Posts Tagged 'family'

A Woman’s Work

As women we feel obligated to achieve the 1950s stereotype of perfect womanhood; immaculate dress, neat hair; cooking, cleaning, doing absolutely everything, and with a smile.  Women in the past had to be a monolith of effortless domestic strength and aptitude, but modern women shouldn’t feel inadequate by comparison, and should remember that most of those 1950s women didn’t have outside jobs. Their sole employment was to run their home and family, meaning that they had the time and energy to do it well.   

I am constantly amazed by the amount of vigour my 76 year-old grandmother still finds to spend every day ironing socks, and tea towels, and underpants, when I don’t even iron proper clothes.  As modern women, we have full-time jobs with very long hours, and the exhaustion of commuting, and far greater responsibilities and demands on our emotional and physical resources than in the past.  It should be considered an achievement if we have the energy to come home from work and cook something that isn’t a ready-meal, let alone do it in heels. 

My view of the domestic stereotype recently changed, and I realised that perhaps the past wasn’t as imbalanced as we think.  My Grandmother was telling me that my Grandad would never be expected to cook a meal, or pick up a hoover, or change a nappy, because those were women’s jobs.  However, as a woman, she would never be expected to take the bins out, or mow the lawn, or clean the gutters, or kill a spider.  Men’s jobs. The partnership was more equal than we think, it was just that men and women had more clearly defined roles, with each doing what was expected of them, and keeping up their end of the partnership bargain to take care of the other, both part of the household clockwork.

Whilst there were indeed immense pressures placed on women to create a picture-perfect, and spotlessly clean home, and perfectly turned-out family, there were also equally great pressures on men when it came to meeting masculine roles and expectations, and being the sole provider for the family.  This meant that women of the past weren’t challenged by many of the burdens that modern women face.  The man earned the money, and paid the bills, and mowed the lawn, and looked after the car, and the woman looked after the home and family.

Modern women, now that we stay single/unmarried for longer, and tend to live by ourselves for longer, are burdened with both feminine and masculine responsibilities, and we have to do it all by ourselves.  Even when we are in a partnership, the divide of responsibilities is more equally shared, and modern women are expected to change the tyres, and earn the money, as well as have a perfectly cooked meal on the table, and bath the children, and wear the heels and lipstick that make us attractive.  We have to kill the spiders.

Is it any wonder that in 2019 women come home from work, and collapse on the sofa; wearing pyjamas, and eating pizza, rather than cooking a casserole in 5 inch heels, and taffeta?  There just isn’t enough energy in one body to be both man and woman, and do everything all the time.  As modern human beings, we’re just trying to get through the day.  If we don’t get assaulted on the train home, that’s a victory, forget Victoria Sponge and Mac Ruby Woo on a Wednesday night.  We’re doing our best.  This goes for men, as well.  Men are coming home from a long day’s work and dealing with bathtime, and bedtime stories, and sharing the cooking, instead of reading the newspaper in an armchair by the fire until dinner is on the table.  The 21st Century has been hard on both sexes, and demanded more of all of us.  Women know where the stopcock is, and men know who Mary Berry is.

The double-edged sword of equality, and feminism is that we have greater respect, higher wages, more freedom, more understanding, and a platform to speak that we didn’t have before, but we also have more responsibilities.  We have to open our own doors.  Fighting to be equal doesn’t just mean that your boss can’t call you sweetheart, it means that you unclog the drains instead of waiting for your husband.  Perhaps we didn’t think this through?

As much as I am grateful for being an enlightened, modern woman; single, and earning my own money, not answerable to anybody, able to make my own decisions, I do sometimes wonder whether they had the right idea back then.  Perhaps it would be quite nice to stay at home all day, putting lipstick on, and stirring a casserole, and then telling my husband when he comes home from work that the bins need seeing to, and the car needs filling up with petrol.  Oh, and there’s a wasp’s nest in the garage with your name on it, I’m off to read Harry Potter to the children.

