Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Decades ago as a new arrival in New Zealand I was often mystified by some of the words and sayings used locally. Presumably some of the language arrived with the early immigrants and was simply adapted a little but some were Maori words that had been borrowed and applied for use by Pakeha (non Maori or in this case New Zealanders of European descent). I struggled a bit with believing that kai meant food, a tangi was a funeral and utu meant taking revenge. I soon learned though that bikkies were biscuits, brekky was breakfast, footy was rugby, kindy was kindergarten, rellies were relatives, sunnies were sunglasses and gummies were wellington boots. More challenging were terms like bro and cuz meaning friend and sometimes cousin though generally the cousins became cuzzies. Some of the expressions were fun like saying bugger to indicate you were disappointed with something or someone or describing something as choice if it was a situation or item that you thought was attractive. I could never come to grips with calling other British settlers brits, however, or worse still homies. Neither was I prepared to describe having a meal as having a feed. Some terms simply seemed to become absorbed with quiet ease – advising children to do their best by telling them to give it heaps or saying I was gutted when I was very disappointed about a situation or admitting to having stuffed up by making a mistake. Occasionally a word would seem to be particularly apt such as munted for broken beyond repair. The city of Christchurch was described as being munted after the earthquake. I became very fond of going out into the wop wops when intending to drive out of the city. It’s amazing how quickly you can get used to calling your swimsuit your togs and your flip flops your jandals and referring to the neighbours hens as his chooks. The term I have entirely adopted and use as often as possible though is whanau (pronounced farnow) for friends and family. This wonderfully descriptive Maori word that describes the circle of people who are closest and most important to you would take off immediately and settle into United Kingdom Modern English if given half a chance I am certain.
Monday, 26 September 2016
Tidy, as in `we got a tidy few apples’ - Took to, meaning to become fond of `I took to her straight away’ - Trot describing anxiety, `I was in a trot’ - Twang, meaning an unpleasant flavour or taste - `it had a nasty twang to it’ - What for, usually applied to physical action such as `I gave him what for’ - Cleaned rotten, meaning attacked viciously verbally such as `I cleaned `er rotten’ - Clod hoppers, meaning heavy work shoes or boots - Bitter cold meaning extremely cold as in `It was a bitter cold day’ - Mizzle meaning very fine rain – Piddling meaning light rain – Feighnights used exclusively by children, usually in chasing games when a player needed a rest. Can anyone add a tidy few more....?
Friday, 23 September 2016
Facebook has given the ordinary individual enormous opportunity to state their views and judgments on a wide range of topics, and hundreds of thousands of us have taken the opportunity to do so. Anyone with a FB presence will at times be inundated with Friend requests and be exposed to an astonishing variety of attitudes both local and global. Personally I have found the parallel existence of maintaining a FB presence to be irritatingly time consuming and oddly addictive. It can also be interesting most of the time, thought provoking at other times and attention grabbing occasionally. What has startled me most, however, is just how frequently those who appear to be educated, literate and even scholarly, demonstrate little ability to tolerate the views of others. Though they are able to hold forth with some eloquence on a topic and may well lull the reader into the false notion that a debate of some kind is being elicited, any opposing opinion may well unleash a diatribe of hostility. Only supportive comments are being sought. I should add that when posing a contrary opinion I am at pains to do so in as polite and non threatening a manner as possible so it has been astonishing to me when the response immediately includes a fair amount of aggression and intimidation. And it’s also quite sad because some of the worst offenders would appear to have a story to tell and right on their side and for a number of reasons are waging a crusade for some kind of justice. I have more than once sat in front of my laptop wondering just what it was I just said that has caused this FB Friend to call me a …… douche bag….. sleaze ball …… troll……racist. On one momentous occasion all I was doing was making a comment to those who would like to have our current NZ Prime Minister hung, drawn & quartered and had accused him in no uncertain language of personally financially ripping off the populace with the help and for the benefit of his rich prick mates. I pointed out that in fact he donates a fair amount of his financial remuneration for the job of PM to charity. This was not a sensible comment to make. Apparently I was, by this insensitive remark, also supporting those wealthy bastards who get up each morning with the sole aim of making daily life as difficult as possible for the rest of us. When I recovered from the initial amazement I foolishly tried to bring some gentle sanity into the discussion which as a result went from very bad to nuclear in less than two minutes. I was told in no uncertain terms by my crusading friend that my comments were most definitely not welcome in her particular corner of FB world. This was immediately echoed by a flurry of her followers though in more colourful language it has to be said. To be completely fair FB is not the only venue where this kind of prejudice and bigotry is to be experienced because it also pops up from time to time in local cafes should any support of right wing ideas be exhibited but never ever to the same horrifying extent. For example I have never received threats of violence from fellow caffeine addicts, just a general condescending rudeness for my inability to recognise facts when I am faced with them and for holding a different opinion to their own. What I do note though is that it is invariably those leaning to the Left who are inclined to issue vague threats and intimidation, almost never those on the Right. Those of us whose general philosophies lie somewhere to the right of Vlad The Impaler are mostly content to allow the Left to continue holding their views and dreaming their dreams without interference from the rest of us. More than a hundred years ago Evelyn Beatrice Hall said: `I do not agree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. We all know that’s how opinion should work it’s just that in some corners of our lives and most particularly in FB world it doesn’t work like that at all!
