Saturday, 7 August 2021

Postcard Art / Postcard Writing

This post is to mark publication of my book of stories inspired by old postcards

I've loved postcards for as long as I can remember. I've also collected them since I was a child. In 1974, I wrote in my diary, 'I put some postcards in my album. I want them to be museum pieces some day.' Well, at the age of twelve I wasn't very realistic about the likely future interest of the world in my album of postcards from my first holiday abroad plus assorted pictures of Victorian girls and boys bought in the giftshop at Bowes Museum (near enough to home for an afternoon's visit), but my collecting instinct was already strong.

A glimpse of one of my boxes of modern postcards...

Since then, my postcard collecting has continued, branching out in various directions. That original set of modern cards has grown, added to with cards from art shows and holidays -- I've sorted them into groups by subject, as you can see above. 

But then there's the older postcards I've bought in job lots at auctions which I haven't entirely got to grips with yet: hundreds of cards (as you can see above), mostly from the 1950s to the 1980s, of holiday destinations, largely in the UK. From these I've started to pick out the treasures, cards which for one reason or another, have a special appeal. I keep these in albums, which I like to rearrange every so often, just like my twelve-year-old self.

Above is a page from the album where I keep cards that I've used in paintings. If you follow me on Instagram (@foundandchosen), you'll perhaps recognise the iceskater in a pink dress -- I use my painting of her as my avatar. I've done paintings of four of the other images you can see here as well (spot them here). 

In this album, above, I keep cards that I use to make digital prints, some already realised and some waiting to be done. I'm fascinated by different postcards of the same place and I like to overlay them to get the effect of changes over time. I've done a post about my overlay prints recently, if you're interested.

Above is a page taken more or less at random out of my big album of postcards which have the potential to inspire stories. I love these so much, and it's these I've used in the book you can see at the top of this post: Blow-Ups: Stories from old postcards. The two postcards of 'Brighton by night' made me imagine a scenario where the man and woman in the two different shots have missed each other on a blind date that their friend has set them up on. Here's the page in the book: 

 


They each send their friend an (imagined) postcard after the disastrous attempt at matchmaking. 

And here's the page in the book inspired by the postcard of Broad Haven in Pembrokeshire (bottom left in the album page): 

Robert and his father -- appreciating Wales

There are fifteen different stories in the book alongside an introduction about my passion for these cards (with a nod to Antonioni's seminal 1966 film Blow-Up) and lots of lovely 'blow-ups' of details from old postcards . If I've piqued your interest, you can buy the book for £12.99 from the foundandchosen Etsy shop or from online retailers such as Waterstones.com, Barnes and Noble or Amazon or you could even order it from a bookshop (ISBN 978-1-9196197-0-5). And thank you so much, if you do!

A spread from my book -- for the sheer loveliness of blown-up litho postcards. You've got to love the dots!

As a postcard-lover, I've also become a collector of books about postcards and postcard art. It wasn't until I went round the house gathering these together for this post that I realised I had quite so many. Naturally I have a copy of Tom Jackson's Postcard From The Past (4th Estate, 2017).

Tom has made finding funny or poignant messages on the backs of old postcards his life's work (by which I mean he excels at it) and his Twitter feed (@pastpostcard) is a constant delight. He also does a lovely podcast, Podcast From The Past, where guests talk about postcards that have special significance to them. Perhaps Tom will have me on there one day...?


My Instagram friend, Michelle Abadie (@majandmaltbydesigns and also @johnhindecollection) is a true postcard aficionado, in particular the glorious output of John Hinde Studios. Above are two of her postcard books, both great. The John Hinde Collection (extended edition, 2020) is just beautiful, with restored prints of the work of Hinde's team of photographers. Nothing To Write Home About (Friday Books, 2007) is an earlier book (with Sue Beale) which gives the reader the enjoyable combination of Hinde postcards and the funny messages written on their backs. I've shown both the back and front of this book, as it cleverly uses a postcard back and front.

Then there's:

A spread from Bizarro Postcards, edited by Jim Heimann (Taschen, 2002)

and, of course:

Martin Parr's Postcards (Chris Boot, 2008)

I feel very in tune with Parr's propensity to sort his postcard collection by theme:

This page is especially pleasing

I like the cover of this 2008 book from Laurence King publishers very much:

The lettering of the title (simply Post Card) is cut out and there are postcard-sized pockets behind so that, if you wish, you can change the book's appearance by slotting in different cards. However, inside it is akin to one of those fairly commercial directories of graphic designers and I don't feel so in tune with the very contemporary designs. Give me an impossibly blue sea and a miniature railway any day.


Incidentally, whenever I find myself desperately trying to flick through an entire box of old postcards on a market stall or at a car boot sale -- with members of my family standing right behind me impatiently tapping their feet -- as a short cut I look for the little strip of blue sky sticking out at the top, a sure sign that the postcard is likely to be one I'll like:

I can see a few likely candidates above -- can you?

