 or not quite 5 but nearly, Jo had started primary school and could already write her full name which was considered an achievement for a child at Kelvin Grove. Furthermore, she knew the alphabet off by heart. Yes, Jo loved to write, loved the language with all her being and wanted to get what was inside her out onto the page. 

Jo was the third daughter to be born to Hew and Mary. 

©. Liola Lee 2019

One of my favourite novels/books  as child/teenager/adult was ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott. Being one of four sisters, I was able to identify with the characters in the story to varying degrees. My plan is to revise/combine the story with my own, so a mixture of fact and fiction. Whether I complete the project or not is another matter but it is an idea in my head just now….and I mean just an idea but maybe it could lead somewhere or maybe not…would love to know your comments on my idea!

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Hugh’s Story

Hugh Montgomery Howatson 11/04/1923 – 29/12/2013 ‘ A man who inspired…’

Hugh was a truly amazing Man, and a beautiful human being! He was good, he was kind, he was patient, he was intelligent, and he always offered encouragement even when the odds were stacked against you! He epitomised Strength and Gentility! At the beginning of World War II he played his part by becoming an ARP Warden (Air Raid Patrol). Then as soon as he reached 18 he enlisted and joined the RAF, and was attached to 294 Squadron as a WAG (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) in Air Sea Rescue. He was just a boy at the start of the War but had strong values and believed in doing his duty by his country and his family, and fought for the continued freedom of his fellow countrymen and women. Joining the War Effort was just par for the course. While serving King and Country Hugh demonstrated a skill for languages, and during the war years mastered fluent French, German and Arabic. He was a very talented man. He attained a Degree in Chemistry with the University of London as an external student, and later became a Research Chemist by Profession, a job which he stayed in until he retired. He was a devoted family man being a wonderful Husband, brilliant Dad, loving Brother, Uncle, Grandfather, Great Grandfather and friend! He worked hard all his life and always paid his dues. He had always been a healthy man, and always looked much younger than his years. He never ever complained about anything, least of all his health, and just got on with Life. He believed that if a job was worth doing it was worth doing well and to the best of your ability. He had many hobbies and interests. He was a brilliant Photographer, an avid reader, an exceptional craftsman with wood, making his own beautiful items and restoring antiques. He used to enjoy making his own wine. He would always tell us to follow our heart and our dreams!  He passed on his love of learning and his many gifts to all of us. We are all better human beings for having had the honour and privilege of being a part of him. Getting mixed dementia was not on the agenda. You always think things like Dementia and Alzheimers happen to other people, and other families! When it comes, it can be a gradual process, and even go unnoticed for a long time. But when it takes a grip it does n’t let go! Each day bit by bit the person you love is taken from you until they no longer know who you are or even who they are. There are drugs that are currently used but in all honesty they fall far short of doing anything that really helps. Resources are limited to say the least! Much more Research is needed to explore this soul destroying illness in its many guises. 

This story is Hugh’s story but it could be anybody’s story. Alzheimers/Dementia does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, male or female and not always when elderly. It’s a cruel, unforgiving and soul destroying illness which lays claim to an individual bit by bit chipping away relentlessly until a person is just a shadow of their former and vital self. Families are heartbroken as they watch their loved ones die, and then when physical death occurs they lose their loved one all over again. When Hugh was in hospital he shared his part of the ward with Bertie, Terence and Tony. All had Alzheimers/Dementia in one form or another. This illness is on the increase! A former Global Summit said we need to do something! So let’s do something  and raise awareness to find a way forward.  No one knows what the future holds until it happens. Let’s make it a future free from Alzheimers/Dementia!

© Liola Lee 2014

It is five years today since our beautiful Daddy passed away from this World to the next. I originally wrote this piece in 2014 when I set up a charity page in his memory. It was about raising much needed funds for research, the message remains relative and of course to raise awareness. The page is no longer running but the message remains as important today as back then I am posting this article here in his memory and in memory of all those who have suffered from Alzheimer’s/Dementia and of course for all their loved ones…

Memoirs ~ Addicted

It’s coming up to 10.30pm on a Thursday night-

The date is 8th August 1991; a date that will be remembered in British history as that on which John McCarthy, a British Journalist, who for the past five years has been held captive in the Lebanon, has at last arrived home having been released by his captors.

