Not Thick, just Less Able…

When we were young judgemental kids growing up we were always cheerily quick to point out someone else’s inability to do or understand something we found relatively easy, and as kids do, we would scornfully label them as being ‘thick’.

Mum always remonstrated with us not to be so hurtful with regard to the inabilities of others, and that if someone was struggling with something it’s not nice to call them ‘thick’, as it’s not their fault they were simply ‘less able’ than others. We had it frequently drummed into us – it’s not ‘thick’, it’s ‘less able’…

So of course me and my sister and brother took this edict as gospel and ran with it in the extreme, having ‘less able’ soup with a ‘less able’ slice of bread and the like, driving mum nuts with our complete exclusion of the word ‘thick’ from our childhood vocabulary in all contexts, regardless…

Even now, in our late fifties, any one of us can still break into a childish grin with a wicked glint in our eye at the mere mention of ‘less able’ foodstuffs… 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: A phrase you grew up with

Squirrelly Share Your World

What was the very first popular song you remember taking a liking to?

‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ by Nancy Sinatra, circa 1966, when I would have been three years old… Are you ready boots?

Are you one of those people who get queasy at the sight of blood, or could you watch an open heart surgery?

I’ve never watched open heart surgery, but while working as a Physiotherapy Assistant in the past have been present in an operating theatre to watch both a knee replacement and a hip replacement (on two different patients). The idea was that I would assist in the pre-op phase for these patients, watch the actual operations take place, and then assist with the post-op rehabilitation afterwards. It was a fascinating opportunity, watching live surgery is absolutely amazing!

Who or what do you feel is lurking right behind you, just waiting to ambush you and make your life a living hell?

That’s an easy one – my recurring depression. It’s shadowed me for years, sometimes rising up and overwhelming me completely but more often than not just waiting expectantly in the background, reminding me its enveloping darkness is never far away…

What is the gaudiest thing you have ever worn?

Depends on your definition of gaudy… I’ve never done bling or shiny fabrics, but in the late 1980s I did own an eye-catching pair of purple leopard print harem pants that I just adored and wore to death! OMG they were wonderful!

Fess up! What is something you did as a child that got you into big trouble?

When I was growing up we lived next to a railway bridge, and we used to play on the bridge a lot, daring each other to do ever more dangerous feats of bravery. I was once dared to walk along the outer edge of the bridge ledge across the tracks, holding on for dear life, which I did… But a railwayman saw me and he told my mum and dad, and not surprisingly I got absolute holy hell for that! Gives me palpitations to think about now, but I guess you do crazy shit when you’re young…

What are you looking forward to as the festive season approaches?

Nice food and drink, and spending time with my children and grandchildren.

Squirrelly Share Your World

Rock Buns

I decided to make some traditional rock buns this afternoon – I used to make them often when I was younger, but haven’t made any for years. Rock buns are a favourite family tea-time treat that have sadly gone out of fashion with today’s more sophisticated tastes. Proper childhood comfort food to cheer me up – a real blast from my baking past.

They’re so easy to make, and thankfully their rough-and-ready appearance (rock-like, hence the name) means neatness is never a requirement. I love the crumbly, crusty exterior and the spicy, fruity interior that together creates such a satisfyingly perfect accompaniment to a lovely cup of tea. If you’ve never had rock buns, they’re not quite as sweet and rich as cake, not quite as light and airy as bread, and in spite of their strange name are not quite as solidly slice-able in texture as a scone, either.

Happily it seems I’ve not lost my touch and these have turned out a treat – I’ve already had one (OK maybe two, just to make sure!) with my afternoon cuppa, and hopefully they’ll be a nice surprise for my husband when he gets home from work later tonight – yum! 🙂

Boiled Eggs and Toasted Soldiers

OMG I love the taste of real butter – I remember so well the creamy yellow full-fat butter made by my grandmother on their arable farm. They always had a cow, though, kept for the milk. First the cow would be milked by hand, the warm, frothy milk splashing straight from the cow into the milk pail. Then the milk pail would be left to settle in the ‘milk-house’ which was a long, cool, stone-built out-building by the back door to the farmhouse. In due course the cream would be skimmed off the top of the milk and it was this cream that would be made into butter.

