Wednesday, 3 August 2016

My Lutyens Day (including poetry about the Somme and thoughts on Brexit)

Friday 1st July was my Lutyens Day!

On the morning of Friday 1st July 2016, I was watching the televised events to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. François Hollande, David Cameron, Princes Charles, William and Harry were all wearing blue cornflowers for France and red poppies for Britain. They were surrounded by European and British dignitaries, watched by a large, reverent, silent audience as the Welsh Guards and a similarly elite French Military Band performed against the backdrop of Sir Edwin Lutyens great memorial at Thiepval. Moving poems and diaries were read by the Prince of Wales, David Cameron, Charles Dance, Sol Campbell and many others. I was engrossed and lingered longer than I should before clicking 'off' with the remote control and heading for the car. Less than fifteen minutes later I walked into the Free Church in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Lutyens again. It was as if I'd been able to walk inside the Thiepval Memorial, surrounded by the same colours, the same great curves, the same vision.

The occasion was an organ recital as part of 'Proms at St Jude's', which is an annual music festival based in yet another towering Lutyens masterpiece, the magnificent church of St Jude on the Hill. The spire of St Jude's can be seen for miles. St Jude's and the Free Church, together with the former Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute building (now the Henrietta Barnett School), form the centrepiece of Dame Henrietta Barnett's dream of an egalitarian community, living, studying, worshipping  and growing their own food, in a green leafy enclave  close to the Northern Line (which had just reached Hampstead, Highate, Finchley and Golders Green). Sadly Henrietta's dream of the poor cohabiting with the wealthy was destroyed in the middle of the 20th Century,  when the houses in the suburb were sold into private ownership and became too expensive for all except high earners or those with inherited wealth. Nevertheless some of Henrietta's cultural legacy of good works lives on, the biggest demonstration of which is the annual Proms at St Jude's. Proms earns vast sums for the North London Hospice and for youth work at Toynbee Hall in Spitalfields where Henrietta and her husband Canon Samuel Barnett served the community of East London, before moving to Hampstead.

This Proms free lunchtime concert was special for me, as it included two short pieces by my son, the British Composer David J Loxley Blount. Sadly the violinist was indisposed, so his glorious specially commissioned duet, 'Hampstead Suite', could not be played. This treat will have to be saved for a later date.  'Hampstead Suite' incorporates snippets of 'Greensleeves' and other folk tunes associated with Cecil Sharp, father of the folk music revival, who lived and worked in Hampstead.

David's next public performance is 'Dark Somme Flowing' which forms part of the Nation's commemoration of the Tragedy of the Somme. It was  commissioned by the Cathedral of Rochester and is a setting of a WW1 poem 'The Farmer Remembers the Somme' by the Australian Vance Palmer. 'Dark Somme Flowing' will be sung by the girls and men of Rochester Cathedral Choir, accompanied by the Cathedral's Director of Music, in a special commemorative service of Evensong at 3.15pm on Sunday 10th July.
Everyone of all faiths and none is invited to this very special event.

On Friday evening, I returned to St Jude's to hear the Tallis Scholars sing, amongst other pieces, Sir John Tavener's 'Funeral Ikos' and his 'Song for Athene' (which grew to public prominence through the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales). These pieces, bouncing off Lutyens domes and arches, seemed especially appropriate for a day of commemoration of those who died during the Battle of the Somme.

I got home just in time to catch the 10 o'clock news with more pictures from the Lutyens memorial at Thiepval, rounded off by a heart wrenching five minute reflection by Michael Morpugo, which included music from his highly successful 'War Horse'. This was yet another connection to my Lutyens' day, as a few minutes earlier I'd stopped to look at St Jude's much loved memorial to the horses, who died alongside their menfolk in the First World War.

I wondered what a difference there might have been if the Referendum had been held next Thursday, following the cornflowers and poppies for the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme and when sports lovers are excited by the start of the Tour de France and the internationalism of Wimbledon, instead of a fortnight earlier when many streets were bedecked with Union Jacks for the Queen's Birthday and flags of St George for the European Football.

I am not someone who wishes to glorify or sentimentalise war, but when my children were small we had a family friend with a house in Normandy, close to the D Day beaches. We found ourselves there unintentionally at times of commemorative events, so we learned something of the pride of the coach loads of old British Soldiers in their best suits, with their medals and their wives with neatly set hair and smart outfits. We witnessed the gratitude of the French villagers who stopped to salute them. On wet days, when we couldn't go to the beach, we visited several of the small D Day museums. We've seen some of the war cemeteries in Normandy and later we visited more graves in Picardy (partly because of the Lutyens connection).

Most memorable of all was the Son et Lumière at the Pegasus Bridge, which told the story of fragile but determined members of the French Résistance, waiting with hope and anticipation for theIr British Liberators. We could hear them whispering to each other in the convent near the bridge and we heard the sounds of the reconstruction of the British glider, landing at dead of night in a nearby field and of its crew making their way to seize the Pegasus Bridge from the Germans. This was the only way to allow the British, American and Canadian troops, arriving next morning on the D Day beaches, to cross the Caen Canal and advance towards Paris. Without the capture of Pegasus the D Day landings would have been futile.

