Thursday 24 March 2011

My Mother Was a Dancer

Here is another re-post, with apologies to those who are getting fed up with me. Sometimes remembering the past jolts my decaying brain cells and points me to another 'story'. 

First posted-
Oct 7, 2008 4:18 PM

by Moannie
No, that is not her dancing with Victor Silvester, the Len Goodman of his day, at least I don't think so. I found this picture, from 1930, in Google images, when she would have been nineteen. The resemblance to mother is strong and I know there were photos of her with him but I cannot swear that this is one of them.

A lot of the stories told to us by our parents have to be taken on trust and my belief in the validity of her tales is strengthened by the fact that, although mother had her faults, lying was not one of them.
Mother was the product of her mother's seduction by the son of the couple she worked for as a maid in a large house in one of London's famous Squares. According to family history, the father was a Viscount. My dear Aunt Midge always promised to tell me 'the name', but died with her lips sealed. My Grandmother could not bear the sight of the product of her 'shame' and mother left home very young. Dates are sketchy...oh how I wish I had paid more attention, asked more questions...the young are more interested in themselves; but sometime between leaving home and having her first child in 1932, mum was a showgirl and a dancer.
I had a picture of her that I treasured, sadly it was forgotten and left, with many other irreplaceable pictures, in a box on top of a cupboard when we emigrated to Canada. She is on stage, in a tableau with a dozen other girls. She is posed, kneeling sideways on to the camera, her arms behind her, her head back, and she is very nude. She looked like one of those small ivory and bronze statues...very beautiful.
Victor Silvester was a Bandleader, born in 1900, and was very very famous up until the day he died in 1978. His sound was 'strict tempo', no flying solos, no fireworks, just 'slow, slow, quick quick, slow'. He had started out as a dance teacher and continued to teach even as a bandleader. Mother was just one of his many partners.
Mum would dance at the drop of a hat [if my stepfather was not around] Back would go the furniture and she would pull one or another of us into her arms and try to teach us the intricacies of the waltz, the foxtrot or the quick step, her long legs gliding, her arms lined to perfection, and her feet, in the high heels she loved, pointed and elegant.
The dancing stopped for her, in the early fifties, when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was 44.
The illness progressed very slowly, little by little taking away all her joi de vivre. We had been estranged for a number of years, not surprising really, given our history, but when I heard of her illness I went to see her and we made a sort of peace. By then she was walking with two sticks, had gained weight and lost her sparkle; no more flirting with the milkman, no more singing and no more dancing.
Much later...a marriage and three children later, we were in a position to offer her a haven in the Retirement Home that we owned. By now a quadriplegic she spent all her time in her room on the first floor. She had a Possum machine that could open and close doors, turn lights and the TV and radio on and off, and could turn the pages of her book, simply with the power of Puff and Blow. Her favourite paintings and photographs were on the walls and we were living in the building, so she had family around her. I think she grew to love me.
She read extensively and watched quite a lot of television, especially, and to me, amazingly, Cricket and Snooker. But the one program that gave her the most pleasure, was 'Come Dancing'. For there, with his 'slow, slow, quick quick slow,' was Victor Silvester and his Band. That first series of shows, which continued for many years, was a contest of amateurs, with professional dancers giving exhibitions. The women's gowns were full and flowing fluffy layers of tulle in glorious pastel colours and the men wore white tie and tails. It was an extravaganza of nostalgia, and mum was in heaven.
Now, when I watch Strictly Come Dancing, or the American Version, Dancing with the Stars, I smile, and can see mother, gliding and skipping and swaying, and hear her singing, in time to the music: Slow, slow, quick quick slow.
Written for mum.

I cannot walk, or wash my face
And the things you do that are commonplace
Are realms of fantasy for me.

A grandchild's gift
to be carefully chosen
Is an ordinary thing through which my dreams are woven.

My gratitude for simple things is tinged with blue
Better to do for others
Than have them done for you.

Bet yet, I live, and breathe
And while a can, my being here, and being
Is enough, and I'll not grieve.

For I have given life three times
And done the best I know
So there will be something here of me
Even when I go.

Awarded Post of the day at Authorblog, thank David!

Tuesday 22 March 2011


JP was in a retrospective mood the other day at lunchtime; not unusual, but these moods are becoming more frequent as the years roll by.   I blame his Grandmother Margot, who took him to have his fortune told when he was quite young. The woman - who had quite a reputation among the great and the good in Cannes, having read the crystal ball for many a star and starlet - told him that he would marry a blonde [not specifying bottle or natural] that they would have three children and that he would live to the [what seemed to him at the time]  ripe old age of 76. Now at 74 he seems to be convinced that - as she was right about the wife and the kids, she must be spot on with his departure date. Hence the looking back.

He began by talking about his mother - how she managed to bring him up alone - her strong right arm, her inflexible decision to keep him away from trouble by locking him in their flat, and his many ways of thwarting her. How he loved to escape and play with his friends, always managing to return home before she arrived back from her work.

And, as always when JP tells a story he digresses as other characters are introduced. His uncle Marcel, the fisherman who went barefooted summer and winter, with the exception of his wedding day,  from there he segued to his Tante Carmen, perhaps the most Italian of the brood. She was a hearty buxom woman, always laughing - totally different from her sister Antoinette, JP's mother. She adored JP and it was on one of the many occasions when they were together that they witnessed what I want to call The Italian Comic Opera Invasion

It is 1940 and JP is 4 years old, a charming black-eyed cherub with a naughty streak. He remembers being taken by Tante Carmen to the Croisette and that there were crowds of people. He could hear some chanting and booing in the distance that grew louder with every passing minute. At last there was movement in the road  some flag waving and then, as the procession arrived he could see they were soldiers, in full uniform and all wearing long plumes of feathers in their hats.