Monday, 19 September 2016
My maternal grandmother at times used language that was colourful and profane enough to make comedienne Catherine Tate’s Nan Turner look like a raw beginner. Even as a small child I was nervously aware of the fact that she seemed to differ from the more mundane grandmothers in other families who made rock cakes and knitted cardigans. For one thing she was totally illiterate which was beginning to be something of a novelty in itself in the totally modern nineteen fifties. For another, she was not inclined to display much grandmotherly affection and neither did she hand out treats. Possibly she had just too many grandchildren, and too few resources to start on that latter slippery slope. I cannot recall her ever giving me either a hug, a kiss or a toffee. She was a remarkably hard woman. Her own ancestry was Irish but she had been born in a tenement building just off Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green. Hers was a home in a multiple housing block already falling into overcrowded disrepair. The block has in recent years been restored lovingly courtesy of the local preservation society but when she lived there it was a shabby and squalid environment where it was of prime importance to develop an early ability to live by your wits. Her accent remained all her life that of a late Victorian cockney, a variant that has long disappeared and been replaced with a new and less harsh hybrid. In recent years I have been astonished when listening to old Music Hall recordings featuring Gus Ellen to hear in his speech, long ago echoes of my grandmother. Hers were the speech patterns that Hollywood tried so hard to mimic in block buster movies of the nineteen fifties and sixties - and generally failed to do so! At some stage in her early childhood, her nothing if not mobile family, transferred themselves to various parts of Kent to work the fields and orchards and consequently she absorbed a great deal of Kentish dialect which pervaded her speech until the day she died. She was often `ratty’ when she was displeased or angry, and sometimes she was `raw’ as well. She always `reckoned’ when stating a personal opinion – such as: `I reckon it’s gonna rain today’. Walking local fields and lanes she never glimpsed foxes but sometimes saw `Reynolds’. She invariably surveyed the remains of a Sunday roast meal and referred to it as `the ruins’. If she prepared a meal quickly she `rustled it up’. Cheeky grand-children were said to be `giving sauce, or old lip’. When we were very hard up after the death of my father she observed that we were `scratching along’. She referred to her overweight neighbor as a `slummuck’ and then went further and added that she was `a slummucky mare’. Suspicious of those who gave out compliments or indulged in flattery, she claimed they were `smarmy’. If shoes needed repair she said they needed `snobbing’. All this daily use of local dialect was passed on to her many children and understood by grandchildren and even some great grand children. In addition to the dialect we have discussed recently she also used language that even at the time made me acutely uncomfortable because in the particular little corner of Northfleet where I was born and grew up, no other grandmothers spoke in quite the same way. If any of her offspring or their spouses offended her, her wrath knew no bounds and they were accused in their absence, but never in their presence, of `…being so bleeding tight that they wouldn’t give their shit to the crows….’ Or perhaps a daughter might be accused of being, ` ….. a tight doxey who wouldn’t share the drippings of `er nose….’ Men were often `….. fart catchers…’ At times she advised her daughters that their husbands were in need of `a kick up the jacksie’ and the women themselves were silly mares who should be `kicked up the quim or quimpy’. If I did not leap to do her bidding immediately she would call me `a bleedin’ cow’s melt’. She blanched at the use of words like fuck, never used cunt but often advised others to stick uncalled for advice `up their twat’ and certainly `twat’, a word used liberally these days appears to have changed substantially in meaning. I rapidly gained a keen understanding of her most extreme vulgarity, internalized it whilst deciding to avoid use of it myself. Her most profane expressions are still capable of shocking me all these years later!