I have spent the last week in shock and mourning. I just can't believe that this country and France, who have such an important shared history in two wars and in the peace and prosperity which have come from our close bonds, are to be separated because of the lies told to the British population by Boris, Gove and Farage. It seems to me to have some resonance with the soldiers in the battle of the Somme who were told to march to their untimely deaths.

The Farmer Remembers the Somme

Will they never fade or pass!
The mud, and the misty figures endlessly coming
In file through the foul morass,
And the grey flood-water ripping the reeds and grass,
And the steel wings drumming.

The hills are bright in the sun:
There's nothing changed or marred in the well-known places;
When work for the day is done
There's talk, and quiet laughter, and gleams of fun
On the old folks' faces.

I have returned to these:
The farm, and the kindly Bush, and the young calves lowing;
But all that my mind sees
Is a quaking bog in a mist - stark, snapped trees,

And the dark Somme flowing.

Battle of the Somme centenary: How is it being commemorated and why was it so important?

Sir Edwin Lutyens

Cecil Sharp

Henrietta Barnett

Saint Jude-on-the-Hill: The War Horse Memorial

D J Loxley-Blount | Events

Services & Music - Rochester Cathedral

Very Best Wishes Jan.

I didn't vote for Brexit

Two messages from Papageno the rabbit

Subject: Message from Papageno

They've often said that I'm a very clever rabbit. Three nights ago the woman who lives here went to bed early, (she's the one who comes home with bags of shopping, including treats for me. She also drives the car when we go to that place where they try to look at my teeth and give me medicine when I'm poorly). So when he came home the young man fed me and put me to bed (he's the one who cleans out my cage and let's me run round the kitchen).
He's not as generous as the woman, so I didn't get very much pelleted food for the night. He thinks that if he's stingy with pelleted food I'll eat hay which is good for my teeth, but I'm an old rabbit and there's only so much energy I've got for eating hay. I was hungry.
Next morning the woman opened the big white door to the cupboard that makes cold air and where good things like carrots and cabbage are stored. I rattled the bars of my cage to remind her that I needed food. She gave me two tiny baby sweetcorns and a few spinach leaves, I ate them quickly but was still hungry.
Then she was busy over by that little cupboard where things go round and round until it goes ping. She does that every morning, she puts in some nice oat flakes with some horrid wet white stuff and stirs it around to spoil the oats. She puts it in the little cupboard and when it comes out the oats have disappeared and there's a sort of gloop in the bowl which they eat with more of the wet white stuff. They really should just try the oats like they come out of the packet. She sometimes gives me a few and they are lovely.
Anyway she was taking no notice of me and I was hungry, so I wondered what to do. I used my nose to push my shiny metal food bowl out of the ring that holds it in place. It dropped to the floor with a clatter but she took no notice. What could I do now? I found a way of using my nose and front paws to play with the silver bowl, picking it up and dropping it, banging it against the side of the cage, it made quite a lot of noise. She heard me and laughed. It wasn't funny, I was hungry. Anyway she got the message and tickled my neck, put the bowl back and filled it with scrummy pelleted food and dried herbs.
So we both had our breakfast together, she had her bowl of spoiled oats and I had a full bowl of much better things.
Then the sun came out and I got to go outside and eat grass. It was a very good day for a rabbit.

Very Best Wishes Papageno

More from the pen of Papageno.

My life has been very strange in the last few weeks.

Those pesky foxes continue to patrol my garden and knock over all the stone animals that my lady likes. Sometimes I'm afraid of them and get very frightened and bang my legs hard to make a noise so my people will make the foxes GP away and let me go inside where it's safe. I can't imagine why she or the foxes like stone animals, they aren't very friendly and you can't cuddle them. She's got two ducks, a meerkat, an elephant and several hedgehogs. The elephant is too heavy for the fox to move. My young man brought two new hedgehogs that were made of stone with stuff stuck on which looked like prickles but felt like fur. I really think he'd have done better to cuddle me more, I'm much more fun. The foxes took the fake hedgehogs away every night and my people brought them back every morning, until they were getting too broken to bother about any more. That's when my young man decided to examine my outside house and my fenced in area where the fox can't get. He found some soft wood and got worried about the foxes trying to break in, so they made me stay in my little indoor house even though the weather was good and I wanted to play outside and dig my hole. They think I'm trying to get to Australia but I only really want a place to hide from foxes. They said it was for my own good when they only let me outside for short times when she was in the garden working with soil and plants or hanging out the washing. I was getting very fed up. They kept saying a man was coming to fix my house and do some other jobs but then he never came and my young man got crosser and crosser. Eventually he decided to mend my run himself. That's when I really would have liked to stay indoors because he banged and he hammered and he drilled and he sawed and he used horrid smelling paint, but he thought that I was safe because he was near me. I didn't enjoy it at all but I do have to say that he made a very good job of it. I inspected it all very carefully and I thought that apart from the smell it was all much better. I think he thought I wanted to live in a rabbit castle, because he's made everything super strong. Those pesky foxes surely won't even bother trying now, they must be able to see at a glance that my fortifications are impenetrable.

