3

My first visit to the cinema

I have never forgotten my first visit to the cinema for two reasons. It was the first time I can remember Dad taking me out without Mum and my little sister. The second reason is that the film was very frightening.  As we didn’t have a television at home I wasn’t used to watching films. I had seen some cartoons at Sunday School parties and didn’t find them at all funny. I could only imagine how much the accidents happening to the animal characters must have hurt! I also found black and white television at friends’ houses disturbing. There were sinister puppets in programmes, which were on while we played. We never sat down and followed the story line.

Dad and I walked about half a mile to the bus stop and caught the bus to the town centre, where we went into the big cinema. I don’t remember what we talked about on the way there. Dad was very observant, so no doubt he pointed things out to me. Perhaps he noticed a comet flying overhead or a bird in a garden.

The cinema seemed huge and dark. I think we sat fairly near the front, but my eyes were glued to the screen. I knew the story from a book, but the printed pictures were not as scary. I also knew that it was supposed to be a treat to be taken out. I don’t remember telling anyone how scared I had been. I still prefer books to films, although I have enjoyed a few memorable films at the cinema. I had other experiences later in my childhood of being terrified, and of not understanding slapstick humour.

The first film I went to see was the newly released Sleeping Beauty by Walt Disney.

I have watched it on television as an adult and the artwork is really sinister.

Another time my Dad and I had an outing together was about five or six years later, when he took me by bus in a different direction. This was my first orchestral concert. I know we heard the New World Symphony by Dvorak. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony may also have been part of the programme. This was a wonderful experience. Given the choice between a concert and a film, I’d take the concert every time!

(This was a writing prompt from Post-40 bloggers, which I could not resist.)

2

Dealing with shyness

When I was a child (before some post-40 bloggers were born) there was an attitude left over from earlier times that children should be heard and not seen and only speak when they were spoken to.  For a quiet child it was easier to stare out of the window, lost in thought than to join in with conversation.  In company, for example a family meal at which another family was present, I could not get a word in edgeways.  I just listened – and sometimes remembered.

I was shy.  To go an errand was an ordeal.  In those days it involved going to the shop and waiting in a queue, before asking for the items required.  Going with a message to a neighbour was no better.  Shy people are not likely to knock hard on doors and few people had doorbells then.  Whether an interruption was welcome or not was something I considered, while waiting for a reply.  If the door wasn’t opened quickly, how long did I need to wait before trying to make more noise with the door-knocker?

There were times, when my shyness did not really show.  One teacher in particular used to ask one of the best readers to stand at the front and read to the class from a book, of which we each had been lent a copy.  My turn came round very frequently and I enjoyed doing this.  Looking back, I probably read accurately, but without a great deal of expression – it was definitely not a dramatic interpretation.  I can’t remember which books we read.

If I really wanted to do something, which needed the permission of an adult, I used to talk to Mum about it first as a way of plucking up the courage to do it.  An example was the time I realised that I could play the recorder (having been taught by a member of my family) well enough to join the group of older children playing in the morning assembly.  I needed to ask the music teacher.  One day I left the line of children and stood by her side as she played a march on the piano for us to leave the hall.  She indicated that I might speak and gave me permission to join the group.  No-one seemed to notice that I was slightly behind my classmates arriving back in the classroom, so plucking up courage had been a positive experience.

There were ways in which I did not really change for a long time.  I was always happiest with one other person, rather than in a larger group.  To speak my own words to a group of people was nerve-wracking.  The persistence necessary to complete what I was trying to say with more than one person to interrupt (and put me off) was perhaps a reason I have always found it easier to write than to speak.

I can remember the first telephone being installed at home.  Sometimes I was told to phone someone – perhaps the person, who taught me to play the recorder or a family friend, who had kindly remembered my birthday.  I was worried I wouldn’t know what to say if they asked me questions.  Using the phone was problematic if more than one person might answer it.  A form of words was required to deal with this eventuality.  There are good ones and worse ones.  For example, “Is so-and-so there, please?” might result in the answer “Yes!” or “No!”  If the former, there would be an anxious pause while the person came to the phone.  Otherwise, an explanation and request for a good time to phone might be needed.  Embarrassingly, the phone was in the living/dining room so that anyone in the family might be listening and preparing helpful comments about where I had gone wrong!  Nowadays, I prefer to ask whether I may speak to a person.  Sometimes I even say who I am.  I am also fairly good at recognising voices, when I answer the phone, although my brothers-in-law sound rather alike.

The first time I phoned a new friend from my secondary school her mother answered.  I asked to speak to the daughter.  However, I must have sounded a bit like a niece, who phoned from time to time.  The mother, whom I had not met, began a long conversation with me, which I found it hard to extricate myself from.  Everyone has to learn these sorts of social skills, but it is more difficult for an introvert faced with a very talkative adult on the other end of the phone!

I used to talk to Mum a lot as she liked to know what had been going on at school.  She always seemed outgoing, never at a loss for words and has been a good friend to many people during her long life.  Dad was very quiet, with a soft voice.

A teacher pushed me into taking two examinations with the English Speaking Board.  The idea was that it would improve examinees’ confidence and ability in situations in adult life, where it would be necessary to speak in public.  (I have told this story before.) The first time I entered I prepared a speech about my hobby of collecting, growing and propagating cacti and succulents.  I took a container with some growing in it as a visual aid.  Reading a prepared passage from a book and answering questions from the audience of other entrants and the examiner also featured.

The first exam resulted in a pass at a particular level.  Subsequent entries were for the next grade.  The following year I really did not want to take the exam, which required more preparation and another ordeal.  I couldn’t think of a subject to talk about.  In the end I opted for holidays, but didn’t prepare properly and failed the exam.  It would have been better not to have entered!  On the whole I was not a rebellious teenager, but I did rebel against learning how to project my voice.  It was only in 2013 that I decided it was about time I did something about this!

