bigjohn

There is many a good tune played on an old fiddle.

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  • My Life and Times

    I was born in 1939 BC. That's 'Before Computers'. Luckily I survived the following events in my life, such as World War II, The London Blitz, Rationing, and worst of all... Archbishop Temple's School.

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    During the mid 1950s I was enjoying Rock 'n' Roll and being a first generation teenager, when suddenly, just like Elvis, I found myself in uniform during 'The Cold War'...and then

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    I became 'a family'. Which meant that I sort of missed the 'swinging sixties', but still managed to look a complete prat in the 70s, just like everyone else.

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    During the 'Thatcher Years' I lost my hair and a lot of people lost a good deal more. My career fluctuated to say the least as I was demoted, promoted, fired and hired a number of times, but still I managed to stagger on into a welcome retirement and to celebrate 50 years of happy marriage.
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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

“Don’t drop the ‘baby Jesus’ !”

Posted by Big John on December 7, 2014

According to a recent survey only a third of schools now stage traditional nativity plays at Christmas, complete with Mary, Joseph, shepherds and wise men. Others perform modern alternatives without religious references. Some include space-men, fairies, and even Elvis !

Now it may seem strange that this old atheist, who welcomes the latest news that Britain is fast becoming a more secular society, is saddened by the demise of that annual event when small children appeared ‘on stage’ dressed in bed sheets, towels and sandals, forgot their ‘lines’, shuffled about, pushed each other, fell over, burst into tears and waved to their mums and dads in the audience; but to me, all those years ago, it was a tradition to be enjoyed along with Santa Claus and old time pantomimes.

Of course, for those parents whose kids still take part in such performances, they no longer have to ‘raid’ the linen cupboard for their ‘Judean’ robes thanks to supermarkets and online retailers offering cheap, mass-produced nativity costumes.

… Wouldn’t you know it ?

Posted in family, humour, nostalgia, religion | 1 Comment »

The spirit of Christmas past. (Well almost !)

Posted by Big John on November 18, 2014

I know that this must sound strange to many people, but I can remember when Christmas started  … at Christmas ! .. Not, as I recently read  … “during August” !

When I was a young child nothing much happened in our house until Christmas Eve apart from my dad ‘dispatching’ one of our chickens in the back yard and hanging it in the coal cellar (Yes, that’s where the meat was kept). Later my mum would pluck it and prepare it for Christmas dinner. To most people, in those days, ‘Turkey’ meant a place where they made strange smelling cigarettes.

On Christmas Eve my dad would bring home a small fir tree of some kind, which had probably been growing alongside the railway track where he had been working that day. He would also have with him a sack containing a limited assortment of fruit and nuts. No one ever asked where they came from, as wartime rationing (which continued for long after WWII) meant that an orange was something to be marvelled at: and I well remember that the first time I saw a banana I thought it was some sort of sausage.

From inside his overcoat pocket he would produce a bottle of Scotch whisky, which would have recently been ‘under the counter’ of the local off-licence (liquor store), which was run by one of his mates. He would return to the store later to pick up a crate of ‘Guinness’ and a bottle of ‘Tizer’ for me. Wine was far too ‘posh’ and was limited to sherry or port if any could be found.

My task was to make the paper chains, which I did with my mum’s help. She cut up the coloured paper and I glued the strips together with home-made paste, which didn’t always stick. Holly would be hung all over the place: and I suspect that this came from the same place as the little fir tree, which would soon be decorated with a few ‘antique’ glass baubles and some tatty tinsel.

My grandmother lived in the same street as us, and was a bit like a fairy godmother when Christmas came around, for not only did she make Christmas puddings for all the family, but somehow, managed to come up with a few extra goodies, mostly supplied by a local butcher (we never found out how she blackmailed him), and various friendly ‘black-market’ contacts. A few items had been ‘liberated’ by dodgy members of our gallant allies, the United States Army.