What I really need to do, though, is to stop buying more old postcards and thoroughly sort out the ones I've already got -- thousands by now, I suspect. But how to order them? By place? By subject matter? By colour? By their potential for various art projects? The permutations are endless. But I will leave you with the happiness that is my (growing) collection of postcards of the Piramide in Rome...

I feel sure there's a book in here somewhere...


Saturday, 12 June 2021

My 1989 Diary -- A Painting Holiday in St David's

 

In 1989 I was living in London and working at a big publishers as a junior commissioning editor. I was trying to specialise in non-fiction, especially comedy books which were very popular at the time. It was going fairly well, although I hadn't actually commissioned a 'big' Christmas stocking filler book yet. This is me at around that time, sitting on the beautiful garden bench in Lady Serena James's gardens at St Nicholas in Richmond (Yorkshire) just along the road from our house. I wish I still had that skirt.

Anyhow, according to my date-diary (I've kept most of mine, and now I'm really glad that I did), on Thursday 3 August I was to 'ring Dawn French', which sounds good, although my efforts to sign up French and Saunders failed and all that happened was that they based a sketch on my pathetic efforts to persuade them to write a 'tiny little book'. The next day my Mum arrived in London from Richmond and the day after that we caught the train to Haverfordwest in West Wales for a painting holiday.

The photo above is the only image I have of Mum and I together on the holiday -- this is at Picton Beach, which we'll come back to. My mother was a keen artist who worked in different media including watercolour, pen and wash, collage, free stitch, pastels and acrylics. I was also keen on art but didn't spend as much time on it as Mum and wasn't nearly as accomplished. But this was the first time we'd been on an organised painting holiday. I had it in mind to try to write an article about the holiday which I intended to submit to the Guardian travel section (another ambition of mine was to do some journalism) so I kept notes from the outset. I found them again recently and thought they might make an amusing post on here. I'll add bits in square brackets where needed.

[We were collected from Haverfordwest station by our tutor for the week, Rod Williams. Several of the seven of us who would be doing the holiday arrived at the same time and were driven to Rod's house in New St, St David's, our base for the week. Rod gave us a running commentary as he drove:]

[The area is known as] 'Little England beyond Wales. Defended by a strong line of Norman castles, the invading Norsemen, Normans and Flemings have maintained an English colony here for 800 years.

[We saw the] Castle where King Charles II’s mistress was born. [Lucy Walter, born at Roch Castle in about 1630].

Sitting in the back of Rod’s Spacecruiser – London frame of mind [I'm not sure what I meant by that. I guess I still needed to unwind].

St David’s – smallest city in the world (only 21 people – check – live within the walls).

House – tea and biscuits. [First sight of] Our rooms.

Dinner – awkward silence broken by the ‘silent one’. First chance to get an idea of everyone else.

Rod is tutor and waiter. Sue [his wife] invisible. The Group: Michael, Betty, Doreen, Barbara, Georgina, me, Mum.

This chapel was just over the road from the house -- it's an exhibition venue now.

First evening:

[Rod’s] calming talk:

The slate: the equipment cupboard [I think the slate was where you wrote up anything you took from the cupboard, and Rod would add it to your bill later]. Slides of the region. Rod’s sketchbooks. His artistic development on the walls. [Rod was a good artist.]

Videos, books, magazines – you can take them to your room – secret hoarding [by me and Mum].

Day One [Sunday]

Breakfast – huge. Rod assessing our toast level. The naming of flasks. Nervous in the bus [Rod's Spacecruiser] – didn’t know where we were going. Colours of the moundy hedges; cement-roofed cottages; high and flat plateau; buzzards; pinkish bays.

Mum at Abereiddy -- looks rather murky but was a good place to do art. Also has the Blue Lagoon -- lovely!

ABEREIDDY [our first art location]

Walking round together. Rod pointing out clusters of cottages, vantage points, how a composition is altered by being higher or lower. Brilliant blue chicory – dies by lunchtime [does this mean we had picked some? Bad, if so.]

Michael’s straw hat among the reeds. All of us on folding chairs in the slate quarry.

A horrible man [not sure who he was now -- a nosy parker, probably]. Rod coming round with the water -- got rid of man. Subject too hard. Me in despair.

Rod comes round every hour or so. Ask us if we are happy with our composition. If you ask for help he’ll give it. Extremely helpful and succinct comments – simple pointers that would affect the entire picture. Lunch in overgrown farmyard. Rod gives out simple, delicious snacks and our flasks. He delivers a little talk while we eat. He knows all the people who live in these tiny places but is himself an incomer.

After lunch, work till 4.30. There’s always a loo at the site, but very discreet. These are not tourist traps. An increasing sense of urgency as 4.30 comes – our subject will be taken away.

That evening’s dinner talk much looser. Mum getting people's names wrong and doing Welsh accents. Discreet curiosity about each other’s work. Much interest in my pastels. Mum and I explore St David’s after dinner: wonderful lanes; dampish evening smell of garlic; little seat overlooking the cathedral; birds look like gargoyles.

