In honour of the day

There was our food shop, Station Stores, tiny,  without telephone or fridge which my parents managed to sell before the approaching  self-service wave swept such places away, their purchaser wasn’t so fortunate,  it being demolished a few years later and replaced by an estate agent. I would like to go there to find out what became of the blown Victorian glass in the window between the shop and the cramped living quarters behind, which had a strange acidic taste when sucked by a curious child. . And upstairs the main bedroom facing the street, where there was functioning gas lighting. And the stairs to the attic with their blue lino, used by me as a playroom apart from the short inglorious period when we had a lodger. I could survey the street from the dormer attic window. Watching the crowds of railway carriage workers cycle by on their way to and from shifts and the few aristocrats with their Fords, Austins, Hillmans, Standard Vanguards and all the rest of the fifties and pre-war fleets.

The attic faced west and I remember the blissful feeling lying in the spare bed enjoying the calm, yellow light.

Some of the furniture consisted of fruit boxes painted in bright colours. I’m not sure why they didn’t  buy second-hand furniture if budget and rationing put a stop to new; the economics of painting boxes can’t have been great but it wasn’t quite respectable to use someone else’s bedside table, better a virginal repurposed Tasmanian apple box.  

Behind the shop and living room, there was a galley kitchen,  no washing machine but a copper for heating quantities of water. A tin bath to be hauled up to working level or bent over, a dreadful working environment for the housewife of those times, especially with a disabled husband unable to assist with heavy lifting.

And beyond the kitchen with its brass door knob, source of anxiety for me after I’d touched it after touching our hermit neighbour’s deadly nightshade (quite why I didn’t simply wash it is beyond me). A strip of concrete leading to a cycle shed and the toilet (no such fancy facility in the house).

I had no feeling of  poverty or restriction, it was simply home.

I remember one game in the garden with a boy of my age, a relative. I persuaded him to run to the house from the garden shed and remove an item of clothing for each completed round. I can’t recall any openly erotic aspect to this – the first hesitant stings of desire came much later at the end of of my time in Lancing. Maybe I was timing him to see whether his performance improved with lighter loads but I don’t think so. It was probably more curiosity as to how long this game could continue before the adults intervened. They eventually did but, engrossed in chatter, after a surprisingly long time as this increasingly naked child flashed past.

Next next door was the Luxor cinema where the projectionist suffered from the hot little room at the top and liked to keep the door open making the soundtrack only too audible to the neighbourhood. My mother had the distressing habit of writing notes of complaint and sending me to the cinema with them). I hated this but had not at this tender age developed ways of derailing this undesired behaviour.

And a few doors up were my parents’ friends who ran the stationery shop with its notebooks and pencils of much interest to me. There was, however, the question of money which was in scarce supply, my collections of the maid and old lady Victoria, Edward, George etc. nor being impressive.

I knew where the supplies of notebooks were kept in a box on a bottom shelf near the floor. Probably inspired by some violent scene from Saturday morning children’s cinema, I cased the joint and waited for my opportunity. I wasn’t however, thinking of some sneaky child’s filching but planned to charge into the shop in style, shouting, grab what I wanted and retreat. It worked surprisingly well – I was well away with my haul before my parents’ friends recovered from their surprise. How I expected to get away with this is unclear. I can’t remember the consequences in detail but they were surprisingly mild after the products had been restored. A lesson for life – if you’re going to misbehave, make sure you do something really bizarre which people have problems taking on board; they will tend to forget it rather than struggle to work it out.

Finally, on 23 January 1958, this world disappeared when West Country class 34046 Braunton steamed out of Worthing station with the Plymouth express en route for my parents’ retirement home in Somerset. And hence this blog post, dagen till ära.

Back in the frozen north

There is a monument in Göttingen market place, a university town in Lower Saxony, to Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, famous for his alphabetically numbered annual notebooks, his sudelbūcher or commonplace books, admired by Wittgenstein, Freud and Nietzsche. He got as far as L before the reaper put a stop to the project.

According to Wikipedia, these notebooks contain “quotations of passages that struck Lichtenberg, titles of books to read, autobiographical sketches, and short or long reflections, including keen observations on human nature, in the manner of the 17th-century French moralists. Those reflections helped him earn his posthumous fame as one of the best aphorists in Western intellectual history.  “Arthur Schopenhauer admired Lichtenberg greatly for what he had written in his notebooks. He called him one of those who “think .. for their own instruction”, who are genuine thinkers for themselves in both senses of the words”. He is also described as a great procrastinator with a lifelong ambition to write a novel like Tom Jones, which never got beyond a few pages.

He was an eighteenth century person with a less hard division between natural science and other branches of knowledge. Alien from my, technical and scientific ignorance, but otherwise a man who I am fond of and who inspires me.

I too have a large number of notebooks but not in neat alphabetical order. I have scribbled things down here and there, sometimes in creamy French notebooks, other times on rougher paper with a fine Indian cover, a dream of Bengal. A large box of notebooks where obscure facts about family history jostle with book titles, words that have attracted my attention, shopping lists, notes on translation customers and orphaned information which I take under my wing. But this trip I have drained these ancient swamps and extracted what I want to keep and now have separate books for Dorset,  Uppland, German and French language, Bengal, Cooking, Plants, Greece and Rome, book titles and various political and social topics; Reluctantly, I think I have to at least partially digitalise as bearing a bag around my neck with 30 notebooks reminds of the Ancient Mariner with his albatross.

The project also has a whiff of Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet but this doesn’t bother me nor am disturbed by writing as jogging rather than practising for the Olympics.