Of-course, equality is a wonderful, and very hard-won thing.  You only have to look at countries who haven’t quite achieved it yet to appreciate how fortunate we are to be ‘woke’ in the UK.  Women are completely free to be badasses in the home, and in the workplace.  We can be boss, and mum, and still make a trifle with one hand, while paying the electricity bill online, and breastfeeding a child.  Women have infinite resources, and therefore infinite value.  It is simplistic to think that those women of years gone by were wasted, and unchallenged.  Running a home, and looking after a family so totally, and devotedly, takes enormous energy, strength, and mental acuity.  The housekeeping standards that were held are something we can only aspire to, and learn from.  I wish I had the time and energy to iron my socks, and hoover right into the corners, but I just don’t… but those women did. 

However, we must think of all the women over the years who would have been lawyers, and doctors, and engineers, and pilots, and members of parliament.  Many women missed their chance to change the world because they were only allowed to give birth, and change nappies, and make drinks for their husband’s colleagues.  All that wasted talent, and potential.  That is the true importance of equality; what could have been, and what might be.      

We would be living in a very different world if those women had been given the chance to do something else, something more.  Laws would be different, economies would be different.  I often think that our history as mankind until very recently has been governed by men, and those men made decisions in a very different way to women, based on violence.  History was decided with wars, and bombs, and guns, and tanks, and murder, and fighting, and terror, and executions.  Violence and death have dominated our progress as human beings.  Women would have done things very differently.  Women would not commit mass genocide.  Women would not invent mustard gas for the trenches.  Women would not build Auschwitz.  Women would not make men fight lions in arenas for entertainment.  Women would not nail Jesus to a cross, and watch him bleed.  I believe this is because women create life, and feel it growing inside them.  They feed life at their breast.  They also know how precarious and vulnerable life is.  They feel it disappear.  They see it slip away, carried from their sight in a dirty bundle.  Women know the true value of life, and so would not be so careless with it.  When you have waited for life every month, and every month felt the crushing blow of its absence with the stark reminder of blood, you would not invent the Kalashnikov/AK-47.  When you have loved a tiny life for nine months, and felt its every movement deep within your body, and planned every moment of its future, and then watched it being pulled away from you; cold and lifeless, you would not invent the electric chair to punish murderers.  You would not walk into a music arena in Manchester and explode nails at children dancing to their favourite song.  The world would be very different if it were governed by the people who understand how incredibly valuable a life is. 

How different the world would be if every nation were governed, and protected by a mother, who would nurture every life at her breast, and feel every loss as her own.

This Woman’s Work, Kate Bush.

Pray God you can cope
I stand outside this woman’s work
This woman’s world
Ooh, it’s hard on the man
Now his part is over
Now starts the craft of the father

I know you’ve got a little life in you yet
I know you’ve got a lot of strength left
I know you’ve got a little life in you yet
I know you’ve got a lot of strength left

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things I should’ve said
That I never said
All the things we should’ve done
Though we never did
All the things I should’ve given
But I didn’t
Oh, darling, make it go
Make it go away

Give me these moments back
Give them back to me
Give me that little kiss
Give me your hand

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things we should’ve said
That we never said
All the things we should’ve done
Though we never did
All the things that you needed from me
All the things that you wanted for me
All the things that I should’ve given
But I didn’t
Oh, darling, make it go away
Just make it go away now

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A diary of cakes and tea.

It has been brought to my attention, by three separate people, that my family and I are forever eating scones and drinking tea.  Actually, it’s true.  A combination of two months of wet spring weekends, a mammoth festival of bank holidays thanks to Easter, the Royal Wedding, and May bank holidays, plus four damp days in Wales, have resulted in a string of occasions where we have found ourselves at a table, perhaps in a teashop or on a lawn somewhere, with a cup of tea and scone with jam and cream.  In fact, I’m not complaining, because it is a lovely, very British way of spending an afternoon, whether it be sunny or drizzling.  The teashops of these fair isles are a thing of wonder.