Here I am sitting in my sitting room, listening to Trevor MacDonald reading the latest news on the situation at RAF Lynham which is where Mr McCarthy has been taken to for a check up. Here is an important historical event taking place and here I am, too worried to go to the toilet because of some small insect buzzing about on the ceiling, just inside the bathroom door. I feel so pathetic and paranoid, when I think what that man and all those other hostages have had to endure, and still I cannot bring myself to go to the toilet. Well, I’ll have to take some action soon, that or I shall simply wet myself where I am, as I said totally, one hundred per cent pathetic. 

It’s funny the things we think about at the strangest of times. 

One of the most difficult goals I ever set myself was giving up smoking. I had embarked on the tobacco road at the tender age of sixteen, by no means the youngest nor indeed the oldest. It was still respectably young enough to be considered rebellious, although that’s not the reason I took up the nasty smelly habit. I was not immediately hooked. Getting hooked on cigarettes took a lot of practice, a lot of cigarettes and a lot of money. Almost all my school friends smoked at the time, it was the ‘in thing’ at the time. We all wanted to appear very laid back and grown up. The first cigarettes I smoked were Consulate menthol Cigarettes which really were quite disgusting, a bit like smoking a tune as in the cough sweet rather than the melody. You kid yourself that because they are menthol and pretty mild that you’re in control and are unaware of the nicotine addiction taking hold.

I would smoke at every opportunity. It made me feel very glamorous, grown up and superior to my non smoking peers, who I thought were just too afraid to be caught instead of thinking that they actually had a deal more common sense than I did in not taking up a habit that would prove hard to kick, and would be indicative of my addictive personality. I would even smoke in front of the mirror when my parents were out in order to practice the perfect pout on exhaling, which at the time I thought made me look incredibly sexy. How wrong was I? Only totally and undeniably so. And, how sad! That perfect pout I was after, could have so easily turned into a cat’s bum mouth or worse still a pig’s arse if I had n’t stopped when I did.

Both my parents smoked, so I could n’t see why I should n’t. I remember wanting to tell my mum that I smoked but was not brave enough to come straight out and say it.  I devised a plan that would let her in on my secret. What I did was to leave my packet of cigarettes on my bed when I went to school. The plan was that when mum came into our bedroom to brush her hair (she always used the mirror in our room), then she would see the cigarettes on my bed and arrive at the obvious conclusion, then she would raise the issue with me and I could confess. Unfortunately, I had not envisaged my younger sister being present, and when my mum commented on the packet which had been planted so carefully so as to be seen, my sister, always loyal, informed her not to worry as they belonged to one of my friends, and that if they had been mine does she really think that I would have left them there to be seen? I did eventually, and not long after that tell my mum that I had started smoking, and she was alright about it saying that she would rather I didn’t smoke but that she would n’t preach as she smoked herself.

Cigarettes became a very important part of my life, a very sad but very true fact! I took them everywhere with me. They became my crutch. When I went for interviews, I would ensure I had enough time beforehand to smoke at least one. Smoking made me feel confident. When I was on the telephone I would need to smoke; when I had a cup of coffee out came the fags or when I went out or saw friends. The cigarette almost became a physical extension to my hand; never was I out without them. As time passed I became more and more dependent upon cigarettes. I was a tobacco baron’s dream catch lured as surely as a trout to a fly. I had a cigarette for every mood. When I left school at the age of eighteen I had been smoking for two years and had now progressed from the low tar variety to the middle tar and stronger brands. 

Some months later the strangest thing happened; my cigarettes made me feel sick, not just the taste of them but the smell of them. I was soon to discover that I was pregnant. The chemical changes that were taking place within my body had resulted in a strong aversion to cigarettes. Throughout my pregnancy I did n’t smoke, not because I was being good but because they made me feel so sick. This state of affairs was not to last as after I had my baby, and finding I could n’t breast feed I took up smoking again. Now I was smoking as if it was soon to go out of fashion.