'Our' seat looking down on St David's Cathedral (via StreetView)

Day Two [Monday]

ST BRIDE’S HAVEN

Rod doesn’t have just five sites which he goes to regularly – he picks, apparently at whim, from loads of sites, perhaps already tailoring the course to suit the group’s emerging personality. [He tells us that] only one person ever antagonised the group so badly that he had to take them to a separate site.

St Bride's is a pink bay – it invests a classic shorescape with new challenges. Mum and I sit facing inland. Rod tells me how to make a white gull show against a white sky [How? In any case it doesn't sound like my kind of thing]. I feel slightly fractious. He explains that often when you’ve been in the groove one day, your concentration can burn out the next day, leaving you feeling a little dissatisfied.

Mum’s radical freedom of style!

Evening: we watch a video of David Bellamy (not the naturalist but a handsome, scrawny athlete type who abseils down cliffs, is shown standing thigh-deep in Fishguard harbour sketching and almost being swept off a rock. Makes our gentle outings seem tame, but the video is shot around exactly the area we’re in and all the wildness is just as available to us. His paintings are good too.

Day Three [Tuesday]

My photo of Porthgain and, below, via StreetView, the view (to the left) to the derelict works and sheds -- great fish cafe in the sheds now!

PORTHGAIN [my favourite of the locations]

A derelict granite-crushing works. A row of cottages, re-roofed with tiles salvaged from a wreck. The villagers bought the village. Wonderful Italianate/Spanish/Moorish ruins – views through windows/chutes like seeing into the Caliph’s secret garden at the Alhambra [steady on, Jane!].

Greatest drama of the week: Georgina’s chair blowing over the edge. Rod to the rescue! Exquisite light on the shallow water. Betty tries to do the harbour, but is really happiest doing flowers.

I'm not too keen to show the pastel drawings that I did at the time -- not very good -- but since I mention this one in my notes...

My boat is huge in comparison to the real model. Rod comments on it but says no one else will know. 

Day Four [Wednesday – free day]

Everyone except us goes off: to the woollen mill; to walk on the coastal path (memories of the recent murder: we’re instructed to go in groups); one person to visit her Mum.

It’s raining. Mum and I work in the studio, radio on, endless cups of tea. I do a completely different picture [a childish underwater scene -- see below]. Mum sketches out of the window.

In the evening, Rod looks at our work if we want him to (secretly we do because he is so nice about it). We are all getting much more confident with each other. Doreen issues a very forthright command to me to deepen the shadows in my picture. Taken aback, I realise she is right. Mum is trying Barbara’s watercolour crayons, Doreen is working over a painting she’s unhappy with using pastels, exclaiming at their amazing potency after pale watercolours.

Rod delivers a lecture in the studio: how to start to extrapolate abstract images from nature. He shows slides from the places we’ve been to, then projects the paintings he has developed from the landscapes he loves. He has been moved by rocks – the crushing and yielding ‘presences’ of huge rock forms. He passes round sketches of the finished work on the projector. He has us all crisped and primed for the next day. I long for rocks.

A composite of some of the many photos of texture I took on the holiday: rock, wood, slate

Day Five [Thursday]

NEVERN

Getting into the bus feels like a way of life now. Michael always sits in front. A little polite jostling in the back. We are, above all, tremendously happy. We love the game of not knowing where we’re going. We call out to each other to look at the tunnel of trees we are bowling through, to identify those brilliant purple flowers, to see that glimpse of sea. I still want rocks, but we arrive at the least rockish place of all the week’s sites.

Nevern bridge

Nevern has a wonderful church; Ogam writing on the Roman cross, a soldier, ‘VITALIANI EMERETO’; also a Celtic cross and a [yew] tree that bleeds.

Inspired by Rod’s talk, Mum and I embark on the tree. It’s too much for me, but Mum’s sketch is great. We had our eyes on the little bridge but George is there. In the end we sit there too.

My awful pastel of the bridge at Nevern -- the water under the bridge is the only bit I like

Rod remarks on the blackness of my black [he almost certainly thought it was too black – ‘never use black’ is an artists' mantra]. Most of us do our best work here.Then we visit the local art show: Rod tells us to go in if we want to be heartened [meaning he thinks the work in it is v bad, I'm guessing?]

Then a quick visit to John Knapp-Fisher’s gallery. Black brooding scenes with brilliant surreal suns. Doreen buys a card of Solva Harbour and worries about whether it’s night or day.

Day Six [Friday]

Almost unbearably, it’s our last day. I feel so solid and self-confident, physically more concrete, clear skin. Only a slightly aching neck from all the painting.

The water really was that colour. I did a half-decent picture of this view but can't find it just now. It's somewhere in the house...

PICTON BEACH

An inland beach where Graham Sutherland came to paint the swirling, sculpted forms of tree carcases.

Brilliant green algae; embroidery of sea lavender; impossibly picturesque rotting boat; cranes [the birds]; beautifully retreating lines of trees; stripes of plant layers; scooped-out rock.

I was determined to break out of the representational mould, but I didn't find it as gratifying. Mum does her best picture yet. Michael does startling abstract, like a Thai silk painting.

We visit the Sutherland Gallery at Picton Castle. Sutherland donated loads of pictures and did 15 pictures specially. Marvellous to see them in the context of the beach – makes them instantly make sense. A great castle and gardens.