Saturday, 17 September 2016
A local `Real Housewife’ is being severely slated for using an intolerable word to another housewife in a Tuesday evening TV programme, a word so objectionable that none of us can bring ourselves to even whisper it. Frankly it hurts even to utter the first offensive letter – N. There, I’ve said it and I feel quite shaky (though just a little bit courageous at the same time). But I mustn’t castigate myself too much because to be totally honest I have only caught up with just how depraved that word is comparatively recently. It doesn’t seem so long ago that neighbours called their Black Labrador crosses N..ger and there was certainly an animal of that name in the 1950s film `The Dambusters’. I’m sure I’m not imagining that. And it wasn’t only dogs because I have personally come across at least two cats that would more likely be called Othello these days. I was fifteen years old when my mother made herself a n..ger brown skirt to wear on occasions when black wasn’t entirely compulsory and she certainly knitted me a n..ger brown cardigan around the same time. The dawn of n..ger becoming a much, much worse word than fuck was sudden. Its unacceptability swooped upon us when most of us were not paying too much attention and it had aggressively pushed its way up the obscenity ladder before common sense could intervene. Personally I put the whole n..ger saga in the same category as not wearing fur and not allowing your child to own a Golliwog (oops….should that be G….wog?). It’s all very well to maintain that you will go on wearing that little Coney jacket no matter what others think of you – but somehow you don’t do you? After all none of us actually want to be spat upon on the bus. And as for playing with G….wogs well my child WAS allowed to do so as long as she played quietly, inside her room and never, ever spoke to others about it. No matter how mindless and absurd we personally find sudden social prohibitions, few of us are willing to openly flaunt the conventions once they are firmly established. We much prefer to simply loiter on the edge of rebellion, muttering a bit and waiting patiently for the day when Othello can once again be called N..ger!
Friday, 16 September 2016
In recent days a great deal of media discussion has taken place regarding those reprobates and ne`er do wells who refuse to name the fathers of their babies regardless of the fact that their refusal currently costs them a not insignificant deduction in child support benefits. It’s rumoured that some of these degenerate mothers have come to an agreement with the miscreant fathers which allows him to pay somewhat less than would be required if The State was overseeing the transaction. This may or may not be true and few of us would have any way of knowing the accurate statistics for financial deals of this nature. What I do know is that there can be very sound reasons for fathers not being named and such a decision is not always made lightly. All too often a previous partner enraged to the point of psychosis because a woman has left him against his will, or dared to give birth to his child without permission then possibly put that child’s needs before his own, will actively seek out the woman who once loved him and now lives on State Support with their child, in order to wreak a suitable revenge. The retribution at times involves strenuous attempts to disrupt the harmony of their lives and occasionally violently ends the earthly existence of both mother and child. Having experienced first-hand threats of reprisal in the past for the unspeakable iniquity of failing to abort a child when I was ordered to, I fully understand why some mothers feel it is safer all round to opt for a vague variety of virgin birth. It will heap trouble upon her head but it will always be trouble of a lesser degree than the terrifying alternative. In this debate I am firmly with the mothers!
Thursday, 15 September 2016
When talking about dialect it becomes clear that there is a confusion in some people’s minds about what is dialect and what is accent. Dialect of course describes original words that are spoken and generally recognized in a local area or a county. Accent, on the other hand describes how English words are pronounced which can differ substantially from place to place. It’s hard to expound much on how dialect terms originated because they seem to have sources in a variety of areas – Middle English, Anglo Saxon, Dutch, Old German and French for example. Many Kentish dialect words have proliferated into wider use though far more have remained exactly where they began in little pockets of the county, in villages and market towns. The decline in use of local dialect has been drastically speeded up over the past century, possibly initially with compulsory schooling where the ideal for every child was to receive an education based on standard English. The next push co-incided with the advent of radio, followed by television and ease of travel. Our grandparents and great grandparents rarely ventured far from their homes whereas we now travel far and wide. Originally the Kentish dialect also divided itself into a number of areas – that which was spoken in the East, the West, and that heard in communities close to the London border. Though a lot of the original words have long disappeared, the Kentish manner of speaking is largely preserved though some of it is easily confused with the cockney idiom. H is almost always silent – W at word beginnings disappears – V often becomes W. This is much more evident to those of us now living in other parts of the world when we suddenly hear again the accent that was all around us during our childhood. I grew up understanding that when someone was angry or annoyed they were having a `paddy’. If my mother was fond of something she would say she was `partial’ to it. When she greeted people in the street she `passed the time of day’. If she thought I might be unwell she described me as `being peeky.’ She often said she was `glad to see the back of’ someone. If she felt annoyed or depressed she was `having the pip’. If we were near our destination we were `pretty nigh’ there. She didn’t like it if others `put upon’ her – meaning they selfishly bothered her or demanded something of her. I’m sure many of my Kentish compatriots are able to fill in the gaps with a great many more of these half forgotten terms.