Wentworth Woodhouse - a sleeping giant.

Pemberley: A Sleeping Giant.

The house and estate of Wentworth Woodhouse.

In 1813 Jane Austen wrote her most celebrated novel Pride and Prejudice. In her story, Mr Bingley, a country gentleman from the North of England, comes to reside in the same Hertfordshire village as Mr and Mrs Bennett and their several daughters. Mrs Bennett's dreams are fulfilled when Mr Bingley courts her eldest, until he is visited by an arrogant friend who is richer by far. Whilst the wealthy Mr Bingley presents an extremely fine catch for Miss Jane Bennett. his friend Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy would be an even bigger catch for her younger sister Elizabeth, if only Mr Darcy weren't so haughty and Elizabeth so unbending.

Darcy is the owner of Pemberley, said to be one of the finest houses in England but placed for the purposes of the book in Derbyshire. Hence many have assumed it to be Chatsworth and I've also heard mention of it possibly being Lord Byron's house at Newstead, in nearby Nottinghamshire. However it is now commonly believed that Pemberley was modelled on the house of Wentworth Woodhouse, just over the Derbyshire border into Yorkshire. One clue being in the name Fitzwilliam which Mr Darcy uses as a Christian name, but is the surname of another related character.
The Earls Fitzwilliam succeeded to Wentworth Woodhouse in 1782 when Jane Austen would have been about seven years old and remained there in good and bad fortune until 1989. The first Fitzwilliam to become master of Wentworth Woodhouse was the Fourth Earl Fitzwilliam who inherited the house via a female line and brought his title with him. The female legacy might explain some of the power of Lady Catherine De Burgh in Austen's story, which I must now read again with fresh eyes.

The Wentworth Woodhouse site is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. One of its owners was a key player in the reign of Charles the First  but little remains of those earlier dwellings.  There was significant building at Wentworth in Jacobean times but this Western facing house was altered and extended around 1730. Massive further building around 50 years later created essentially two adjoining back to back houses with two very different but equally impressive frontages. The 'other front' and it's magnificent state rooms are from the period when the Whigs were the all powerful gentlemen of England. The Eastern frontage is said to be twice as long as that of Buckingham Palace and Wentworth Woodhouse with its 350-365 rooms is reputed to be the largest private house in England.

In my childhood it was used as a PE college, and I remember that when the M1 motorway was built (with a junction in my village of Aston), there was this amazing house to be seen over to the right just a few minutes to the North of us. Later it became shrouded in mystery and was closed to the public for the majority of my adult life.

When I researched some of my family history, I found paternal ancestors and relatives, Loxley, Marshall and Cartwright who for several generations lived and worked on the land and underground in the mines around Wentworth. They were in Tankersley, Birdwell, Pilley, High Green, Chapletown, Elsecar, Hoyland Common and other nearby villages. My grandfather Thomas Brackenbury, together with brothers and cousins, moved from the failing agriculture of Louth in Lincolnshire, to work in the pits of South Yorkshire, almost certainly those owned by the Wentworth Woodhouse estate. My maternal grandmothers family the Lawtons, were also quite close at Langsett, Midhopestones and Stocksbridge. I'm quite sure that the lives of my ancestors were heavily influenced by the attitudes and fortunes of the Earls Fitzwilliam and their extensive lands around Wentworth Woodhouse.

The house became very wealthy in the days when coal powered the industrial revolution, but lost much of its fortunes when the postwar Atlee government nationalised the coal mines in 1947. Emmanuel Shinwell was particularly vindictive towards Wentworth Woodhouse and ordered the opencast mining of the formal Repton designed gardens on the Western side and the felling of ancient woodland (which had been admired by Austen when Elizabeth Bennett first visited Pemberley). Shinwell said that he hoped the house would fall into the hole created by the opencasting which came within 12 feet of the Western frontage.

Further financial disaster hit in the year following nationalisation when Wentworth Woodhouse was hit by a second tranche of death duties within a handful of years. This story is fascinating.

Kathleen Kennedy, sister of JFK had been a teenager and debutante in the UK when her father Joe was US ambassador to London. She returned home and after completing her education became involved in charity work. At the outbreak of WW2 Joe junior joined up and went to serve in France. Wanting to be near him, Kathleen (known as Kick) moved back to London and worked on organising the supply of nurses to serve the front line. She resumed her social contacts from her debutante years and much to Joe and Rose's disapproval married the Marquis of Hartington, heir to Chatsworth. As we've all seen in television's fictional  Downton Abbey, the route to salvation of many English country houses was to marry American money. Kick's marriage was short lived as her brother and husband were both killed in action in France, leaving her alone and desolate.

Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish, the young widowed Marchioness of Hartington, needed social interaction and began a relationship with Peter Wentworth, recently installed as the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse. Joe and Rose Kennedy were incensed. To marry one titled English Protestant had been bad enough, but to propose to repeat the exercise and link the Kennedy fortunes to yet another ailing English estate, this time with a divorcee, was completely beyond the pale. In May 1948, Kick and her beau flew to Paris to meet Joe, who was there on US business, to try to bring him round. Afterwards they flew south for a holiday on the French Riviera, but their private plane was brought down by turbulence over a mountain range, killing all four occupants and catapulting  the Wentworth Woodhouse estate into financial disaster.

The death of the Chatsworth heir had made space for it to be inherited by the spare who was married to Deborah, the youngest of the Mitford sisters. Deborah was resourceful and determined, and went on to be the saviour of Chatsworth. Her model of business development has influenced the National Trust, English Heritage and private owners of other country houses and estates, but sadly it could not save Wentworth Woodhouse.

Wentworth Woodhouse hadn't fully recovered from being used by the military in the war or from recent death duties from the demise of the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam. The 8th Earl had let the Eastern side of the house for use as a ladies PE college. It had been devastated by the nationalisation of coal and the opencasting of the Western gardens and land. Another set of death duties was a bridge too far and most of its treasures had to be sold.

The saviour of the eastern lands and possibly the house itself, was an indomitable principal of the Lady Mabel PE college. When the government announced their intention to open cast mine the eastern lawns, Miss Casson asked them where they expected her young ladies to learn to play lacrosse or to obtain their necessary fresh air and exercise? They didn't trouble her or the house again although there is some subsidence from them removing some coal from underneath the North Eastern corner of the house.

In the late 1980's, the PE college was absorbed into Sheffield Hallam University and the house was no longer needed. The line of the Earls Fitzwilliam came to an end as there was no male heir (nowadays it could have been inherited by a daughter). The house was sold to a reclusive private individual who kept it from public view and squandered its remaining treasures including the massive Stubbs Whistlejacket painting, now in the National Gallery. This looked like the end until a retired architect called Clifford Newbold got bored with retirement and looked for a new challenge. He heard of, fell in love with and bought Wentworth Woodhouse.

The Newbold family have put their hearts, their souls and their money into soothing and awakening this sleeping giant. They have fought the government for compensation for mining damage. They have made the house safe from weather damage and partially restored key rooms and parts of the gardens. They have allowed film and television companies to use it as sets for all manner of things and although the colours and furnishings provided by the film and TV companies aren't authentic they are better than empty spaces and peeling walls so they've left sets in place until further restoration work becomes financially and practically possible. They've made the house available for craft fairs, weddings, conferences and events. Since 2012 they've been offering some limited tours.

I'd failed to realise that tours were available until very recently, but went a fortnight ago and it has to be seen to be believed. There's an inferior copy of Whistle-jacket in the place where the original overlooked the drawing room. The 60 feet square, magnificent marble hall, which once hosted parties for royalty and the nobility still has a curtain rail around the balcony edge from which hung drapes so that Miss Casson's young ladies could play badminton without endangering the statues. The chapel is painted green for a forthcoming BBC appearance, masquerading as the House of Commons. The Christmas trees are twinkling in the pillared hall ready for festive fairs and mince pie tours. Tea is served in China cups in one of the smaller rooms. The great staircase is presided over by a marble statue of the goddess Ceres, 'collected' from Herculaneum by a former owner on his European tour, because he wanted a focus to draw the eye of people entering or leaving the marble hall. If only she could be sold, the whole house could be restored, but there's a covenant keeping her firmly in her place. So much work needs to be done, but what has been done has been with pride, sensitivity, love and in some cases a touch of humour.

Sadly Clifford Newbold died in the spring of 2015 and there were presumably even more crippling death duties although whatever of the house, land and estate village can be put in trusts has been secured in the best possible ways. The house had to be put up for sale and negotiations are at a final stage to sell to a Cambridge educated man who made his fortune in Hong Kong. The future is uncertain although there are positive signs that he intends to further develop the businesses devised by the Newbold family to bring the house back into use with public access. There are still tours advertised for December, January and February but everything beyond that is on hold, so if you want to see this sleeping giant during her current period of wakefulness, you'd better book fast as I have done.