Evening: the great exhibition [of all the work we’ve done in the course of the week]. Much excitement, pride, feigned shame at the worthlessness of our pictures. In turn we put our week’s work up on chairs in front of the group. Rod talks briefly, charmingly, about what we’ve achieved, what areas we might explore further, where our strengths lie. He is perceptive and genuinely inspirational. In truth, the total of all the pictures the seven of us have done would make a tidy little exhibition. Some of us would be selling [our work -- not me], some just going home fired up and healed.

The next day, Saturday, Rod would drop us off at Haverfordwest station, go to Tesco’s and then pick up the next group of people from the station, clutching their brushes and wondering if they’d made a wise choice of holiday. They had.

Mum in conversation with a rather wooden fellow (with a passing resemblance to a good friend of hers). I've just realised that she was the age then that I am now. She looks better than me on it!
[Oh, I never wrote the article...]

 


Sunday, 11 April 2021

My 1974 Diary -- what an odd creature I was

The diarist on a coffee break in 1974 -- if anyone knows the make of this mug, please leave me a comment!

I've recently begun the sizeable task of transcribing all my extant notebooks and diairies into a single Word file (I've got around 80!). The idea is that it will be easier to search it for relevant bits when I come to write the book I'm planning. I won't transcribe boring bits, just personal fragments that have something of my life about them. 

My earliest diary is a W H Smith notebook with a cover so redolent of the 1970s it takes me straight back there. Here it is in all its circly glory. In this book I kept an early diary, beginning on 30 December

1973, when I was eleven and a half. I realise that it will be of more interest to me than to anyone else, because it's about myself, but at the same time I thought it might amuse anyone who finds it via this blog, partly because of all the references to popular culture and partly because I come across as such an odd bean. This diary almost reads as if I was intending it for publication: it's strangely formal and somewhat stiff. I have a suspicion that I knew my parents would be reading it (or even wanted them to read it -- ugh) and so was on my best behaviour. I feel that's a shame as I don't seem ever to entirely relax, but at the same time I think that's what I was actually like. As I say, a bit strange. 

I hope you enjoy this trip back to small-town England in the mid Seventies... (I've changed names to protect people's privacy)


 

30 December 1973

I decided to begin to write a diary. If it is successful it will be my first ever completed diary. The trouble is I keep forgetting to write entries in. 

Today I played with Helen. We washed her dog, Rollo, who was found to be extremely grubby. 

Later in the evening I watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was very amusing and we recorded it on my new cassette recorder. After I had done this I went and had a bath. Surprisingly enough, I needed no persuasion. Perhaps this was because I was so filthy and for once I actually wanted a bath. Most unusual!

Daddy made his very first attempt at a collage. It turned out to be a beautiful design of leaves in very subtle shades of blue. I was very impressed.

31 December 1973

Considering that this is the last day of the year it is exceedingly boring and uninteresting. I did not go or do anything out of the ordinary to celebrate the new year. It was really rather a dismal end to what has been a horrible year, what with strikes and other miserable-making happenings.

1973 -- the petrol ran out, among many other trying things

I hope that with the start of 1974 we’ll be able to turn over a new leaf and make all the nasty things right again.

This evening I made supper for us all and Dad gave me, the coffee-slopping waitress, a tip. Maybe he did it to encourage me to do the supper more often.

Dad was making a bird to stick on his collage. I love the bird but the more I look at the collage the more I seem to see its ugly, messy features. It’s only his first try though and I think that the technique of collage needs practice. I think I shall have a go at collage. I fancy doing a picture of a fire. Flames have always fascinated me. I love the way they dance and writhe. It would be difficult to capture fire in a realistic way but I’d like to try.

Tuesday 1 January 1974               

This morning I began a collage. I started with a sun which was made up of petals of material in rich colours of reds and oranges. I think I shall make use of it in a larger collage, with the sun behind silhouetted trees.

We had a very refreshing salad for our lunch while we listened to Uri Geller on the radio.

Uri damaging someone else's fork

I put a fork on the table near the radio in the hope that Uri’s thoughts might reach it and bend it as has happened to so many other people. But Uri was spoken to over the phone from New York and when he was asked to bend something in England from New York he said that he was very tired and that it was too difficult to send thoughts all that way.

wfmillar / Richmond Falls / CC BY-SA 2.0

Later in the afternoon Helen came round and we went down to the river. It was bitterly cold and I had forgotten my gloves. My hands were bright red with cold but we had great fun smashing the ice which had collected in the small rock pools near the waterfall. We tried to take a piece of ice home with us but, inevitably, with the warmth of our hands it melted.

I challenged Helen to a race on the way home. Helen went round the long way and I went up a very steep hill which was really just as much of a handicap as Helen had. We weren't allowed to run. I beat Helen by a long distance and when I reached the decided finishing post Helen was just struggling at the bottom of the hill.