The old labour-intensive wooden butter churn still sat in the milk-house, next to the cool marble-topped work surface, but by the time I was old enough to remember the process the butter was being made in the kitchen using a standard electric mixer. From runny liquid whipped up to a thick cream to making little yellow globules of fat solids in white opaque liquid with minimal effort – perfect! Once the butter was fully separated from the buttermilk in the mixing bowl it was taken out and washed in cold water and salted to taste, before being carefully formed into a small rectangular block using ridged wooden butter pats.

In my memory the residual buttermilk was always given to the chickens to help keep them healthy… Oh, and thinking of the chickens reminds me of the fun of egg-collecting, too. I remember us grand-children being sent into the hen-house to collect the eggs, nestling so gently in the straw all brown and fragile. Carrying them in to the kitchen so carefully, then having them soft-boiled and sat in individual egg-cups with a steaming little cap sliced off the top, just enough to be able to dip in lavishly buttered toasted soldiers – long thin fingers of toasted bread, just perfect for dipping into the egg…

Such wonderful childhood memories… Actually I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a soft-boiled egg eaten with butter-laden toasted soldiers, but I’m almost tempted to give it a go tonight! 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Butter

The Back of Woolies and Other Lost Locations

One of the weird things about moving back to a place where you grew up so once knew very well, but in the interim you have lived elsewhere for twenty years, is that past locations that are so clear in your head are now lost to the present world. The back of Woolies in Inverness is one such lost location.

The two-storey Woolworths store in Inverness had a great corner location with the front doors on the High Street, but with the ‘back’ door (actually at the side of the building) opening up onto Lombard Street, a short quiet pedestrians-only back street creating a quick and easy cut through to Union Street. Woolies was a favourite shop for so many bits and pieces, so always enjoyed a high footfall including capturing extra trade via plenty of casual through-traffic.

When I was growing up and catching up with friends on a Saturday afternoon ‘the back of Woolies’ was a regular central meeting place. In those days, before the advent of purpose built shopping malls to pull the bulk of people away from the middle of the town to congregate in cavernous indoor off-centres elsewhere, the buzzing High Street with its jumble of large and small retailers all jostling for prime position was the pinnacle of our everyday shopping universe.

Sadly, Woolworths as a company died a death many years ago, and the retail company that now inhabits the ground floor only of the site has closed off the back doors entirely, losing the fluidity and flow of customers in the current configuration. The street, of course, remains intact, but inside my head Lombard Street will always be called ‘the back of Woolies’, even though the Woolies store referred to no longer exists exept in my memory.

Other lost locations in my memory include the Record Rendezvous on Church Street, one of only two dedicated vinyl record shops in Inverness. (Incidentally, the other record shop was on the Market Brae Steps at the other end of the High Street and was actually called ‘The Other Record Shop’, known affectionately as TORS.) However I see that the aptly named Rendezvous Cafe now sits happily on exactly the same footprint as the old Record Rendezvous, and the continuity of the name makes me smile every time I walk past it.

And in the same vein only a few yards away along the street from the Rendezvous Cafe there is also now a pub/ cafe bar called ‘The Auctioneers’ on the site of what was in my day actually a proper old fashioned auction house selling household furniture and similar items – it’s so nice to see a nod to the old businesses of the past in the naming of the new.