It was a good project to complete during my trip to Germany but seriously challenged my aim of travelling light. Most of my return journey went well but arriving at Arlanda was a trial where the plane parked at a distant terminal, a long trudge from the exit.

Well home and tired, I fell asleep more or less immediately fully dressed after reading a friend’s Christmas greeting describing his project of writing about ancient bench ends in a Cornish church. Chaotic dreams about what I had to do as the shards of my German and Swedish lives reached out to one another. And worse repetitive dreams about things I didn’t have to do. I woke up after a couple of hours, dehydrated from running my heater at full blast to compensate for the landlord’s refrigerator-light approach to central heating. And then footled for an hour or so emptying bags in a chaotic jumble, trying to work up a sense of progress when I found an appropriate niche for some item. The night continued with a couple of such rounds but now I’m refreshed and able to think. In a an hour or two, the shop will open and I can get something to eat as the flat’s resources consisted of two bad lemons, a tin of sardines and a bottle of alcohol-free beer. And I am struck by my own stupidity at not doing what my children would have done, to call and get food delivered.

Seeing but not seeing

For eight years I wore a blazer with a badge of a viking ship and never wondered why. Much later I learned that a replica had been built and sailed past south Sussex; I don’t remember exactly when but probably before the last war. And then following my parents into their West Country retirement another school, another badge, another eight and a half years, This time with a double-headed eagle with spread wings. And now I learn that spread eagle has come into the language from heraldry, a fine bold word uncertain of its hyphen. The spread eagle on the arms of Hugh Sexey, a royal auditor from the time of the first Elizabeth, who preserved his name by founding schools and a hospital. His grave is not so far from my old school but I never saw it nor was even aware of the hospital he founded other than by name. For me, he was mostly a nuisance when interviewers penetrated beyond my mumbled “went to school in Bruton” and forced me to say that I went to Sexey’s School.

The spread eagle is rather fine though unappreciated by the gauche youth. In heraldry, it’s a symbol for perspicacity among other things and has roots way back to the Bronze Age, to the Hittites and later Roman legions. There’s a vague reference to the German origins of the Sexey family but I know nothing more about that, for the time being contenting myself with spread eagle and marvelling at my lack of curiosity for so many years. The strangeness and exotic is all around us and we pass by unseeing, amused by surrealist pictures but blind to the weirdness of the familiar.

And now my life is about to change again, back to Sweden tomorrow. I’ve been in Germany for two months, two intensive months feeling my way beyond my incessant shuttle between my English and Swedish worlds, where yet another life starts to take form. Reliving ancient memories of the first stimulating struggle in Sweden and later efforts to keep hold of England when I realised that I’d unwittingly passed beyond youthful exploration to emigration. A third country is a solace, neither here nor there, neither where I came from nor the place of softened exile, familiar after more than a half century. My German is better than my hardly existent Swedish at the time of expatriation, but weird as I’ve picked it up from the frenetic days of my last university term when I started learning it to avoid thinking of the approaching catastrophe of finals after almost dropping out. I’ m close to being able to read a novel but the Germans are taking time to become accustomed to my steadfast flaunting of grammatical rules.

But soon I will be back sifting my way through two months post, with pangs about unresponded Christmas cards. Back to my books and those dear to me there, back to a frantic round of damage limitation of various parts of the body and renewal of my lifeworthiness certificate for another year.

Back to my Bengali lessons and sneaking into the pensioners’ centre for an anonymous lunch, fending off the friendly.

This year, I will continue my study of Uppland and Uppsala while not forgetting Dorset and the box of family history documents demanding action to become an archive. And I will long to come back to Germany and to Bengal, France and the West Country; exile is intense longing to be somewhere else, intense sadness to leave one world for another, intense efforts to join up the unjoinable. But I’ve learnt to live with this and wouldn’t swap my life for monocultural insularity.

Idle musing

Floozie and friends

Reflecting on the origin of “floozie”, I find that the spelling ”floozy” is more common in the US. According to one etymological source on the net, it was perhaps a variation of flossy “fancy, frilly” (1890s slang), with the notion of “fluffiness.” The c. 1700 “Dictionary of the Canting Crew” defines Florence as a slang word for “a Wench that is touz’d and ruffled.”

Synonyms are floozie, hooker, hustler, slattern, street girl, streetwalker. type of bawd, cocotte, cyprian, fancy woman, harlot, lady of pleasure, prostitute, sporting lady, tart, whore, woman of the street, working girl.

Cyprian caught my attention and I thought first of St Cyprian (c 210-258 AD, renowned writer of Western Christianity until Jerome and Augustine, He doesn’t seem much of a man for floozies unless, like Jerome, he spent his Christian years repenting youthful joie de vivre.

The connection, however, is not to Cyprian but to the island of Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess associated with love, lust, beauty, pleasure, passion, procreation, and as her syncretized Roman goddess counterpart Venus, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity, and victory.

Aphrodite even has a rock there near Paphos although the locals also call it Petra tou Romiou (the stone of the Romans), allegedly thrown there by the Roman defender of the island, Digenis Acrita, to scare off the Saracen attackers. Unclear how Aphrodite gets into the picture.

The other terms were more run of the mill although “bawd” from Middle English bawde, from Old French baud, bold, lively, jolly, gay sounds as if it was once rather fun but has become rackety with time.

Harlot has waltzed from sex to sex originally in French indicating a “young man, knave, vagabond”, later “lecherous men or woman”

And cocotte is apparently early 20th century French from cocasse, a kind of pot from Latin cucuma cooking vessel.

In my attempts to extract the details of Aphrodite’s rock from tourist pics, I find I have deleted my notes on sources but much of this material is from Wikipedia.