Wednesday, 14 September 2016
I've recently been sharing some of the dialect words and terms I remember from my childhood and wondering how much of it was still used today. I've been surprised to find that among the younger members of my mother's family for instance, The Constants, the terms seem to be largely alive and well. Here is a further selection! When I was growing up I was often accused of being `Narky'- being badtempered. My grandmother always said `Ne'er-a-once' in place of Never once. She invariably referred to our heads as our `Noddles'. To my mother the word `old' did not necessarily refer to age but was an intensive expression....`she started a tidy old argument'. Cheekiness from children was referred to as `giving old lip'. A term of disapproval was `one-eyed' such as `I'd never live in a one-eyed place like that.' Something out of alignment was referred to as being `out of kilter'. If you slept later than intended you might say you were late because you `overlaid'. Funny how the memories of language use come flooding back!
Sunday, 11 September 2016
I have received more feedback with regard to Bernard’s deliberations on the Constant Family and I must admit that I did not quite expect the level of interest. My only regret is that he is no longer here with us to witness the response because he would be thrilled. Having left school at fifteen and always finding some subjects exceedingly challenging, Bernard doubted his own ability. He felt his only strength was the capacity to entertain an attentive group with grossly elaborated but highly entertaining `tall tales’. He knew he did that very well indeed but as for writing things down at an easily comprehensible level, there he had misgivings. We had, after much discussion, quite recently agreed to co-operate on a Family Chronicle and it was intended that this would cover both our mother’s side, the Constants and my father’s, the Hendys. Bernard had first started his research in an attempt to get closer to our father who had died when he was four. So he began to send me some of the documents he had composed over the years and I am still hopeful that I will be able to complete the proposed project on his behalf. In depth investigation into matters of family will always reveal issues that those closest to the perceived perpetrators – sons and daughters, even grandsons and granddaughters, will denounce indignantly: `Grandmother Smith was NOT a thief’ - `Grandfather Brown was NOT a drunk’ - `Nobody in our family was EVER convicted of child abuse’ - `Uncle Harry did NOT swindle the neighbours with Black Market goods in WW2’. These outrageous claims emanate merely from the imagination of he who conducted the research in the first place. Even first-hand memories from childhood will be condemned as defamation and deceit if they do match the pristine and unsullied version of life preferred by other family members. I discovered this myself following my brother’s death earlier this year and was astonished by the level of venom and malice hurled at me by one relative. Happily from the distance of a couple of generations, perception changes because the enquirer looking into the past wants to discover Truth – not concealment and misrepresentation - not whitewash! As for what has been turned up about the lives of the Constant clan in the first quarter of the twentieth century, their descendants appear to be both non-judgmental and interested. Patricia rightly points out that time itself changes the way we perceive events. Amanda says she is proud to be a part of the Constant clan. She too wonders how our own children and grand-children will interpret our actions in our present lives in times ahead. Debi, whilst agreeing that the Constants are a funny bunch, adds that she too is proud of being a part of that bunch! And Tyler and Leighton, who both independently found me by email, have been highly amused by my brother’s account and want to hear more! Bernard Hendy would be delighted, or as we say in local parlance – he would be stoked!