My route home -- Lombard's Wynd, Richmond

We arrived home and went and sat in my bed. Helen read one of my old annuals while I wrote my diary. When Helen had gone I dressed all my dolls in their best clothes, especially for the New Year. They looked very smart. Then I went and recorded some music on my [new] tape recorder so that I could listen to it in bed [ie recorded over the air]. It was one of my favourite records, ‘Music from the Greek Islands’. It is very peaceful.
I was just too cool for words. But it wouldn't be all that long before I was into The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers...

After this I watched the first programme in a new series of The Likely Lads which I enjoyed .

Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? Terry and Bob, characters worthy of Samuel Beckett

Immediately after this I was rushed off to Hilda and Sam’s house where we all enjoyed a game of poker. I was employed as chief lucky mascot for Mum and Dad. I don't think I brought them much luck though.

Soon we took a break. Hilda had prepared a lovely buffet supper and I ate much more than I thought I could manage. Afterwards play was resumed and Mum had quite a nice win. I am sure that the cards in her hand would not have been dealt any differently had I not been there. I sat down in a comfy chair and wrote some more diary. Then I got out my Elizabethan Costume colouring book and began to colour the first dress. I tried to use colours which might have been used on the actual dress. [I have this somewhere -- the colours I used were bright pink, grey and turquoise] We went home at 12:30. I had to be dragged away. When I got home I realised that really it was better that we came away when we did. Once out of the excitement I felt really tired.

Wednesday 2 January 1974        

I had cheese and biscuits for my lunch while listening to Just a Minute on the radio. About half an hour later Helen came and as it was too cold to go for a walk we went up to my bedroom where the paraffin stove was glowing comfortably. We pretended that it was Christmas again and we found Christmas presents for all the dolls and wrapped them in scraps of wrapping paper. It was a pity that we knew what was in them though because it spoiled the fun of making the dolls open them.

We had a delicious spaghetti bolognese for tea.

Helen went home and Mum and I went down to see Polly and Jim. We had a lovely time with little bits of toast and crackers. It was very cosy and warm. We did enjoy ourselves. At ten o'clock Mum suggested that we went home but I pleaded and begged her to let us stay a while. Actually we stayed until 11:30.

Jim ran us home in his car which had frost on the windows. That proves how cold it was. When I got in I went straight to bed.

Thursday 3 January 1974             

I got up very early and got dressed in the drastic coldness of my bedroom. I put on nice clothes because I was going out later in the morning. I had a tepid cup of tea which woke me up sufficiently to bear going out in the cold to salt the icy paths with table salt to melt the ice. Really the roads were treacherous this morning. You could see the ice glistening evilly on the path. I slid all the way down the path on hands and feet and couldn't stop so I fell down the steps. 

I listened, for the first time, to my recording of some Greek music. Mummy enjoyed it very much so it was worth recording. It wasn’t really a very good recording but you could hear it at least.

At round about ten o’clock I set off to Helen’s house. They were taking me on a spending spree in Darlington. Helen and I were going to spend the vouchers that we got for Christmas. When I got to Helen's house I was fully expecting to set off immediately so I kept my coat on. But it was an hour before we started off so I took my duffel coat off.

We were taken by Helen's grandfather. Five of us went: Helen, Carol, Helen's granny and grandad and me.  We were dropped off outside Smith’s, where we spent our book tokens (this was the main reason for going to Darlington). I bought two lovely books about Roman and Classical Greek Art. They were exquisite with most beautiful illustrations. I was so pleased with them. Helen bought a book about about an artist called Watteau. I’ve never heard of him. She also bought a rather boring book about Lewis Carroll with horrible black and white illustrations.

Ewan Munro, London, CC BY-SA

We went to Binn’s after this to have lunch.  Carol treated herself, Helen and me to scampi with peas and chips. It was my first taste of scampi and I really enjoyed it. I tried tartare sauce on a chip and didn't like it. It was too sweet. I felt a bit guilty while I was eating it because it was so expensive, but I had offered to pay and Carol had refused my money so my conscience was relieved a little.

After this I had coffee ice cream and a strawberry milkshake. Delicious! Next we had a look around Binn’s and Helen tried on loads of clothes, which turned out to be an utter waste of time as she didn't buy anything. I was very tempted by a very pretty flannel but I decided but I had enough flannels without purchasing yet another.

Helen and I each bought a small notebook. This was just luxury buying. I think I was foolish enough to buy it because so many people were buying extravagant things around me that the atmosphere of the shop was urging you to buy all its tempting miscellany. [I'm still a sucker for notebooks]

My pad had a dove on its cover and Helen's flowers. I'm going to make a picture diary in mine with little sketches showing the major happenings throughout the day.

Then we went to Williams’ to spend our record tokens. Helen bought a Craig Sheppard piano record and Dvorak's New World Symphony. I ordered Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals which we studied at school. At Gallery Five Helen and I bought some stickers between us. They were of hippos and flowers. I stuck them on my bedstead when I got home.


Mummy and Daddy thought my books were lovely and that I had made a good choice. We watched The Two Ronnies and then I went to bed.