My husband and I were part of a very small party who did the Strafford Tour on Thursday 19 November.
We were made very welcome by Robert, who met us outside, and by the very informative lady who served teas and coffees and conducted the tour. She was a mine of information and no explanation was too much trouble for her. I'm sorry I've forgotten her name. There was also a helpful former student volunteer guide.
The house was wonderful and I very much hope that the new owners will continue the work of restoration and keep the house open to the public.
I've reviewed it on trip advisor 5*.
I told the lady guide that I'd email you as there was no time to write in the visitors book.
We had to run away fast at the end as I'd got a train ticket to London, booked long before we found out about the tour. I made the platform at Doncaster with 3 minutes to spare!
I've just mailed you through the website to book for the Clifford tour in February to see different rooms.
Very Best Wishes Jan LB

(C) Jan Loxley Blount. December 1st 2015

For further info see:

Wait For Me!: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister: Deborah Devonshire: 9781848541917: Books

Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty: Catherine Bailey: 9780141019239: Books

Wentworth Woodhouse - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fascinating Facts - Wentworth Woodhouse

Wentworth Woodhouse - now booking house tours - garden tours soon

Wentworth Woodhouse for sale with £8m plus price tag - BBC News

Speech On Nationalisation Of Coal - British Pathé

In history of pride and prejudice, the inspiration for Mr Darcy | The Times

Wentworth Woodhouse has five miles of corridors, through which guests once had to follow different coloured confetti to find their way back to their bedrooms.
The estate has housed three illustrious aristocratic families: the Wentworths, the Watsons and the Fitzwilliams, the last of whom are thought, along with the house, to have inspired the character and home of Fitzwilliam Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
There was previously a Jacobean house on the site, which belonged to the local nobility, the Wentworths, and which was at one time inhabited by Thomas Wentworth, a hugely successful adviser to Charles I, who later signed his death warrant.
The current baroque house was built by Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham, in 1825, who gave it the name Wentworth House. A small part of the original house can still be seen.
When Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, lived in the house it became a Whig party stronghold. Lord Rockingham was prime minister twice, once between 1765 and 1766 and again in 1782. He died during his second term.
In the late 18th century the estate was inherited by the Fitzwilliams, who retained ownership until 1989, although it was used by the military during the Second World War.
The Fitzwilliam family at first benefited from the mining of estate lands. However, the nationalisation of their coal mines in 1947 reduced their wealth greatly and the house was let as a teacher-training college. The house and 90 acres of land were then bought by Wensley Haydon-Baillie, a pharmaceuticals millionaire with Spitfire and Rolls-Royce collections, who ran up huge debts. In the 1990s artworks from the house’s treasure trove collection were sold at auction.
They included Whistlejacket, a painting by George Stubbs that sold for £11 million and which is now on show in the National Gallery, as well as a first edition of The Canterbury Tales, printed in 1477 by Thomas Caxton, and acquired by the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam in 1776. The book sold at Christie’s for £4.6 million in 1998.
The current owners bought the property in 1999.

Post Script 20/01/16

Since writing this I've read more than half of 'Black Diamonds' which is fascinating beyond belief. In the light of this, there are probably things I've written which I need to expand or update.

I've also chatted to someone called Jim who, like my mum, now resides in Swallownest Care Home.  Jim remembers Wentworth House and village from the days of his youth, when it was still a family home and from later times when it was a training college for PE teachers. He described the students playing with shuttlecocks in the marble hall. Vicky, his friend and carer, was a PE student at Wentworth - I look forward to talking to her next time I visit my mum.

ALSO I've joined a writing group in Muswell Hill where I began a story (fiction) based on my thoughts about Wentworth and area. The more I read of Black Diamonds the more links I find to places and events associated with my father's family history and my own childhood.

Writing group exercise (fiction) 14/01/16

The air had suddenly turned cold

The air suddenly turned cold, the dog let out a cry and Mr Armitage breathed no more. Family members and neighbours crowded in to pay their respects, some in tears, some in solemn silence. A wooden coffin was knocked together by the man next door using  pieces of floorboards and part of an old chest of drawers. The body was placed inside and stood up in the corner, so that life could carry on until the day of the funeral. The curtains were kept drawn, as were those of most of the houses in the street. Extra layers of clothing were worn as the fire couldn't be lit for fear of the body developing a bad smell. It was sad but it wasn't a shock.
He'd worked down the pit since he was a boy and his lungs must have been black with coal dust. Everything was black, even the corn growing in the fields had flecks of black amongst the gold and the stream ran a sort of orangey brown from the sulphurous deposits dissolved.
The big question was what would happen to the family now? His wife had suffered the trials of pregnancy and childbirth seven times over, each time hoping for a son to follow him down the mine, but only one boy was born and he didn't make it past his first birthday. All the rest were girls. Three were now married and had their own homes, one had a baby but no husband. So Mrs Armitage, her three daughters and her grandson would now be homeless, as their house was owned by the mining company.

Jan Loxley Blount 20/01/16

Childhood memories 1

Childhood Memories JLB 01/01/16

A beginning ...

We moved to Orchard Cottage, Worksop Road, Aston in or around 1954, when I was four years old and my sister Anne was a baby. My memories are mostly fragments but may be of interest to my children and future generations.