Saturday, 10 September 2016
Obviously a great many Constant descendants have significant interest in their antecedents judging by the interest displayed in my brother’s memoir. I only joined the Facebook family group in recent weeks but they are most definitely an energetic troop. I was delighted to catch up with Patricia Constant Wade again. She lives locally and we had met a few years ago due to her connection with Bernard and his research. Facebook, though often scorned, clearly serves a purpose and the most surprising people have profiles to share. To be fair to the current Constants, I think Bernard has possibly been a little harder on the ancestors than strictly necessary but there again telling the plain unvarnished Truth reveals them as they were – warts & all! So far there has only been one unreceptive response and to be fair, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Sometimes it is challenging to face facts, especially if you feel you have reached a social platform where the skeletons of the past can be safely left behind you. In this respect I am reminded of the offspring of the first settlers of Australia – all clamouring to make sure their neighbours were aware that their particular branch of the family did not originate with anything as depraved and unacceptable as convict settlement. Several generations later those same families proudly insist on all and sundry knowing that their ancestry began with the most notorious convict you could ever imagine. There’s nought as queer as folk!
Friday, 9 September 2016
My Grandmother Margaret Reardon married Edgar Constant in 1905 when she was nineteen years old and soon after gave birth to their first child, also named Margaret. Their second child Nellie was born the following year at some stage during the hop picking season. Nellie was to become my mother. She often told my sister and myself that as a very small child she could remember that the family home was a makeshift tent on the edge of a field. At the time we only half believed her, though my research in recent years has proved this to be absolutely correct. Theirs became a large family. Catholicism, ignorance, amazing fertility and agreeable natures were the combined causes of this and most of the Constant prodigy entered the world at the same time each year. Thus in the fields, hop gardens and the orchards of North Kent, to which the entire clan migrated for months on end each year, was delivered an eventual live litter of ten girls and three boys. Nellie was the only one of the brood, however, who drew her first breath atop of several bushels of springy, aromatic flowering hops. With the advent of mechanisation such an event could now never be repeated, at least not without considerable discomfort to all concerned. Nellie had followed her sister Margaret into a world of uncomplicated agricultural routine and they were rapidly joined by Martha, Maud, Rose, Phyllis, Violet, Freda and Edgar, not to mention others whose names are long forgotten by both my sister and myself and several who died at birth or soon after. At least two were squashed as new-borns when Gran rolled over onto them in her drunken sleep. Others succumbed to the dreadful childhood illnesses of the times. Despite the attrition there was still a sizeable number of children left to feed and clothe and life could not have been easy situated as they were at the very bottom of the social heap. There was no Social Security except The Workhouse and life dictated that they somehow had to earn a living and the annual harvesting of vegetables, hops and fruit was a lifeline for them. All else was secondary and nothing as trivial as the registration of births was allowed to interfere. Such matters could wait until the family returned to the grimy streets of Dartford and Crayford at the end of the various seasons. Owning neither clock nor calendar, and being totally illiterate must also have hindered my Grandmother and perhaps alongside the undoubted mischief there existed also some degree of genuine confusion. She conformed to a routine dictated by the seasons and the weather but most of all by the absolute necessity of spending all available time engaged in earning money. As a consequence she complied with the legal niceties as and when she could which invariably meant when the hop picking season, the final rural industry of the year, had come to an end in late September. To counter interrogation by any overzealous Registrar she would deploy a simple strategy of confusion and sleight of hand. Many a strapping, brown skinned infant was dangled momentarily beneath an official’s nose before being whisked away again whilst the entire Constant brood looked on with carefully cultivated expressions of poverty and pathos. She learned to sow utter despair by answering in the positive to every question asked of her. `Yes – a week ago’ and `Yes – she’s got a lot of teeth.’ Sooner or later the frustrated victim of this duplicity might even suggest a date himself just to get rid of them all. In a flash Margaret’s blank vacancy would transform into a smile, `Yes that’s right Guvnor…..that’s when it was. I remember now …’ and so the impasse was overcome. A testament to the persuasive power of a raw peasant guile. By this method did thirteen of Margaret’s shaky black ink crosses appear upon the legal documents of the period. My mother’s younger brother, Edgar must have been born at a completely inconvenient time because his registration never took place at all. As a result Edgar became first of all a family secret and later, as he grew to adulthood, a non person. In the eyes of the Law he simply did not exist and for the entire duration of his long and mostly happy life he was denied both the benefits and the protections of the Welfare State. He was never required to attend school for example which gave him a massive head start in the employment field. True he never enjoyed such blessings as Social Security and the NHS but he claimed that not being required to participate in the