And riding eight abreast in wobbly formation, on bicycles.

The chanting was now loud as, all around him, young man were shouting:

Les Bersaghlieri sont venu avec les plumes aux chapeaux
Ils sont reparte  avec ses plumes au "cu".

Les Bersaghlieri have arrived with their plumes in their hats
They will  leave with the plumes up their arses.

JP was shouting loudly along with the chant until Carmen grabbed his ear and tugged on it. 'Be quiet idiot' she scolded him...'You have more Italian blood in you than French.'

What amazes me about this story is the fact that, after going on fifty three years together, he can tell me a story I had never heard before.

Friday 18 March 2011


I've only recently noticed that, when I repaired my Blog-putting back the header and profile and settings etc. I did not replace the lost picture of Milou, a grave oversight given that he, along with JP play a large part in the make-up of many of the posts.

Milou and his friend and cousin [by marriage]

So, for the sake of those new friends sent here by 'Blogger of Note' [many of whom have fallen by the wayside as expected] here is a brief Bio. of my canine friend:

I shall  be nine years old on the tenth of November

Walking is pretty good fun.

I'm a bit too heavy for laps, but I can do knees, no problem. These belong to Sazzie.

I used to be professionally pampered, now the woman does it, not so well, but I won't hurt her feelings.

Harry exhausts me-no respecter of old age.

I totally love bathing and then the rubbing dry,heaven!

All things considered I have a pretty good life; the man and the woman dote on me, it's embarrassing sometimes. Buy hey! It's a dog's life.

Saturday 12 March 2011

My kind of town....

I am going to tell you a bit about my town. It has nothing to recommend it, either culturally, aesthetically or geographically. No one famous lives or has ever lived here [in the sixties the parents of  Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits ran a pub here though he was never seen .]

I have just remembered that IN 1963 a film was made here in the The Bay entitled French Dressing and, I have discovered, on the wonderful 'knowitall' that is Google, that it was Ken Russell's directorial d├ębut.
Local people were used as extras. Sadly the film has never been  shown on TV nor is it available on DVD

There is a lovely short video of our, 'Pier that was' with the star of the film, James Booth, cycling the length of it to deliver a ticket to a deck chair user. AND LOOK! SAZZIE HAS INSERTED IT HERE FOR ME. YIPPEE!
. .

When I first came here in 1946 to holiday with a friend of my mother, it was a slightly decaying Edwardian town with the second longest pier in England, plate glass was a dubious joy to come and the Street lights were the original and real Mcoys. There were shops selling meat and shops selling baked goods and Greengrocers and two Fishmongers, a coffee bar, Hardware Stores, fifteen pubs, eight churches/chapels/and one Masonic Temple. Charity shops had not been invented nor did we boast a Super Market.  Our friendly grocers weighed our bacon and sugar and tea, patted our butter and biscuits were taken from brown cardboard boxes, weighed into paper bags which were then swung by the edges over and over in a movement that fascinated me, to the extent that I thought I had found my calling. The man with the striped apron tied high under his arms would  pat  moist butter into neat squares, slice the cheese with a wire cutter, turn the handle on the bacon slicer and watch the slices drop neatly onto greaseproof...all this in an atmosphere that was scented with sugar and salt and cheese. Heaven!

It seemed to me then that I knew everyone-our postman cycled through rain and snow, ice or blazing sun, always the same man. He knew us and we knew him, he shared our relief when a letter from Mexico contained a cheque. George was  his name was and his son Terry was a one-time boyfriend. The man who emptied the gas meter was named Fred, he knew us so well that he counted the  French francs we had used when the shillings ran out before pay day, and accepted the equivalent straight out of the pay packet.  We knew our coal-man, his face and arms blackened with coal dust, an empty sack open at one seam thrown over his head and back to give him some protection as he lumped the sacks into our bunker. 

We knew all our neighbours and  their joys and sorrows, sharing, to halve them.

Then, as England began to pull herself up out of post-war gloom businesses boomed and progress stripped The Bay of it's tiny bit of uniqueness. Councillors allowed Jerry building; destruction of  the old and quaint  for concrete blocks which would last only a quarter of the time. Most of the Pier blew down in a storm and the powers that be twiddled their thumbs until it grew too expensive to rebuild it back to it's original glory, putting up only the Pier head or Pavilion in a style reminiscent of a factory.

As the decades passed we would return from some exotic location to find the town dying more and more, shops closed leaving gaps in the High Street until it looked like a row of decaying teeth. Only the seafront came alive, in the summer months as those without the means to enjoy the delights of the new 'Package Holidays' to Spain, would spend their two weeks in B&Bs and their days sheltering behind groynes on our pebbled beaches.

Now there is a new burst of hope for our town as City Dwellers, searching for an affordable second home, and working their way down the coast. have found their way to us. They are buying up and refurbishing and need the boutiques and Bistros and coffee shops. Things are looking up-but so are the prices. But that is a small price to pay [excuse the pun] if we are ever to see The Bay return to its original Edwardian Splendour.

I rarely see a face I know, and Charity shops abound [though a bargain is hard to find these days-no longer are the shops musty, fusty and dusty but smell of strong air-fresheners and display Fair-trade goods which one would not buy in the country of origin as too naff.]

So what is it exactly about this town that brought as back here time and time again?
Well, it is perhaps its very unpretentiousness. It is what it is, a slightly run-down seaside town, where the air is bracing, the sea [now clean] is cold, the shingle is hard on the feet, the penny arcades still attract when the wind is too cold and the shops are, little by little, returning. As petrol prices brings tears to the eyes and Super-markets revel in their monopolizing profiteering, small businesses are starting to emerge again, giving   the personal service we thought lost forever.

And...I can see memories around every corner.