Spring started with a weekend full of picnics.  The first was a bikeride to our local Heath, and saw the début of the heart-shaped picnic basket I’d received for Christmas from my Grandmother.  The second picnic took us to Wales, the beautiful town of Conwy, for a small stony spot by the beach, surrounded by fishing boats and the wing of a dead seagull, which was only discovered after we’d eaten.

We celebrated two birthdays this Spring, both with Cake.  For one we  went for breakfast at the local teashop, and ordered Pizza in the evening, for the other we went walking in Derbyshire.  Both were lovely.  In our family we always make a special fuss of birthdays, and never let one pass without doing something special.

April 29th 2011 brought with it THE ROYAL WEDDING, and the country celebrated in true old-fashioned style.  In fact, I didn’t even have to verify that date, I just know it.  In our house we eschewed the children and beer ridden street party that our neighbours were holding, and instead had our own celebration, with cakes and tea, and dresses from Jack Wills and Cath Kidston.  We spent the night before making bunting, and had a whole day devoted to shopping for outfits and porcelain memorabilia.

We watched the event, glued to the screen, from start to finish, relishing every moment, feeling part of something special.  The only thing that momentarily robbed our attention, and only in the boring bits, was the food.  Chocolate cake, pink fairy cakes, strawberries, trifle, garlic bread, pizza, tarts and quiches, homemade pies, and everything in between.  It was a true feast.

We wanted to make it a special day, one we’ll always remember, like the wartime street parties and jubilee celebrations of our grandparents, and we certainly succeeded. I’ll always look back on it as a lovely day.  Of-course, we had champagne and lots of tea.

The Easter weekend felt like much-needed holiday, and with the bank holidays, and royal weddings, and days off, it felt like a long break.  We had a day walking in Derbyshire, with a picnic on the edge of a river, always entertaining with pensioners, walking along eating Easter eggs, and a sumptuous dinner in a beautiful hotel in Buxton.  Now that we have a child in the family, my cousin who’s almost two, we had a legitimate excuse to have an Easter egg hunt, something we’ve been doing for years anyway.

We hunted for eggs in my grandparents’ garden, on an unusually warm and sunny morning, and then we sat down to tea and cake.  My Mum had baked fairy cakes from scratch, and arrived with arms full of cake tins and Tupperware, and my Nanna made a typically eccentric chocolate cake with layers of cream and strawberries.

My Nanna comes from a family of master bakers, and was rightly proud, as was my Mum.

The past two weeks have been busy, with three beautiful but slightly damp days in Wales in a caravan, which gave us two opportunities every day to have tea and cake, an opportunity we took full advantage of.

For the record, I drink builder’s tea.  Medium strength, but with lots of milk, and two and a half sugars.  Any other way, and I can’t drink it.  Made properly, I luxuriate in tea, feel comforted by it, am taken to a higher plane by it.  I am so grateful whenever anybody makes me a drink and brings me an unexpected cup of tea, it’s a lovely surprise and kind gesture, but one thing I can’t stand is when someone makes you a drink the way they think it should be made, rather than how you like it.  The worst culprit is my grandparents.  They believe that tea should be the colour of mahogany, with a thimbleful of milk, and one sugar.  After years and years, I’ve finally succeeded in making them accept that I take more than one sugar, and they’ve gone up to two very small ones, but will never reach the full two and half.

There’s nothing quite like sheltering from the rain on a cold day, or stopping off on the way home after a long journey in a cramped, packed-up car, for a nice cup of tea and some sandwiches and cake.  Better yet, a lasagne.

I’m actually in love with tea and cake, I’ve just realised that.

These last few pictures were taken at The Davenport Tea Room, at Acton Bridge in Cheshire. http://www.davenportsflorists.co.uk/tearooms.html  It’s down a tiny lane, signposted opposite Marco Marco and The Leigh Arms, and is well worth a visit.  In a beautiful old farmhouse, with antique tables and exquisite china, they have a wonderful menu and the perfect atmosphere.