Alternatively, places where the name has changed but the business is the same still catch me off guard – the Victorian hotel built in to the fabric of the train station may now be branded as the Royal Highland, but it’ll always be the Station Hotel to me. And in my head the more modern Mercure Hotel overlooking the River Ness is still the Caledonian Hotel, known to all and sundry of my generation as the ‘Caley’, although its probably been a good decade or so at least years since the name changed 🙂

Blast From the Past: Childhood Ice Lollies

Old-time rocket-shaped lolly named Zoom

Juice-filled frozen fruit flavours go boom

In your mouth layers sweet

Melt to mush as you eat

Wooden lolly stick sucked till exhumed

Although Fab was my favourite vice

With its hundreds and thousands on ice

Adding crumbly feel

And exciting appeal

To a fun lolly sure to entice

A blast-from-the-past limerick twofer for Esther Chilton’s word prompt of ‘Zoom’ for this week, helpfully illustrated by a retro metal sign hanging in my kitchen 🙂

A Stitch in Time

While I was visiting my parents yesterday I looked out my old toy sewing machine to take home with me, purely for sentimental reasons – it’s a dinky little diecast alloy Vulcan Minor hand operated machine, which really worked! It only stitched a kind of simple chain stitch with only one thread not two, but it was such fun to use when I was small.

Sadly over the last 50 years parts of it have become broken and missing, and the hand-cranked wheel is slightly buckled now, but I still love it. The plastic tension guide on the top broke and disappeared a long time ago, and the needle has long since snapped. Size wise it measures about six inches long by just short of six inches high and not quite three inches wide.

The point is, this childhood toy was my first introduction to using a sewing machine, and over the years sewing has remained an ongoing part of my creative life, although with a full-sized adult sewing machine – making soft toys, patchwork quilts, clothing alterations – although making clothes completely from scratch is prohibitively expensive these days!

These manually-operated mechanical toys were originally made for little girls to help them learn to become good homemakers when they grew up, as was expected at the time. Gender stereotyping aside, I truly loved my own little sewing machine, and I can’t help but think it would be great to be able to get it fully working again, just for fun 🙂

On the Hunt for Joy: Rediscover your Childhood Joys

Coffee, Tea, or Milk of Magnesia?

I thought I was going to be totally stumped today by Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt of Coffee, Tea, or Me – flirty phrases are just not me, especially not embarrassingly dated stuff like that.

Then I read John Holton’s SOCS post mentioning about air stewardesses back in the day writing a book of that name and suddenly it all became clear. Yup, in the context of the sexist world of the original ‘trolley dollies’ (such a ghastly, demeaning name) I can see how that phrase might come about.

But to be honest the thing that struck me most about John’s post is the 1970s ad he’s included at the bottom for Milk of Magnesia – because oooh, there’s something I can post about, family medicine cabinet staples from my childhood! I suppose it’s a kind of Stream of Consciousness post once removed – related to Linda’s topic, but indirectly, through reading John’s post.

I so clearly remember the blue bottle of Milk of Magnesia, we were usually given a spoon of that white milky liquid for the solid kind of bellyache caused by constipation – I can even remember the odd taste of it. It was joined in its choice of eye-catching blue glass bottle by a little jar of Vicks Vaporub – its powerfully strong menthol heating sensation when rubbed on your chest and back was used to relieve congestion due to a cold.

My dad used to be bothered with indigestion a lot so there was always a tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts to be had – a spoon of that dissolved in water would fizz up into salty bubbles to be drunk down straight away, usually followed immediately by a huge belch, to settle any stomach discomfort. And I remember dad also carried little white square Rennies tablets in his pocket at all times for his heartburn.

Another duo of products that spring to mind is a tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly and a tin – a proper round tin, not a tube – of thick, pink Germolene antiseptic ointment. Now there’s a smell to stick in your nostrils. In my mind’s eye I link the strong smell of Germolene to the memory of fabric sticking plaster strips, because scrapes and grazes were cleaned with the sting of diluted Dettol, Germolene antiseptic ointment was applied, then a plaster cut to size was stuck over the top and you were sent on your way.

The painkiller I remember most from childhood is Disprin, a dissolvable asprin. If there was such a thing as ibuprofen available way back in the 1960s and 1970s they definitely didn’t make it as far as our medicine cabinet. These were the main generic products I remember, but I was ill a lot as a child so had my prescribed medicines to take too – Phenergan Syrup for my allergies tasted absolutely vile… yuk!

