A toffee pig for Christmas – Chapter Five

This is the fifth installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:

Our year is noticeably cyclical; passing seasons are marked by changes in the natural and domestic landscape, by the altering minutiae of household routines, by religious observations and by the food we eat.

Autumn is often glorious, bringing high blue skies and a sharp bite in the air; fruits ripen, leaves flame and become bronze.  We gather blackberries and rowan-berries, the hedgerows drip with scarlet, sealing-wax hips and the crimson beads of haws. The purple bramble mounds crouch like brooding animals amongst the swirling trails of mist. Up on Duxon Hill, there is a smudge of mauve heather.

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A toffee pig for Christmas – Chapter Four

This is the fourth installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:

By my third birthday, the memories begin to thicken, to gain some structure and sequence, although these are not always reliable. The night before it, my sisters lean over my bed to  hear my prayers ….’Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to God my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray to god my soul to take’, awesome thoughts for an about-to-be-three-year-old.  In return, they chant the ritual promise for  the night-before -Christmas, or Easter or birthdays …  ‘the sooner you go to sleep, the sooner tomorrow will come …’   but I cannot go to sleep, no matter how hard I try. For what seems like hours I watch the faces that come and go in the flowered wallpaper and the shifting patterns on the nursery ceiling. Yet sleep I must at last, for suddenly I am awake and struggling up to awareness of sun streaming in at the window, the Atco  stuttering over the lawns, the smell of oil and mown grass, to the dogs barking at the postman, the weight of parcels on my bed…. I remember only one of my presents (it still hangs by my bed) a holy-water stoop, topped by a sweet-faced, blue-robed, star-spangled virgin holding out her arms.

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A toffee pig for Christmas – Chapter Three

This is the third installment of my mother’s memories of her childhood in Lancashire. You can read the other chapters here:

The wind rises to a high-pitched scream, changes direction and now seems to attacks the house on all sides. It claws at the doors and forces its way through the window-frames. The oil-lamp above my bed oscillates, the white glass shade tilts and rattles in its brass frame, small flecks of plaster flutter down over the bedspread. I think of the pear tree in the next-door garden; it was here before these late-Victorian houses were built … if the wind turns west and the tree falls, it will crash through my roof. The chimneys begin to shake; with a great roar, the roof lifts off the house some six inches and hovers for a second or two before falling  back into place. I think there has been a bomb.  When the landmines fell near our home, the roof rose like this.  A thick flurry of soot swirls down the chimney and fills the room with its dry, acrid smell.  I lie rigid, trembling; my teeth chatter, the wind dies away, there is a great silence …the telephone rings  …

Your mother is not at all well, she’s had a great fright … trees fell round us  all night long … the door is blocked,  …  Babs, my mother’s housekeeper is on the line … ‘we  haven’t slept, can’t get out…  I think you should come and get her …  she’s asking for you.…’

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IM Birtwistle Obituary: The Guardian

IM Birtwistle was my aunt. We knew her as Lilla, but she had been christened Iris and apparently hated the name. She preferred to be known instead as IM Birtwistle or simply IMB. I’ve included the following biography by Peter Stanford from The Guardian on Friday 23rd June, 2006. She also had obituaries in The Times and The Independent, although not The Telegraph which would probably have been her preference.

IM Birtwistle

Perceptive and demanding poet and gallery owner whose aesthetic gave her a cult status in the British art world

The gallery owner and lyric poet IM Birtwistle, who has died aged 88, was never that keen on you delving into her past. Names would occasionally crop up in conversation – dancing with Clark Gable (who apparently had bad breath), holidaying with Robert Graves on Majorca, debating religion with Muriel Spark – but just when you wanted more detail, she would sidestep your questions. “The box is so much more interesting than the contents,” she would say with a laugh, and return to the present and the future.

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George Goldsmith Kirby, a masonic mystery – revisited

As mentioned in the George Goldsmith Kirby, a masonic mystery? post, my great great great grandfather George Goldsmith Kirby was the “original projector” and managing director of the Freemasons & General Life Assurance Company. My eldest brother thought The Library and Museum of Freemasonry might be able to shine a light on whether his father was also a member, but sadly they only had the following information in their records:

George Goldsmith Kirby
Grand Master’s Lodge No. 1, London
Initiated: 19th February 1838
Passed: 16th April 1839
Raised: 21st May 1839
Age: (Not recorded)
Address: (Not recorded)
Occupation: (Not recorded)
Master of the Lodge in 1845
Last payment made in 1855

Dame Nellie Melba, OBE


Two weeks ago, while sorting through an old box of my grandmothers’s bits and pieces, my mother found a signed photograph of the famous Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba, OBE. It was taken in a Parisian photographic studio and she is dressed in full Edwardian finery.  Dated 1898, it is signed ‘To Mrs. Duff, from her sincere friend, Nellie Melba”.

The Marwood sisters of Pleasington Lodge, near Blackburn , Lancashire, Freda, Muriel (my grandmother) and Angela, together with their first cousins Constance, Dorothy and Monica Marwood of Beech Cottage, Liverpool, were all devoted followers of the theatre and opera, collecting and exchanging  photographs of the stars of the day.

Most of these mementos have disappeared over the years, so my mother was delighted to find this one, and rather hopes to find one or two more as her sorting continues. The name ‘Mrs Duff’ is puzzling her though; she’s never heard of her before.


Made in Chelsea

The house I was born in off the Fulham Road in London is now on the market for £5.6 million. We lived there until I was about 6 or 7, and I think my parents paid £11,000 for it in 1960 and that was almost double what they expected to pay originally. Our ‘nursery’ seemed huge, but was basically the double windowed bedroom on second floor with a bunkbed. Can’t remember much else other than we had a rocking horse. Looks like they have done some major refurbishment since then though, and I was once told that the line ‘To get your kicks at 66’ by Elvis Costello in “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” was written about the house – although that would have been nearly a decade after we left.