During this time I never once gave any thought to what smoking was doing to my health, and it certainly never occurred to me to try and stop. I was aware of the public health warnings that appeared on packets of cigarettes advising of the risks of lung cancer and heart disease; I could read but it really did n’t bother me. I told myself that I enjoyed smoking, and was convinced that I could give up whenever I wanted to but I did n’t want to at that time. 

At aged twenty three I had my second baby. As before being pregnant had turned me off smoking. Yet again I was unable to breast feed for very long due to a severe case of mastitis. My husband had refrained from smoking while I was pregnant for which I was grateful, and we decided that we should both now continue to abstain. This was easier said than done. My husband had by way of tradition smoked cigars after the birth of our second son. He concluded that this was not the same as smoking cigarettes because he maintained that one didn’t inhale the smoke.  Not having ever smoked cigars I had no notion of whether one could smoke anything, and call it smoking unless one inhaled the smoke. Anyway he made it all sound so plausible. The problem was that he was soon smoking a packet of cigars each day so his theory was wrong, that was the first thing. The second thing was that I was desperate for a cigarette, and one day while my husband was at work I went to the shops and bought a packet of ten cigarettes. I did n’t buy my usual brand as if by doing that I was somehow not really cheating and smoking again.

On reaching home I took that first longed for cigarette and hurriedly smoked it as quickly as I could for fear I might somehow be deprived if I did n’t smoke it immediately. When I’d finished, I had another and then another. I giggled to myself finding it hilariously funny that me, a grown woman should be sitting and smoking in secret. When I was ready, I opened all the windows and sprayed the room with air freshener in an attempt to conceal the smell of tobacco which has a tendency to hang in the air. When my husband arrived home I behaved naturally or so I believed but the guilt was already eating away at me. I did n’t say anything because I did n’t want him to think that I had weakened.

We sat chatting at the table as was our evening ritual; my husband filling me in on the events of his day. I noticed he was looking at the table, a little too closely for my liking.  

“What’s that?” he said.

“What?” I replied trying to look bewildered and hoping I looked innocent.

“That there”. He pointed. “It looks like cigarette ash” 

Still acting innocent, I replied rather foolishly now I think back on it, “It can’t be” knowing full well that it could be, and that of course it was. I could contain myself no longer and started to laugh. The truth came out. I justified myself by informing him that it was no worse than him smoking cigars. He reluctantly agreed. He too returned to cigarettes not long after that, in fact immediately as they were cheaper than cigars.

We smoked more and more. By now I had developed a cough in the mornings. As time went by the cough became more severe and I started to wheeze and found difficulty in breathing. It was at its worse last thing at night and first thing in the morning. One morning it was so bad and worried my husband so much that he called the Doctor out. The doctor arrived and listened to my chest and lungs. His diagnosis was not long in coming. I had developed asthma, and was informed that it was directly related to my smoking. He advised that I should stop and said that eventually the asthma would subside. I stopped smoking immediately, and managed to go without for three weeks, mainly because I was unable to breathe properly when I tried. After three weeks the cough disappeared and I felt much better, and started smoking again. As always that one cigarette led to another and another and before long I was back on a packet a day. 

Sometimes we take a long time to learn the lesson.

Sometime later but not that much later, I changed my job. In my new job I was on the phone pretty much all day, and developed a chain smoking habit; me and everyone else on my desk. At that time employees could still smoke in the work place while they were working. Over a period of three months my daily intake had increased to almost fourty  a day. Steve too had increased his consumption. Again I developed a cough and it was during this time that I seriously began to consider the implications that smoking really was damaging my health. Initially, I stopped for a day here and a day there but I was unable to keep the momentum going for much longer than this. I tried alternatives such as sweets and chewing gum. Temporarily, they had the desired effect. I managed to stop for a month but then found myself arguing with myself about why I should or should n’t smoke. This pattern continued for three years. I even put myself through the torture of getting people to sponsor me for stopping for a month in order that it may help me quit. That month was possibly one of the worst of my life. I was desperate for a smoke but was under a promise not to. I succeeded in not smoking for the entire month and raised £100 for St Christopher’s Hospice.  I received a lovely letter from the Hospice thanking me and congratulating me on my success. Again I did n’t stay virtuous for long.  As soon as the sponsored ‘no smoking’ came to an end I went and bought some cigarettes. That same year, our youngest son was diagnosed as asthmatic. I was now desperate to give up but every attempt to stop ended in failure.