Second World War was a huge plus for which he was eternally grateful. Whilst others of his generation were giving their all to combat the evils of National Socialism, the youthful and energetic Edgar devoted himself unselfishly to combatting loneliness and want on the home front. He made a great many female friends whilst making tidy sums on the Black Market. The Constants were indeed a wild and unruly bunch, uncontaminated by the honesty and integrity of conventional working class society from which they stood apart. Whilst his wife engaged in encouraging the children to live by their wits, Grandfather took a more traditional stance and originally worked as a labourer where he could do so, finally and astonishingly, making his way through the labour market to become a prosperous wet fish merchant and haulier with his own `fleet’of two lorries. Unfortunately strong drink, an interest in horse racing and a touching faith in his fellow man meant that eventually he worked his way back down to where he had started which was disappointing. Sadly this demise was aided and abetted by a sizable proportion of his friends and relatives who were enthusiastically engaged in swindling him. It seems that he was a kind hearted man who could never bring himself to press for the recovery of a debt from a poor person or even to remind them of their indebtedness. I suspect that he knew only too well how it felt to be unable to pay and told himself that he would get his money in due course. As he was never known to refuse a plea for credit the inevitable consequences of his benevolence were, despite his entrepreneurial ability, personal disaster and poverty. Photographs of Grandfather Edgar show him always smiling and happy – a man with little dress sense, with trousers held up by lengths of string and so I suspect that economic ruin bothered him little. He was most definitely a man who liked a drink or two, beer merely serving to enhance his natural generosity. There are no tales of him brawling or even losing his temper although he was inclined to wreak retribution on those he felt deserved it. One such occasion was the time when he distributed fish heads to stray cats outside the house of one Ebenezer Puckett who disliked cats intensely and was not impressed. Ebenezer was unwise enough to remonstrate with Grandfather who responded by upping the daily supply of fish heads to felines as close to the Puckett residence as was possible and finally on the front lawn and doorstep. In the early days of his business Edgar would walk from Crayford to London arriving at Billingsgate just after first light to buy fresh fish. He would then push an old pram full of fish back to Crayford where it was hawked around the newly emerging council estates and sold mainly `on tick’. His enterprise was rewarded and very soon the pram became a barrow and then a horse drawn cart and later on a lorry. The girls were all roped in to help in the family enterprise. Nellie took the money, Margaret did the wrapping and the youngest knocked on doors. Once, in the early days, he arrived home at the end of the day empty handed because nobody had paid him and he had let all the fish go on credit. Gran took to him with the poker and that day the girls saw him hunched against the back door crying uncontrollably. It is true to say that although the Constant children feared their mother and were at all times wary of her, they loved their father unreservedly, be he drunk or sober. Margaret and Edgar were an odd match. Theirs was an attraction of opposites and Grandmother’s character differed significantly from her husband’s. A secret alcoholic all her life she vehemently claimed teetotalism even on her death bed, despite the evidence of a vast quantity of empty gin and Guinness bottles beneath it and the testimony of two local children who claimed they had seen her lurching towards the local pub only hours previously. Unlike Edgar, drink made her spiteful and vindictive and fired her dishonesty. She lied to get money for alcohol, lied to explain the effects upon her and the family finances and lied to avoid accepting any responsibility for her actions. When cornered she would simply place the blame on others including her own children. She routinely bullied her daughters with threats and violence into supporting her deceit. Her temper tantrums were truly terrible and only her husband seemed to remain ignorant of her true nature and to his dying day he believed in her implicitly and loved her to distraction. Despite her terrifying outbursts of rage and her frightening excesses the children also appeared to adore her and her misuse of them served only to fire fierce competition for her affection. She utilised her children’s love to her own ends, expertly setting one against the other to protect herself. She introduced them all into the use of deceit on a grand scale – against their father, their neighbours, local tradesmen, and each other until it became first nature to them all. She also schooled them in the dark art of obfuscation, enabling each to finely hone this ability over the years to cloud any issue with a veritable shoal of red herrings. They practised substantiating truth with half-truths and ramblings unconnected to the point in question until they were a match for anyone in any situation. Under her malevolent guidance they refined these skills to obtain both her ends and their own. Unknown to her the eldest among her brood used these abilities within the family to establish and maintain a warped hierarchy based almost entirely upon fostering mistrust. Within this set of disturbing circumstances my mother, little Nellie, survived and thrived and rose to dominance. That I ever hoped to entice her to confirm the precise circumstances of something as trivial as my own birth with honesty and integrity was perhaps merely a measure of my own naivety. That I, myself, grew to become a fearful child with a fanciful nature, often challenged by some aspects of Truth was possibly only to be expected.