Nowadays people do not regard me as shy.  In fact I habitually talk to strangers on railway stations and trains.  At coffee mornings, I circulate and talk to a variety of people rather than sitting in one seat and only talking to those nearby.  If there are people I have not met before, I try to speak to them.  I have met some really interesting visitors to this village.  A retired Cambridge academic and his wife and the parents of a lady, who used to sing in a choir with me, spring to mind among others.

My shyness reduced slowly over time.  I was a Brownie, then a Girl Guide and a member of a youth group.  These all involved mixing with people.  Aged sixteen I spent four weeks in France conversing almost exclusively in French, although my accent was very English due to self-consciousness about practising pronunciation.

I left home at eighteen for student life about two hundred miles away.  At the interview for a female hall of residence, I was shown round with another young lady.  We were both shy and did not make conversation with each other and not much with the person showing us around.  First year students had to share a study/bedroom.  On arrival at the beginning of term we found that we were near neighbours, but not in the same room.  Some more outgoing girls had been placed with someone they met at their interview.

At university I became involved in the Christian Union and found that I was able to converse with people from all over the world, possibly because I had developed good listening skills through being quiet.

By the end of the time I was a student I had gained a reputation for being able to talk to anyone!  I regarded it as a compliment.

Sometimes I talk too much!  I hope I am seen as a friendly person.  If you are shy, try thinking about the people around you and what they might like to talk about.  It only takes one person to “break the ice”; it could be the quietest person in the room.

This was written in response to a writing prompt from post40bloggers.

14

The family home

Daily Prompt: Our House

by Krista on March 3, 2014

What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us HOME.

By coincidence, just before this prompt was published, hubby had referred to the house where I grew up.  It was the family home from the year before I was born until the year after my father’s death.  Hubby (like our children) was only familiar with the modernised version of it.  His comment was about it not being semidetached, but end of terrace.

That would be end of garden terrace!

My earliest memories are of the original house.  It had a front door with a metal plate on the wooden doorstep and no porch – a small porch was built much later.  The front door and the window to the left of it had decorative coloured panes of frosted glass.  Inside the front door the hall was spacious and light, as there was a window part way up the stairs, known as the landing window.  The stairs went up from the hall on the left almost opposite the door to the front room.  This was the width of the room away from the front door.  The window of the front room was proud of the front door, so that when the porch was eventually built the front of the downstairs became flat.  We did not use the front room much.  It had the best furniture and carpet.  It also faced approximately north, so was rather chilly and dark compared with the back room, which adjoined it the other side of sliding wooden doors, rarely opened.  The open fire was rarely lit.

Instead we reached the back room by going past the painted, panelled banisters of the stairs and turning our backs on the cupboard under the stairs.  The kitchen door was on our left as we entered the back room, also variously known as the dining room or living room.  This room had a tall dark brown mantelpiece above a grate.  There were brown cupboards in the upper part of each alcove, with doors which opened into the room.   The windows were small-paned French windows across the back of the room, with the door opening in the middle.  Sometimes a child-gate would be fixed in place across this door.

The kitchen was not particularly large, although it was almost as long as the back room.  It had an old blue enamelled solid fuel boiler in it, which must have been one method of heating the water.  At this time central heating was very unusual and we did not have it installed until much later.  In fact we had a different solid fuel boiler in the meantime.  Opposite the door into the kitchen was the backdoor, which led into the garden.  To one side of it was the kitchen sink, with a small widow above it and to the right was the built-in larder – a cupboard with shelves for food to be stored.  The kitchen also housed the cooker and washing machine.  With a table and stools on the other side the fridge (refrigerator) had to be kept in the hall!

Going upstairs the flight of stairs, with a stair carpet and stair rods to hold it in place turned for the final three steps.  On the left was the bathroom, with a bath, washbasin and an airing cupboard above the hot-water cylinder.  The switch for the immersion heater was inside the airing cupboard.  (In the south of England it was not necessary to heat houses in the summer months, but hot water was required.)

Beyond the bathroom was the smallest room in the house.  It was as long as the bathroom and kitchen, with the toilet facing the door.  There was a small window above it and the cistern was high on the wall operated by a chain.

The back bedroom shared a wall with the toilet.  It had a large window, looking out over the garden.  The Anderson shelter had been demolished and the bricks reused elsewhere in the garden.  There was a cypress tree fairly close to the house.  The garden was unusually large for the locality.

The front bedroom was above the front room, but the windows were designed slightly differently.  Both rooms had windows which turned a corner.  Upstairs the angle was slanting, whereas downstairs it was a right angle.  The upstairs had to be slanting, because of the adjoining property.  It slanted at each end, rather like one of those dressing tables with a mirror in three parts.  It must have been the only place in the house where it was possible to see the next door neighbours’ house from indoors without leaning out of a window!

The third bedroom was a very good size for this type of 1930s property.  It accommodated a 4 foot bed, an arm chair and a chest of drawers and so made a fairly comfortable guest room.   The door had been modified to open outwards onto the landing, instead of into the room.  All the other doors opened inwards.

The landing was fairly wide.  The stairs were separated from it by a continuation of the painted panels, with a handrail along the top, which continued by the side of the hall after a section where there was no rail.  I can remember the time when we still needed a stair-gate as my sister was younger than I was.

There was no heating upstairs apart from a paraffin heater, which was variously used in the bathroom or in a bedroom if someone was ill in bed in winter.  There were old gas fires in the two larger bedrooms, but they were never used.  I do not believe we were able to use any gas at that time.  It was reconnected after the area became a smokeless zone.  By this time many alterations had been made, including the removal of the gas fires upstairs and blocking off the associated chimneys with hardboard and wallpaper.