On Christmas Eve I would hang up a pair of my dad’s long woollen socks, snuggle down under the blankets, watch the shadows on the wall made by a glowing fire and wish: but I never did get …

…  that bloody train set !

Posted in family, humour, nostalgia | 5 Comments »

Days with my Dad.

Posted by Big John on September 25, 2014

One of my greatest pleasures, when I was a young child, in the years following the end of World War II, was when my father would take me, at weekends, on trips to various parts of London.

Of course at times we would go and play in the local park, but, in those days young children tended to roam and run free in their own neighbourhoods, so I could visit the park (and beyond !) any time I felt like it: but those trips with my dad were something special; although I didn’t realize it at the time.

My dad was a railway worker, and I was always amazed just how well known he was, for as d and j 48 001we travelled on, what was then the Southern Railway, he was always greeted with a .. “Hello Jack !” .. and .. “Is that your boy ?” .. by uniformed railway staff everywhere, and as no ticket inspector ever asked to see his ticket, or the one I didn’t have, I imagined that he must be someone of importance. In fact, he was just a humble carpenter, but of course, in those days, like many ‘industrial’ workers, railwaymen were a fairly close-knit bunch.

Our sightseeing trips often included other sorts of ‘sites’, for London was still showing the devastating effects of the Luftwaffe’s visits and Hitler’s V1 and V2 missiles. However this did not stop us from strolling along The Mall or Regent Street and visiting the Tower of London and Saint Paul’s Cathedral. London was a very different place then, and in particular ‘The City’, for that one square mile and the nearby docks of the ‘Pool of London’ had been very badly damaged during ‘The Blitz’, but there were still alleyways to explore and the strangely beautiful ruins of churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren to marvel at.

It seems strange now that my dad knew so much about London and it’s history, for he had only a limited education, having left school at the age of thirteen. However, he had spent a good deal of time repairing bomb damage done to London’s railway stations and bridges during the war, so I guess that he must have picked up some knowledge along the way.

I can well remember a day when we found ourselves in one of London’s recently reopened art galleries. It was full of huge rooms; which, in turn, were full of huge paintings, depicting huge ladies, showing huge amounts of naked flesh ! It was all very puzzling to a young lad still in short pants, and I can still see the amused expression on my dad’s face as he saw me wondering why none of them had any naughty bits.

When my daughter was young I used to take her on similar trips, only this time it was by car. We would watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and feed the ducks in Saint James’ Park. Her favourite treat was always a visit to the fun fair in Battersea Park, but I believe that the biggest treat for both of us was that …

… her Grandad came too !  

Posted in family, humour, nostalgia | 3 Comments »

Fun in the fjords.

Posted by Big John on August 25, 2014

I have just returned from Norway, land of the Vikings: and guess what ? I bumped into one of Ragnar’s mates …

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… and possibly one of my ancestors.

Now speaking of ancestors, my old ‘trouble and strife’ definitely has that certain Scandinavian look about her, so I was not surprised when we met up with two of her long lost cousins …

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Not surprisingly, ‘she who must be obeyed’ refused to pose for a picture with them !

More on our cruise to the fjords to follow soon.

Posted in family, humour, travel | 2 Comments »

Getting in the picture !

Posted by Big John on August 1, 2014

The craze for ‘selfies’ may be new, but ‘photobombing’, such as this by his Harryness is not; as can be seen from this photograph of my mother (right), her aunt and young cousin …

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When was it taken ? ….

… Around 1920 !

Posted in family, humour, nostalgia | 2 Comments »

They’re both bossy and barmy !

Posted by Big John on April 7, 2014

I see that the ‘nanny state’ has gone into overdrive recently with the ridiculous idea that junk fast food restaurants and take-outs should sell smaller pizzas, burgers and curries, plus a laughable ‘threat’ to smokers that cigarettes may soon only be sold in plain packs; and that beer and wine glasses used in pubs and restaurants should be marked with a scale showing how many units of alcohol they contain. Oh! .. and before I forget .. that we should all eat ten (Yes, ten !) portions of fruit and veg each day.