Wednesday, 7 September 2016
Accuracy was never a strong point in our family. Years of confusion and frustration preceded my grasp of this salient truth which finally dawned upon me late in life. Only after the high noon of my own existence had come and gone and I was well on my way towards tea time did I finally appreciate this. Even then, however, I could never claim that everything fell neatly into place. Rather I came to the gradual acceptance that nothing about my origins could be taken at face value. As a result of this belated revelation I am at last able to view both myself and my complicated relatives from a more balanced perspective. Things have begun to make a little more sense at last. I was born on the fourteenth of April in nineteen forty seven. At least that is what it says on my birth certificate but I have come to view such flimsy evidence with the deepest suspicion. After all, I was raised within a gifted elite who, like royalty, are possessed of both official and actual birth dates. Yes, strange as it may seem, many of my family members somehow contrived to issue forth into this existence in circumstances that had to be concealed from those in authority. Nearly all of my numerous aunts were actually older than the records indicated; some of them much older. My mother had three birth dates and of the two birth certificates I have traced for her, both depict different dates and both are incorrect. Several of my relatives also departed this life in a similar vein, with some lingering on, according to officialdom, long after they were stone dead. Clearly things must have been more relaxed in days gone by if even the lower orders were able to deceive the Powers That Be over important matters such as birth and death. The Law at the time directed that all parents were obliged to register any offspring within six weeks of the actual birth and dire consequences were threatened against those who failed to comply with this eminently sensible regulation. My family, however, took a perverse delight in frustrating both the spirit and the letter of this directive at every opportunity. Indeed it became a tradition. Thus I have no way of really knowing whether or not my own stated birth date is correct. The year probably is accurate as my mother always knew when to draw the line. Regardless of her seemingly low intellect she also possessed considerable reserves of low animal cunning. This usually sufficed to deter her from embarking upon projects where the prospects of success were slim. She had the kind of intuition which somehow made her instinctively aware of when the odds were against her. So nineteen forty seven is probably correct but the day and the month are anybody’s guess. My specific enquiries as to the facts of the matter always drew a blank and until her demise my mother remained steadfastly enigmatic about the whole affair. I do know that the Hawthorn was in blossom and that the Cuckoo was calling, because she mentioned this in an unguarded moment. So it is always possible that the certificate is correct for once! My father, poor chap, was dead long before I was old enough to ask him and my sister, born in June, nineteen forty as far as we know, has taken little interest in the problem and so I am stuck with what the official record states. The low status of our particular family is something that has always been more than evident. Most major family events for example seem to have occurred in the open air, and close to rural produce of some kind or other, a sure indication of lowly birth. My mother was actually born in a hop bin. Most of my aunts, uncles and cousins were certainly conceived if not brought forth in either pastures of cereal or fields of long grass and my Grandfather, who clearly liked to be different, expired amongst wet fish. His brother Ernest was blown up in a turnip field and another brother and two cousins were all mown down together in a field of barley. With this theme in mind I am fairly confident that at the time of my birth something was being sown, tended or harvested and that my mother was of necessity, involved. This has left me with a slightly distrustful nature combined with an interest in vegetables of every variety. By pretending to have forgotten the precise details of my birth my mother merely upheld family tradition. She saw nothing iniquitous or novel in this attitude. The circumstances of her own delivery into life were similarly ambiguous and I imagine that she was merely conforming to inherited characteristics over which she had little control. This practice of natal uncertainty appears to have originated in Ireland, Galway to be precise, and taken to England and deep into Kent by my Great Grandmother Margaret who, upon her marriage to my Great Grandfather, felt compelled to perpetuate the custom with a certain amount of fundamentalist vigour. In no time at all the seeds had been sown into another generation and as a result the relentless erosion of robust official statistics began. Great Grandmother’s firstborn, another Margaret, took up the baton of dishonesty with enthusiasm and carried it triumphantly into her own marriage to my Grandfather, Edgar Constant. Their union produced thirteen live and lusty children, each bearing the unmistakable hallmark of chronic deceit. Against this background my mother’s attitude assumes a greater modesty than one might initially assume and it can almost seem understandable that she refused to recognise what all the fuss was about. Surrounded as she was by numerous siblings, each possessed of an identical eccentricity about such trivial matters, it is little wonder that she stuck to her guns. After all, what do numbers really signify? Why bother about them? Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Leaving aside a nagging frustration regarding accuracy which has obsessed me all my life, I can now finally begin to comprehend her attitude. It has taken over fifty years of trying though! My mother’s upbringing rapidly conditioned her to the application of deceit as an essential tool of survival within the large and dysfunctional Constant Family. The delights and remunerations of hop picking so distracted her own mother that obligatory registration of an infant within six weeks of birth was routinely ignored. As a consequence, seven of the thirteen children were registered late and had to have their birthdays `adjusted’. One child was overlooked completely, causing acute embarrassment when his death decades later appeared to have taken place before his birth. Bureaucratic incidents of this kind ensured that the Constants were obliged to keep their wits about them for the duration of their lives.