In the beginning the dining room was separated from the kitchen by a serving hatch through, which my paternal grandmother and aunt would have served meals to Mr & Mrs Allen, the well heeled older couple from whom my father bought the house. The Allen's had now retired to Ireland. My mother rebutted all offers of help from my grandma and aunt. preferring to manage alone, however difficult this was with an ailing husband, two young children and soon a third on her way. I was brought up to do my share to help her. There were always tensions between my mother and my father's family who felt rejected. My grandma, on her infrequent visits, sometimes expressed regret that my mother wasn't able to keep the house spotless, as it had been in the Allen's days. This incensed my mother who took it as criticism rather than an offer of help.

Access between the kitchen and dining room was through a large open pantry which was two or three steps down from the rest of the ground floor. I was four and liked marching up and down the steps when sent to get things from the cream painted meat safe on a cool shelf in there, this was before the days of refrigeration.

My parents quickly employed the Armstrongs to remove the serving hatch and make other alterations. They had a busy house and builders yard, on the opposite side of Worksop Road, just before the corner with Aughton Lane. There were shelters where coal and building materials were stored, along with former stables which now housed their van. It's buildings are still there, renovated and upgraded as period dwellings. The Armstrongs were three tall men with large noses, father and two sons. One was called Edward, shortened to Ted.

The serving hatch went and with it the old black fire grate with integral oven, much beloved of my grandmother, who had blacked it weekly for the Allen's, I was sad to see the fire grate go as it was warm and cosy. It was replaced by a rather boring fireplace of some kind of beige stone, which my mother had seen or read about and regarded as a status symbol, I wish I could remember where it came from. We weren't allowed to put drinks on the mantle piece for fear of marking the stone. I spent many years making and cleaning out fires in the new grate, it was my daily job.

A few years later I had to do a written test (replacing the eleven plus) to help my headmaster rank all the children in order for secondary school entry. He would then be told that the first so many went to the grammar school, the next tranche to the technical college and the rest to the secondary modern. One of the questions asked, was why did they have advertisements on independent television? I wrote that it was to give you time to get the coal in without missing part of the programme and that I wished the BBC would do the same. Nevertheless I got to the grammar school. I think the headmaster took parental occupation into account as the children of the few professional parents in the village all went to grammar school, the children of farmers went to the technical college and the children of coal miners went to the secondary modern. In many ways an examination would have been fairer as it seemed to me that not all the cleverest children went to the grammar school, but I digress and that's another story. I was telling readers about the alterations to Orchard Cottage.

The serving hatch was replaced by a door, but the rooms weren't exactly at the same level and the wall was thick, so there's a small slope where you walk through the gap in the wall from the kitchen to the dining room. My mother wanted rid of the steps to and from the pantry and disliked its open nature, so a partition wall was built and the floor level raised to make a corridor or hallway between the other end of the kitchen and the rest of the house. A reduced pantry remained with half of its floor raised for easy access and half still at the lower level to keep the meat safe and other items cooler. Later, when refrigeration arrived, the lower level of the pantry was largely redundant and became a junk store, although butter and eggs still lived in the former meat safe.

Once the Armstrongs had finished the alterations and much to my mother's annoyance, four year old me, with little Anne toddling behind, found it great fun to repeatedly complete the new circuit through the kitchen and hallway, past the foot of the staircase, through the dining room and back through the kitchen. My mother wanted all the doors kept closed but I found it much more fun to open them and charge around. Anne enjoyed the adventure as it was quite a long trek for her.

My father had periods of better health and maximised use of these to work in the garden, where he created a swing and a sandpit as well as growing potatoes, beans cabbages and other vegetables. The large orchard provided apples galore.

One weekend, Granny and Greatgran, my mother's mother and grandmother came to stay. On Saturday morning Mummy stayed in bed whilst with Anne's help or hindrance and water everywhere I scrubbed potatoes and carrots for the next couple of days meals. The doctor arrived and was shown upstairs, I hoped everything was alright. Eventually Granny came down to complain about the wet mess we had created and to tell us that we had a new baby sister called Rosemary Elaine.

To be continued.......  I'm a member of a monthly writing group and occasionally write autobiographical bits and pieces - this is one from January 2016

Locked out.

i created a gmail account for someone else and in doing so accidentally locked myself out of this account for several months. I've just found how to get back in. There's lots been happenning in my life so I've got lots to add. Watch this space!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

After School and Holiday Provision since INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE CHILD