OK, that memory has put me off now, so I’ll just stop there while the going’s still good 🙂

Cherry Coloured Twist

Sometimes my brain comes up with the strangest memories when prompted by just one word, however different the context. Fandango’s One Word prompt today is ‘twist’ and straight away a voice in my head muttered ‘cherry coloured twist’ and there I am, back in early childhood being read Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ by my mum.

We read all of Beatrix Potter’s little hardback books over and over again – I think they’re probably still there somewhere at my mum and dad’s house, actually – but my two favourites were always ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ and ‘The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies’. I think I liked the illustrations as much as the stories, they were so beautifully done.

Landmarks on a Childhood Journey

When I was young, we lived in the countryside about 10 miles outside of Inverness, and both sets of grandparents lived within a mile of each other about 10 miles or so outside of Aberdeen, giving a road distance of just over 100 miles between our family and my grandparents. We spent much of our holidays visiting said grandparents, driving there and back in our family car, along the A96 main road between Inverness and Aberdeen.

In those days the main road was neither a straight nor simple smooth line travelling directly from A to B. Instead it was more of a jerky, disjointed join-the-dots journey linking one town to the next always necessitating driving into whatever town, pootling slowly through the main streets then out the other side before speeding on to the next leg of the trip. Unless of course we then got stuck crawling along behind a lorry, or a tractor, or a caravan on the frequently treacherous unovertakable sections of the one-size-fits-all road, which inevitably happened more often than not. One way or another it was never a straightforward steady-speed run through for any of us.

One benefit for us as kids, though, was that this piecemeal place-to-place passage created a bit of interest on the way. Whereas our parents obviously knew the road well and could easily recite the order of the towns and villages we drove through, for my younger brother and I we liked to look out for the specific landmarks we passed and the fond names we gave them. I remember ‘Witches Hat’ being a cone-shaped stone building high on top of a hill – it always sat starkly in the distance, visibly silhoutted on the horizon, and I have absolutely no idea what it was originally, or even of it’s still there to be seen today.

And ‘Pickled Egg’ was a lay-by just outside Keith, about half-way through our journey, where we regularly stopped to eat fish and chips out of paper. Oh, that fish and chip shop in the square in the centre of Keith made such lovely fat fluffy chips, and the memory of the smell of those hot and steaming salt-and-vinegar-soaked paper pakages makes me salivate today even thinking about it. The particular name of ‘Pickled Egg’ came from one trip where my little brother had slept through our usual food stop, only waking up after we’d all eaten and dad was starting up the car engine ready to continue on our way.

Mum unwrapped my brother’s chips for him to eat on the move, but he had been promised a pickled egg with his chips and this was nowhere to be found – and so the tears began. Dad realised he’d probably bundled it up inside the rest of our used paper wrappings without thinking, and had dumped it in the waste bin in the lay-by. So dad promptly reversed back, stopped the car again and walked back over to the waste bin, fishing out our screwed-up chip papers and retrieving my brother’s well-wrapped, none-the-worse-for-wear pickled egg!

Off the top of my head I can’t immediately think of any more landmarks for now, although I know we certainly had plenty of visual milestones along the way to guide us. I haven’t made this journey for many years, but even the last time I drove between Inverness and Aberdeen I found it sadly overly sanitised. With the ‘old’ road substantially unkinked and upgraded to create large swathes of high-speed dual carriageway and with so many familiar towns now by-passed, effectively erased from sight for today’s traveller, the narrow road I remember winding almost nonchalantly through the Scottish countryside had already altered beyond all recognition.

Nowadays it is undoubtedly a shorter, quicker trip, and probably far safer for all concerned but the road trip also feels far less of an exciting adventure than it was in my childhood. And although when I started to write this post I thought it would be easy to recall those visual landmarks of a childhood journey I completed so many times, I find I’m remembering the smells far more readily. The well-worn dark red leather car seats that gave off a particular perfume all of their own when warmed by sweaty little bodies sitting on them, petrol fumes that permeated the back seat, and the aforementioned steamy aroma of mouthwateringly tempting hot food…

Yeah, it’s probably the memory of the fish and chips that did it… 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Landmark