Monday, 5 September 2016
As I have undoubtedly mentioned more than once this year, we fell totally head over heels in love with our Pixie Clips Nespresso coffee machine. In fact the local coffee shops almost went into a steep decline on account of our sudden absence. No more toiling up Parnell Road several times a week for a caffeine fix because we had our very own centre of addiction right there on the kitchen bench. And what is more, the trusty Pixie Clips could provide the tantalising brew at less than half the price of Non Solo Pizza or La Cigale. Coffee addicts such as we could hardly ask for anything fairer than that. What is more, even though the Nespresso capsules were not provided through the local supermarket chains, they were oh so easily attainable because not only could they be couriered out to us at a moment's notice, they were also to be found conveniently situated in their piece of prime corner real estate just down the road in Auckland city. Not just Auckland either because a month or two ago I could not fail to notice other corner placements in central London and want to say Regent Street and Haymarket but dare not in case I've got that bit wrong. The same will apply to Paris and New York I am sure. Yes indeed, Nespresso is everywhere and there simply to serve you and I! All very laudable but there is a slight downside we have begun to notice concerning our most favoured capsule - the Roma! At first Roma was all any caffeine enthusiast could possibly hope for - a brew with depth and darkly masculine appeal. Well, The Husband wouldn't have described it quite like that but for me Roma was distinctly sexy - at least that's how it seemed in the beginning. When Roma changed with our most recent purchase it wasn't even subtle. It was as if the original Roma had been stolen by Gypsies and an alien faerie Roma left in its place. There I go again with the descriptions but as far as coffee is concerned I can't seem to help myself. Even The Husband noticed it and commented immediately with, `Are you quite sure this is Roma?' In trembling tones I said, `....it tastes like shit doesn't it - ?' Could it possibly be that Nespresso have tampered with Roma? Or is it simply that Nespresso lorries tearing through the jungle nights in third world countries or wherever Roma (sorry, don't have all the facts) originates are being hijacked? OR, are we two, down here at the bottom of the world, simply mistaken? Ideas very welcome.
Thursday, 1 September 2016
So we all awoke to the news of a seven point something or other quake on the east coast of the North Island and throughout the morning many Aucklanders maintained they had felt it and some stated that it jolted them from sleep at the ungodly hour of four thirty. We both slept right through the drama due to a combination of golf at Botany Downs for Himself and a ten thousand step walk to Newmarket for Me followed by the Medical History Society monthly dinner. The latter was barely acceptable as a dinner of any note and the less said about the beef stew the better but the ten thousand steps was evidenced by the Fitbit HR, it which does not lie. Why was I not surprised by the seismic event, robust though it was and followed by a tsunami alert? Because the honourable and praiseworthy Mr. Ken Ring himself had predicted it! You can say what you like about Ken Ring – and many people do – BUT you have to concede that his earthquake predictions are uncannily precise. Ken featured as one of my most celebrated Holiday Seminars (DONT say you’ve never heard of them) tutors for ten years and the clamouring for his classes was legend with children booking in months in advance to be absolutely certain they could join his Maths & Magic sessions. When I persuaded him to share his knowledge of earthquake prediction with eight and nine year olds via tutorials we called Secrets & Lies, his celebrity increased. It’s a great pity that the grey men in grey suits who sit in the grey walled offices of Weather & Seismic Activity did not always see eye to eye with Ken because invariably his predictions are so much more accurate than theirs.