Friday 4 January 1974    

We slept in this morning. I had breakfast with Mum in her bed. When I got up I immediately had a piano and a clarinet practice. Mum went out for a drink with Aunt Marjorie. We had salmon while Mum was out [tinned, I’m sure of it]. We had it for our lunch with chips. This was because I had been clamouring for salmon ever since I had it at Hilda’s supper.

I decided not to play with Helen but then I felt terribly guilty so I rang up and invited her to come along. Mum and I decided that this was to be the day we refurnished the dolls house. I put everything from the house in a box and Daddy took the house downstairs where the light was better. First of all I polished all the wooden furniture so that it shone and Mummy began to wallpaper the walls with small-patterned material. The effect was just like real wallpaper.

Helen and I made a set of silhouettes which we mounted on circles of blue painted paper. Then I made a bearskin rug out of an old piece of imitation fur. It had bead eyes and wool whiskers. Its head was padded to make it stand up and so were the paws.

After tea we began to make dolls for the house from pipe cleaners and wool. Mine was incredibly ugly with an enormous head and very short legs.

Granny [maternal] was taking me to the [Georgian] theatre in the evening to see Alice in Wonderland so Helen went home. Mum went to Carol’s but she promised that she would come back soon and do lots more to the dolls house.

When I got to Granny’s house to meet her I found that she had gone to the theatre without me. It was pouring with rain and very chilly. When I finally got to the theatre I was very bedraggled and wet. Granny was there waiting for me. She was ushering and selling programmes. Suddenly she dropped all her money and everyone had to scrabble about on the filthy floor until we found it all.

I was sitting in front of a horrible family. One was silly and cross eyed, another was a stupid man who had to have everything explained to him twice. His wife was very short and grossly fat. She had black and yellow teeth and interfered with her friends by telling them what she thought they ought to drink and what they ought and ought not to laugh or speak about. There was a blond boy with a red knitted hippy band. This made him look simply ridiculous. His father was baby-faced. They were all horrible.

Alice in Wonderland was terribly pantomimed and everything was terribly exaggerated and we all had to boo and hiss. Very tedious. I told Granny that I really enjoyed it so as not to hurt her feelings but I didn’t honestly enjoy it.

On the way home Granny walked dreadfully slowly which made it very boring but I looked forward to seeing what Mum had done. When I got home Mum was still at Carol’s and she had done no more to the dolls house at all. I carried on with my wool doll, but seeing how ugly she was I threw her away and went to bed. I had a very uncomfortable night. I don't know why. I was also very cold.

Saturday 5 January 1974              

We slept in yet again and we went to Darlington almost immediately and had fish and chips for lunch. Daddy went out and bought a slide viewer. We watched a film called Three Coins in a Fountain. It was filmed in Rome and the scenery was beautiful.

Play Away!

After this I watched Play Away and then Candid Camera which I had never seen before. It was very peculiar.

We went home and I did a bit more of my jigsaw. I’m beginning to think I'll never get it finished. I went to bed after having a bottle of Coke and a slice of pie. It had been a very boring day.

Sunday 6 January 1974 

We slept in as usual. I hope we don’t sleep in tomorrow and be late for the first day back at school. That would be dreadful and awfully embarrassing.

On account of getting up so late, the making of the dinner was a frantic rush. When we finally ate it, though, it was delicious. Steak and kidney pie is one of my favourite dishes.

The dolls house is now virtually completed except for need of a few oddments making here and there. I invited Helen to come and play. When she arrived she found a letter (written by me) inviting her to tea at 27 Carlton Place. To find the house she was to follow the string. This led her to my bedroom where the dolls house is. We spent a happy afternoon having parties and putting the dolls to bed. The only thing was that Helen kept on putting animals in the attic which I didn't think quite fitting for a Victorian house.


We had beans on toast for tea. We gobbled it rather because we didn't want to miss any of Black Beauty, our favourite programme. After this we went upstairs again and played with Becky and Sarah [dolls]. We pretended that they were ill. 

Helen went soon after that and I went and had a large and thorough bath. In doing this I succeeded in using up all the hot water.

When I went to bed Dad set my alarm clock so that I could be aware of the time. I am convinced that it moves faster in the first half of every five minutes than it does in the second. Anyway, I only hope it's capable of waking me up tomorrow! As I went to sleep I tried to set my mind so that I could wake up early in the morning. It's my last hope. 

Monday 7 January 1974               

Success! I woke up early this morning and I wasn't too exhausted despite the effort I made last night to make myself wake up. Actually I got up a bit too early and I was left to lounge about for half an hour before I set off to school.

At school everything was horribly normal. At dinner time I accidentally chose the wrong menu. It was ghastly. I was very envious of Karen who had the other menu. Afterwards we went to the library where that ugly, big, greasy librarian was on duty. I hate her. I got a book out of the library that was all in French. It's lovely. I was lucky in that we had no homework except English which I was unable to do as Karen had the papers I needed.

All day there has been a continuous torrent of rain. We had to stay indoors all day. But at least we were warm.

There was no [wind] band practice so I went home and relaxed all evening. I think that my jigsaw is eventually coming to the end of its tether. When it is finished I'll be really proud of it. I shan't want to break it up. I also put some postcards in my albums. I want them to be museum pieces some day.