All this writing about tea, I’m gasping for a brew!

The Power of Songs to Make Us Cry

What is it about certain songs that touch one so deeply?  With some it’s the lyrics, others have such a beautiful melody, or even just the tenderness in the voice of the singer.  For me, there are a few, just a few, very special songs that I know, whenever I listen to them, will move me.  I’ve never actually shed tears solely from listening to a song, but some bring me very close.

Some songs hold a connection to someone we know, the subject and lyrics may remind us of someone in our family, which means that the song automatically connects to that person in our head.  An example would be Handbags and The Gladrags.  I find this song so incredibly sad, because it makes me think of my own Grandad and the line ‘That your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy you’ makes me think of all the sacrifices my Grandad has made to give me things I wanted over the years, and how hard he worked to do it.  Some connections are less obvious.  For example, (another Rod Stewart song, sorry) in Maggie May, there is a line; ‘The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.’  The line always makes me think of my Dad, and how he’s ageing but still wants to be young, and the injustice of growing old, hanging on to youth.

Sometimes songs remind one of a time and place, a period in one’s life.  For example, two songs will always remind me of the phone call that told me I’d been accepted into University.  Immediately after I’d put the phone down, I played Last Night and Someday, both by The Strokes, to celebrate, and those two songs will always take me straight back to that moment of elation and pride.  Similarly, a group of songs will always remind of a certain summer that I spent in my flat, shut away behind closed curtains, which I will always think of as the summer when I found myself and learned to write.

I mentioned, at the start of this post, tenderness of voice.  Some songs have an emotional power, for me, because of a quality in the singer’s voice.  Examples of this would be Last of The Ladies, or any song really, by The Courteeners, because of the gentleness and  touching quality of Liam Fray’s voice.  All of their songs are excellent, and almost all of them are beautifully moving, because of his voice.  Similarly, Pete Doherty.  Many of the songs Doherty sings with The Libertines, Babyshambles, or on his own, have a euphoric and celebratory note, and are uplifting.  I happen to think that almost all of them are fantastic music.  Some of them, a small selection, are more sedate and take on a beautifully poetic and almost heart-breaking quality.  An example would be For Lovers, which is Wolfman featuring Pete Doherty.  This song is so sad in the tone, audibly, and incredibly sung.  Last summer I was out walking on my own with the dog and I turned off the path onto the Heath, near where I live.  I was surrounded by a vast expanse of fields on one side and a view over the river and fields full of horses on the other.  As I set off, veering slightly downhill, with the sun setting in a flare of gold and orange and green, over the fields, For Lovers came on my Ipod, and it took my breath away.  The beauty of the moment, and the sound of the song, was magic.

Just over a year ago I went to the funeral of an eighteen-year-old boy, who was a very close friend.  This young man was devoted, in a way you can’t imagine, to music.  He spent any time he had travelling down to London for gigs.  His heroes were Morrissey, Robert Smith, and Pete Doherty.  He’d shook Morrissey’s hand, and was a regular visitor to Pete Doherty’s gigs and flat, and was on friendly terms with him.  There is a video of him playing the guitar while Pete warbles through Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.  The funeral was a very religious, catholic ceremony, and nothing in the service moved me that much.  Aside from feeling undeniably devastated at losing this friend, I didn’t actually cry all the way through the ceremony, until it ended, and I heard the first few notes of Music When The Lights Go Out by The Libertines.  Nothing else in the service had spoken about this person as an eighteen-year-old lad, or even as a human being.  The service talked about God and heaven, but nothing personal.  When this song started playing, I felt suddenly that it was Dale’s funeral.  Since then, the song will always be special to me, even more than it was before.

In the way that smells can take me back to a memory, or a time and place, and make me instantly remember where I was and what I was doing, create a picture in my mind of a specific situation, music takes me instantly back to specific emotions, and recreates that feeling deep inside me, every time I hear it.


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day


Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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