OK, so I’m sure that many of us know that it makes sense to eat a healthy diet and not to overdo the doughnuts and to be careful when drinking out of wet glasses, but do ‘those who think that they know better than us what is good for us’ really believe that the likes of the tattooed hulks and their demanding brats, who can be seen at every ‘drive-thru’, pub and pizza parlour, will stop smoking their full strength fags, give up their pints of super strong larger and rush to the supermarket to buy their ‘daily ten’ ?

Of course they bloody won’t ! … So what if their favourite pizza is an inch or two smaller and their usual burger has shrunk in size ? … They will just buy them …

… two at a time !

Posted in family, humour, political, rant | 3 Comments »

Perhaps I should call her ‘Bubbe’ ?

Posted by Big John on March 23, 2014

My recent post about my not so Irish, but possibly Jewish roots reminded me of .. “If I Were a Rich Man … ” first published by me in 2008 …

Remember that “basket full of old family photographs, newspaper clippings and other odds and ends” ? …

Well amongst the ‘odds and ends’ I discovered a blackened metal brooch. It appeared to have some writing on it and a design that looked like stars. I cleaned it up with some metal polish and discovered this …

After a search of ‘the web’ I discovered that this is a piece of silver and gold Mizpah jewellery. Unfortunately the hallmarks on the reverse side are illegible, but according to one source, it was probably made between 1896 and 1916.

I understand that the word Mizpah comes from the Bible … “and Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” (Genesis 31:49), and I gather that Mizpah jewellery is worn to signify an emotional bond between people who are separated.

So could this brooch have belonged to my grandmother and did she wear it when my grandfather was serving in the Army during World War I ? The dates seem to fit, although there is no way of knowing for certain.

The photograph on the left shows my grandmother holding a baby who could possibly be my dad (born 1901) and I have to ask the question … Could she have been Jewish ? … She was called Mariah, a Hebrew name, but if she was of that race and faith no one in the family ever mentioned it to me, and now it’s too late to ask.

I don’t know if it’s possible to be a little bit Jewish, and in any case I’ll never know if I am, but ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is my favourite musical, I always laugh at Jackie Mason, I love salt beef sandwiches, I fancy Barbra Streisand, I hate to ‘pay retail’… and …

I’m noted for my ‘Chutzpah’ ! :-)

Posted in family, humour, nostalgia, religion | 3 Comments »

But Grandma was probably Jewish !

Posted by Big John on March 17, 2014

My grandfather died when I was about ten years old, and my dad told me that his father always claimed to be Irish. So when, a few years ago, I was able to start tracing my ancestry on line I expected to find a trail of documents leading back to the dear old “Emerald Isle”.

At first, it appeared that granddad was from an Irish family of farm labourers living in Sussex and, in fact, my possible ‘great-grandfather’ was listed on a census as a “ploughboy” with his place of birth being Ireland.gd gm f (407x790)

Now granddad did have the appearance of a typical ‘navvy’ when he was ‘out and about’ with his jaunty trilby hat, thumbs in his wide leather belt, and pipe clenched in his teeth as he headed for the local for a glass or two of Guinness.

So, on Saint Patrick’s Day I always tended to remember the old boy and wonder about my Irish ancestors, but I needn’t have bothered, for my later, and much more accurate research, showed that it is unlikely that I have a drop of Irish blood in my body !

Oh, Granddad was born in Sussex and his family can be traced back as far as 1635 without an Irish name in sight, so why he claimed to be Irish is a mystery. Perhaps it was just because this ‘plastic Paddy’ enjoyed being treated to a few free “pints of plain” on this day of the year …

…     HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY  …

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Posted in family, humour, nostalgia | 3 Comments »

 
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