I went to bed early but I stayed awake a long time shivering because Dad forgot to do me a hot water bottle and as he was watching a programme on the television I didn't like to interrupt his viewing. I was so cold that I wished I had asked for one. In the end I couldn't bear it so I went down and got one. Utter bliss.

Tuesday 8 January 1974

I got up a bit late this morning but I soon caught up with myself. School was very chattery and we didn't seem able to keep quiet. We had a lovely dinner and then we went and read in the library.

After school I went downtown in the rain with Sandy I wished I hadn't in the end because I got so wet and uncomfortable. At least I got my candles. They are very pretty colours.

At last I've finished my jigsaw. It looks magnificent. I went to bed at ten pm. Rather late, I think, for me.

I am lying in bed thinking about my diary. I realise now that there are lots of interesting things I might have put. The next part of my diary is a conglomeration of things that I should like to remember.

My beautiful jigsaw is a picture of the Kings Road. It's taken about five hours altogether to do it but if I was given this jigsaw and five hours to do it in without any breaks I don't think I would have been able to concentrate hard enough.

Mummy says that I’m grown-up now and I have to be independent. I think I agree with her. I have to walk home on my own now and wash my hair unaided. I think this is very sensible but it’s a very sudden change.

The dolls house is simply perfect. It has four rooms and two attics. There is a kitchen which will have a roaring fire in eventually (only painted). I like to keep real food in store [in it]. Tom Thumb drops are very useful for this purpose. Next to the kitchen is the drawing room. It has blue walls and a purple velvet carpet. There are tiny silhouettes and framed pictures on the walls. I've got an exquisite sofa and two beautiful armchairs. Luckily my dolls fit all the furniture perfectly. It's a pity, though, that they are so modern, they rather spoil the Victorian atmosphere of the house. Upstairs are two bedrooms. One is mainly green with a four-poster bed. It's got green drapes and a lovely green quilt. These match the walls. The other room has two twin beds, each with a pink frill round them, and a tiny pink continental quilt. Mummy made them. I do think she's clever.

Thursday 10 January 1974           

I didn't do any diary yesterday because I had such an uninteresting day and I could think of nothing worthy of being written down.

This morning it was very difficult to get up because of the contrast between the warmth of my bed and the bitter cold of the room. I eventually made an effort and went downstairs. I went to school without Mum today [she was a teacher at my school]. When I was ready she was still pottering about so I set off.

Work was much the same as usual but we had a new art teacher whose name is Mr Otway. He does interesting work and he wears purple jeans. In science we were visited by a young student called Mr Laws. Mr Renwick grimly told us that we were having an awful test tomorrow. He made it sound dreadful. I revised thoroughly (I hope) when I got home.

Dinner was alright except it was completely cold which is horrid when you're having chips and chocolate sponge.

In Latin I got another ‘A’ which I was very pleased about. At the end of Maths we were told that we were also in for a Maths test on Monday. I hope I'm not at school then. I hate tests! [patently untrue]

I had a lot of homework but when it was done I went and recorded my favourite music all evening. I had a very annoying time because the doorbell and phone kept on ringing and people seemed to be shouting and banging all the time. This of course spoiled all my recordings and I had to start again twice. Eventually I got a lovely tape full of an interesting selection of pieces both classical and popular.

Helen came momentarily with Rollo just to borrow some felt tips. She didn't stay any length of time.

When I went to bed I played music to send myself to sleep.

Friday 11 January 1974 

We slept in and because of this I waltzed off to school and remembered that I had forgotten my P.E. kit. I was by then already at school and so I pelted all the way back home to fetch it. When I arrived back at school it had already begun but only just. I was terribly hot and I was panting and heaving like an old man.

The dreadful Science test came. It was very difficult but I had my lucky charm with me [a round stone]. Hope it worked. The rest of the day I spent doing gym and netball. During netball my legs went purple. It must have been the wind that did it.

In the evening I had my piano lesson and Mr Tillotson told me that I was good and doing well. During Science I got an ‘A’ so I felt quite pleased.

After band practice at dinner time Karen and I and a few others from our class stayed in and practised Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat. Karen played the piano and Sandy and I the clarinet. The others sang. Anna played the bass part on the viola. I thought it sounded super but the boys said it sounded ’orrible from outside.


In the evening after I had had my tea I went to see Helen. We played with our ragdolls but after half an hour we stopped and we went and watched Billy Liar.

I had delicious jammy crumpets for my supper and then I went to my bedroom and sat, like a secret author, writing my diary in a little tiny chair that has no seat in it. While I wrote I listened to soothing music.

Saturday 12 January 1974           

Nothing much happened today. Nothing of interest ever happens on Saturday. In the morning I had a long bath while listening to music. Then we went to Granny's [paternal]. We had pies for lunch followed by delicious Christmas pudding and cream.

We watched an interesting film about going to the moon. It was unusual because it was made before anyone ever set foot on the moon.

For tea I had egg and bacon. Mum bought me a gorgeous little book.