Last weekend I attended a sad but beautiful Mad Hatters Tea Party at Belgrave Playhouse, 132 Harrison Road, Leicester. It was to celebrate the work of mural artist Gilly Walton who had designed and created the vibrant colours of the Playhouse and filled every space with meaningful pictures - mostly of people connected with the Playhouse, although often changed and placed in different times and situations. Sadly Gilly died earlier this year and the Mad Hatters Tea Party was to say goodbye. It came at a low point for the Playhouse which faces a massive funding crisis and the severe debilitating illness of its founder and visionary Sue Ranger. I hope for better times ahead.
I remember the first time I saw 132 Harrison Road. It was full of coal dust and cobwebs and we needed a torch, but although part of a row of small houses this one had space. It had been the coal merchants house and shop. It had extra rooms above the place where the carts loaded with full or empty sacks of coal would have come in and out. It had a yard where the coal and the carts were stored. It had stables at the back complete with their Edwardian fittings.
Why was I there? In 1978 I'd left my post as Training Officer for London Adventure Playground Association (LAPA) to study for a postgraduate Diploma in Child Development at London University Institute of Education. I was taking the opportunity to do this in the last year before the retirement of course head Margaret Roberts, whom I'd met when I persuaded her to teach sessions about Child Development on my course for play workers. My dissertation was entitled 'The After School Activities & Interests of Primary Age Children in a Multi Ethnic Area'. I was due to complete my academic work in the summer of 1979, International Year of the Child (IYC).
In the late spring UK IYC in conjunction with BASSAC (The British Association of Settlements & Social Action Centres) advertised for someone to coordinate the UK IYC response to the issue of what were then called LATCHKEY CHILDREN. They were asking for research skills and knowledge of Children's Play needs and provision. I juggled the remainder of my course with my sudden elevation to a job in the public eye, with an office at 85 Whitehall. (My dissertation was submitted late and passed but I never had time to bind a copy for senate house library - it's still in my attic and I hope still intact). The Guardian Newspaper announced that UK IYC had funds donated by companies and the public available for embryonic schemes to help Latchkey Children. The applications exceeded expectations and available funds. We could have given all of them a tiny sum which would maybe have bought a modest climbing frame or a few months supply of arts & crafts materials but I argued that this wouldn't be remembered and an International Year should develop something which would create a legacy by demonstrating good practice for others replicate.
Gerald Conynghan of Save the Children Fund, one of the financial admin people for UK IYC and I embarked on a whistlestop tour of the UK vetting dozens of applicants to find our special demonstration projects.
We walked into a dark dingy church hall in Leicester where we were served Masala tea and Popadoms by a group of people, mixed in age, race and lifestyle, but committed to a common cause of developing a community play facility for the people of Belgrave. Their leader was the indomitable Sue Ranger. They took us to look at their after school club in temporary premises and showed us the coal merchants house in Harrison Road. That became our biggest investment with two lesser projects at the Thamesmead Community Centre in South London and Barton Hill Settlement in Bristol.
Working with local contacts was crucial to the develooment of these three projects. We were fortunate with Belgrave Playhouse in that former play leader Steve Rennie was employed as Recreation Officer for the City of Leicester and the East Midlands representative for the National Playing Fields Association was Rob Wheway whom I'd worked with on training initiatives when I was at LAPA. In Thamesmead all went well under the watchful eye of the local vicar Rev Jim Thompson but the administration crumbed after he was promoted and moved away to become Bishop of Stepmey. The scheme in Bristol was well supported both by BASSAC through the Barton Hill Settlement and by the vibrant Bristol Play Association.
There was a little money left over for small donations to other projects and before long there were further funds from the Baring Foundation and Marks & Spencers.
We worked closely with a small group of MPs including Harriet Harman, Alf (now Lord) Dubs, Peter Hardy, Linda Chalker and Sir Nicholas (later Lord) Lyell QC. Nick Lyell's wife was a community worker in an area where an enclave of poverty was hidden in a seemingly well heeled area so he possibly understood the issues best of all. Harriet was keen for provision to help working mothers but had less awareness of what the children needed by way of support and stimulation. Alf successfully balloted for an Adjournment Debate and I raided my dissertation for material with which to brief speakers of both major parties - it was all coming together when the year was due to come to an end, but the ever resourceful Clive Jordan of BASSAC found a source of trust funding for the IYC Latchkey Project to metamorphose into the BASSAC Out of School Project to enable us to push for political change, procure funds for other projects and support our three special projects.

(C) Jan Loxley Blount

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

NSPCC & abuse investigations

Lower case text is from Jan Loxley Blount for Parents Protecting Children UK


They may spend their leisure time involved in adventurous activities where bruising is inevitable, they may be clumsy or dyspraxic and give themselves lots of minor accidents, they may have a blood clotting disorder, or quite possibly they've got Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or another collagen related deficiency - this would quite probably be familial & heritable (so other members of the same family might have lots of bruises too).
These possibilities should be investigated before anyone jumps to assumptions about non-accidental injury and reports bruising as potential child abuse.

This strikes me as an inappropriate question.
Neglected children can be (and often are) noisy and attention seeking, so this shouldn't be coupled with children who are withdrawn.
Withdrawn children aren't necessarily neglected, they might be ill or neurologically atypical, or might prefer their own company for some legitimate reason.
+ Gifted & Talented Children are often bored by their peer group, whose intellect doesn't match their own. They may withdraw to more stimulating activity by hiding away to read lengthy novels, practising endless hours on their chosen musical instrument or by attempting amazing feats on a computer. They sometimes prefer adult or older children's company to that of their peers.
+ Children with Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties might withdraw because their peers perceive them as different and victimise or bully them. Or they might withdraw because its easier that way, as they can't understand the social rules which prevail in their school or neighbourhood. Or they might withdraw because of sensory overload, they need peace and quiet in which to order their own thinking in their own way. They probably don't like making eye contact as that's frequently one of the signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties - it's often easier to talk to them in a car, or overlooking a lake, or anywhere where you are both looking forward, rather than trying to force face to face contact.
These possibilities and diagnoses should be considered before anyone jumps to assumptions about withdrawal or failure to make eye contact, being a sign of potential child abuse.