We never smoked when the children were about but knew that it was in the atmosphere. The guilt was unbearable. New Year was coming and as in previous years we resolved to quit smoking once again and hopefully for good this time. From the moment the New Year came in, I stopped smoking altogether and although Steve no longer smoked cigarettes, he smoked cigars for a further two weeks. After that, he too gave up. At first it was terrible. We were short tempered and the temptation to smoke just for the sake of peace was ever present, but somehow we got through. It was n’t easy but somehow we managed to persevere and to this day we are still not smoking That was almost eighteen years ago now. Over the years there has been the odd occasion when I have fancied that I fancy a cigarette but the moment passes and I don’t smoke knowing that I will always be one cigarette away from being a smoker. I still get asthma if I am near smoke but as of 1st July 2007 that will be less of a thing to worry about since Parliament passed that there is to be no smoking in public places, “HOORAY!!!” 

© Liola Lee 1991

It has been 29 years since I gave up smoking. Or it will be on New Years Eve. It is many years since I fancied a cigarette. Addiction is addiction! Whether it is sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, spending, cocaine or even the gym. That said, recognising that we are addicted to something, whatever that may be is the first step in stopping!

Today is the day ~ 1970s…

The 1970s were crazy and colourful! Chopper bikes, curly perms and clackers were all the rage. For those of you who were not around in the 1970s, clackers were a toy that was on trend, basically two small balls on the end of strings which made a sort of clacking noise. We certainly had some strange toys! Hem lengths were confused with the mini, the midi and the maxi all vying for top position. The hippies of Woodstock back in 1969 left us confused and unsure as to which way now, not that I went to Woodstock as I was only 7, although I bet it would have been fun! In 1969 I was just 7 years old, a little kid just starting out on the journey of life, no real life experience as yet, just the enthusiasm and innocence of childhood. Glam Rock, Punk, Rock ‘n’ Roll, pop…all taking the stage. The 60s may have been swinging but the 70s were electrifying! My idol was David Cassidy, brown eyes, husky voice and a smile to die for. Here just thinking about him makes me sigh like a teenager. It did n’t even matter that he was in the Partridge Family who to be honest were a bit square, and not in the least bit funky but David sang to my soul with Could it be forever and How can I be sure?  This guy, who was 12 years older than me, somehow knew how I felt, knew who I was, and somehow spoke to me in a way that no one else could. My relationship with David was deep and meaningful. Then years later Robbie Williams came along who incidentally is 12 years younger. I wonder, if like me they are Tigers in Chinese astrology which moves in 12 year cycles. Umm that’s an interesting thought. I’ll have to check that out. Robbie took me through my adulteens and dare I say it my adulthood. Oh yes, Robbie went through everything with me, through his music of course. I am probably dwelling on the 70s just now as this was the timeframe in which I was 16 and in all honesty my daughter is now 16 and I am feeling at a crossroads. It really does not seem that long ago that I was the same age and going through the same experiences that she is just now. I am sure that she would be horrified at the very thought that I may have been as she is now. I am sure to her it does not seem descent that a woman of my 48 years should have ever experienced the first flush of youth. To my daughter, all I can say is just you wait until you have a daughter or son of your own.

© Liola Lee 2010

‘Today is the day’ …was a collection of musings I wrote during the Peri menopause years. It’s spoken in the first person, and was based largely on my journal entries written around that time. Journalling is a wonderful way to express this, that and whatever else needs to be said whether aloud or silently…

Girl in me…

However old we get, our inner child is always within us. If we look closely in the mirror we will see her…

There once was a girl,  a long time ago,

Where she is now, I do not know.

I wish I could find her, ask her to stay,

Where she is now, I cannot say.

I call her name, there’s no reply,

Where is she now? I wonder why?

I look in the mirror, what do I see?

Someone familiar, looking at me.

I look again, I stare, then see,

Looking back, is the girl in me.

I look again, I stare, I see,

The girl in the mirror,

Inside of me.