It was Kate Greenaway's alphabet book. It is only tiny. I have put it in my collection as it is a bit big for the dolls house.

Goodie Goodie Yum Yum...

We went to home just as The Goodies started so I missed it. I did see Upstairs Downstairs though. I do love it.
Before Downton Abbey there was Upstairs Downstairs

Sunday 13 January 1974               

I had a terrible load of homework. It took me all morning and half the afternoon. I also did some in bed.

We had delicious rump steak for dinner, an experience I had never previously had. When Helen came we dismantled one of Mum's disaster-collages and also the Christmas tree! I know we're terribly late but we just didn't seem able to find time to do it. I hope it isn't unlucky to be late in taking down decorations.

Later Helen and I played with the dolls house. We put real, tiny candles in the candlesticks. The candles are meant for cakes really.

We had spaghetti on toast for tea followed by jam tart. Then we watched a very exciting episode of Black Beauty.

Helen went home and I washed my hair. Then we tried out Granny’s slide projector which we’ve borrowed. Most annoyingly all the slides were out of focus. We couldn't think why because when we looked at them in the slide viewer they were beautiful. In the end we figured it out and we saw them. It was quite a treat.

Monday 14 January 1974             

Today I got a prepared-for shock. A horrible Maths test. It was very difficult but I had revised so it wasn't as hard as it might have been.

After school there was a band practice. Today Paul H took it because Mr Ewart was busy. It wasn't very good because he couldn't control the boys well enough. After this I rushed home and watched Tom’s Midnight Garden. I'm going to get the book.

Tuesday 15 January 1974             

This morning at school we had our school photographs taken. We had one of us separately and one as a class. This caused us to miss nearly all Maths. When we got back for the last few minutes of Maths Mrs Brook told us that the results were so bad we would have to do the test again. She hasn't marked mine yet. We also got the Latin test results. I was top of the class with 43 out of 44. I was thrilled. At dinner time we practised Joseph in the music room. It is coming on well. We also did it as a class in Music. Mr Griffin promised that today we could do Drama but as usual he made excuses.

There was no choir tonight so I came home and did my homework. Mr Hatton came to talk about welding. We had ice cream for our tea following egg and bacon. I played the clarinet for a while and then I had a bath. Later I attempted to play the piano but was refused permission as THE TELLY was on. But I did see The Likely Lads which I love. I watched Colditz and went to bed.


Wednesday 16 January 1974      

This morning it snowed, horrible slushy snow that splashed your legs and was not slippery. There was no fun in playing in it so I went inside the building during break. Sandy had some crisps for break and Karen brought a satsuma. In Maths we got our test results. I got 39 which was the highest mark in the class. This isn't really very good out of 50.

In the library lesson I finished off ‘Hilary’s Adventure’ and gave it in to Mr Griffin.

A truly terrible story

Geography was very boring. After school I trudged home and rested all evening.

Thursday 17 January 1974           

This morning we had Art. I finished off my picture of a girl’s head. I'm quite pleased with it. In Science we got the results of the test. I was top with 25 out of 30. This means that I got full marks and top marks in every test we have had this week. After dinner there was an orchestra practice. In the afternoon I had a clarinet lesson and then I met Karen and walked home. I played with Helen after tea and we put real candles in the house and lit them. We switched off the electric light. The glow was beautiful but soon black marks appeared on the ceilings and we blew them out.

May 1974            

Interlude. It is now May and almost six months since I wrote any diary. Isn't that terrible? I just knew I wouldn't be able to keep it up. I've just been reading through all the previous entries. It hardly seems any time since all that happened. Such a lot has happened since then but I can't remember it all. I'm going to try again with my diary, so ‘Here goes’!

Sunday 19 May 1974     

This morning I lay in bed longing for a cup of tea but feeling too idle to force myself to get out and fetch one for myself. However in the end Dad came – without any tea – and got me up. I began my homework. How I hate weekend homework. It should be stopped. I had some Science that I had to ask Dad to help me with and he got in an awful temper and threatened to write letters to various people.

I finished my homework just before dinner and so I raced down, dropped my books and sat down to a delicious beef casserole. Afterwards I rang Helen and asked her if she would like to go to the tennis tournament with us. She said ‘Naoowh’ in a mingy voice but later when I saw her in the street she changed her mind. We set off at ten to two. After the first match Sam was knocked out so we decided to leave and go for picnic. We went to Whitcliffe Woods, a very picturesque spot that you get to along a very bumpy track. In the woods there were lots of different flowers and I found an orchid which is very rare. We had an absolutely super time, finishing with a picnic and then French cricket. When we looked at the time we saw to our amazement that it was already half past seven and the sun was setting. We went home feeling happily weary and I had a cool bath straight away. The bath water was grey and slimy when I got out.

Granny came to see Mum but spent most of the time playing the piano in a horrible slip-slap way.

After my day in the sun I was both exhausted and ravenous and after two tomato dips I went to bed and wrote my diary, for the simple reason that I couldn't find my book.

But there was only one more entry after that. My 1974 diary was over (although I tried again in 1975, but that will have to be for another time).