The baby may have colic? Or it may have proprioception difficulties and not like being put down or hate the feel of particular fabrics against its skin. It may be as yet too young to diagnose as having Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties, but may already be struggling with sensory overload and be terrified by the constant babble of activity. It may have hypersensitive hearing and be upset by a high pitched sound, which the adults simply can't hear. It may have chronic uncomfortable eczema.
There are a myriad of reasons why one baby cries more than another which should be explored before anyone jumps to assumptions that crying is a sign of potential child abuse.

Leaving a child home alone is dangerous and should of course be investigated, but it might not be deliberate or abusive - mum be overloaded and in urgent need of support, her parent, partner or another child may be disabled or sick and she might be struggling to cope.
Children get dirty, it's part of being children, but there may be desperate economic difficulties that make keeping clean difficult - poverty is often mistaken for neglect.
Hunger is frequently the effect of poverty and not a sign of neglect.
Inadequate clothing can be another sign of poverty, but better off children can dress inappropriately because they want to 'do their own thing' and refuse to conform to expected dress codes, maybe eczema or proprioceptive issues causes synthetic school uniform to feel uncomfortable, maybe temperature control factors mean that a child needs less or more clothing than its peers.
These and all other possibilities should be thought about before anyone jumps to assumptions about potential child abuse.

If so please find out why she (or he) is stressed and struggling before making assumptions and jumping to conclusions that she's (or he's) got a personality disorder or isn't capable of being a wonderful mum or dad.
The toll on parents and families of children with disabilities, chronic sickness or neurological difference is massive, the child or children has / have needs beyond normal expectation, the partner quite possibly can't cope and has either left or retreated into long hours in the pub, gym or office, the school probably doesn't want to recognise the cost implications of the child's needs so is being uncooperative, the GP might be sick and tired of dealing with this expensive time consuming 'fat notes' family and failing to investigate or give support... No wonder she (or he) is stressed and struggling!
Maybe she's got endometriosis or menorrhagia or has had / is awaiting a premature hysterectomy or is menopausal and living in a hormonal soup, which makes day to day living extremely difficult - in the days of the extended family others would have rallied round for a few months, but today she's left to cope alone and the difficulties are short lived but well nigh impossible... Her personality will return to normal when the hormones settle down. Her hormonal state must be taken into account by anyone assessing the mother or her family.
Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties are familial and heritable, if there's a child on the spectrum then most probably dad or mum is on the spectrum too - maybe they both are on ghw spectrum and that's what drew them together in the first place! He's quite possibly decided its all too much and left (but might well be sniping from the sidelines) so undiagnosed AsperWoman mum is obsessing about the minutiae of her child's diagnosis and struggling alone to cope with difficult children and impossible obstacles put in her way by the statutory services. She deserves a medal not vilification.
Carers are often unrecognised and unsupported, besides coping with a child or children who may or may not have additional needs, the stressed parent may be a Carer coping with a grandparent, parent, partner or sibling with incessant needs. Sometimes a Carers Assessment can engage resources and transform lives.
These are just four common reasons why parents are stressed and struggle to cope, but there are many other probabilities including not least financial and marital difficulties which should be exhausted before anyone jumps to assumptions about potential child abuse.

Parents Protecting Children UK and other organisations working with families of children with Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Joint Hypermobility Syndrome / Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, ME / CFS and a whole host of childhood differences frequently hear stories of these children being "put down" or humiliated by their teachers who aren't trained to understand and expect things from the child which are beyond the child's capabilities... Similar stories have been heard from paediatric physiotherapy...
If a parent is acting like this its probably a scream for help and a need for support and training.
If a teacher or healthcare professional is acting like this its an urgent sign that specific special needs INSET training is desperately needed!

The trouble is that those listening aren't trained to ask appropriate questions and look for other explanations - they jump to conclusions without considering factors listed above or others unknown to me or too numerous to mention here - which may be reasons why someone is concerned.

Offer friendship and try to find out what's happening and consider the explanations above - only if you are fairly certain it's abuse should you refer to professional  services as at the moment social services are trigger happy and are removing children who could and should be supported in school and at home.
If you want to help:
Look in your local library for self help and community groups which may be able to help the parent and children.
Or look online for groups, organisations or websites which may be able to help.
Examples might be:
Parents Protecting Children UK
False Accusations Support Organisation 
Association for Improvement in Maternity Services
Education Equality
National Autistic Society
Dyslexia & Dyspraxia organisations
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & JHS organisations
Women's health groups 

(C) Jan Loxley Blount (23/01/14)