Archive for March, 2010

My Rock n Rolling Folks

I promised to use this blog to catalogue my attempts to mastering the art of photography. Well, this week’s photo is one of my most precious and beloved, but not one I have taken myself.

Despite the indifferent demeanour of both partners, it is a picture that gives me a lovely warm feeling every time I look at it.

The stockings-footed dancer is my mum Olwen, with my handsome dad John. They were snapped mid-twirl sometime in the 1970s, the era of Slade, brown and orange swirly wallpaper, power cuts and bin bags, and that baking hot summer when the tarmac melted.

Nobody is quite sure when and where this photo was taken, but that really doesn’t matter, for what it captures in a single frame is a headful of my memories of mum and dad jiving their way across the dancefloors of Shrewsbury and beyond.

I was born in 1968, so was just a slip of a tomboy through the 70s. I hated wearing skirts, girly dresses, dolls and looking pretty. Yuk. I was usually dressed in either a football kit (Shrewsbury Town FC, blue and yellow) or a pair of my favourite blue jeans with white piping down the side. I dreamed of scoring the winning goal in a Wembley cup final. I was also in love with Donny Osmond and fantasised that he would fall in love with me after presenting me with my winner’s medal. I think I mixed him up with Royalty.

My mum tolerated my tomboyish ways and even my lack of interest in housework, looking smart and having female friends.

But she hated that I was never interested in learning to dance. Saturday mornings, she would grab me by the arm and twirl me around and try to teach me simple jive steps. Without fail I would pull away, grumbling that I was busy watching Tiswas, and she would give up again.

Later that day she and Dad would put on their best togs – Dad in his brown flares and wide lapelled suit jacket, Mum in a swirly skirt and pretty blouse – and they would head off to the Saturday dinner-dance while some teenage slip of a thing would saunter in to babysit me and my two siblings.

It wasn’t the dinner they loved so much – it was the dancing afterwards.

Once the cheese and biscuits and pot of coffee had been consumed, along with a few drambuie and cointreau liqueurs – the same old dialogue would start up. It went something like this:

Dad: “Do you want to dance Ollie?”

Mum: “Did you have to wear that tie with that shirt, it looks terrible.”

Dad: “Ok, but do you want to dance?”

Mum: “Well, I’m not sure I want to be seen with you. You can tell you’ve been painting, it’s still in your nails.” (Dad was a builder).

Dad: “Come on, it’s Bill Haley.”

Mum: “You know I don’t like this one, it’s too fast.”

Dad (wearily): “All right, we won’t dance then.”

Seconds later, Mum (standing up): “Well, are you getting up or not?”

As I got older, I got the chance to go along on some of these Saturday nights out and see what happened next – and every time it would bring a silly lump to my throat. I don’t whether it was pride, or love at seeing them together, or perhaps an early understanding that it was important to REMEMBER THIS MOMENT…

For what happened is that Mum and Dad would transform before my eyes into this two-headed, swirling, twirling dervish, so completely and utterly in tandem.

Wow, they could jive up a storm. Mum always maintained a complete air of indifference about the whole thing – in this picture she looks positively disdainful – and pretended not to notice as the dancefloor gradually emptied and people stood around, mouths open, watching them strut their stuff.

Dad would turn and bend a knee, grab her hand and twirl her into a spin, then catch her, arm round her waist, and continue to spin with her held tight to him. It was magic.

They always got a round of applause at the end. I never once thought they were showing off – I was just bursting with happiness.

My Mum has never been one for showing her love publicly. If Dad tried to give her a cuddle in the kitchen in front of anyone she would invariably shrug him off or tell him not to be so silly – but on the dancefloor, despite her best attempts to hide her feelings, she oozed love for him.

The 1977 edition of the Guinness Book of Records holds permanent testimony to their jiving excellence. There they are, on page 223, under Jiving: “The duration record for non-stop jiving is 53 hours by John and Olwen Abbott at Tiffany’s, Shrewsbury, on 20-22 June 1976.” The record was stolen off them the following year by a Canadian who was allowed multiple female partners. The injustice of it still rankles.

Mum and Dad are still, thankfully, going strong. Dad is badly affected by crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and I think one of the things he misses more than anything is twirling Mum around that dancefloor.

They will have been married 45 years on April 3. Hopefully they will be able to get away for a nice break to a hotel which has its own dinner dance – and maybe they will be cajoled into taking another spin, for old time’s sake.

My mum and dad, John and Ollie, clear the dancefloor

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First attempt at Night Photography

bewdley-underarches, originally uploaded by Jane2020.

I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. I tend to hit the wall, energy-wise, at around 3pm most days, when I could happily crawl into bed for an hour or two, if only work and children would allow me such a wonderful luxury.
But with or without my “old lady’s nap” I come scarily alive come nightfall. I am literally wackaday wideawake, and often just as irritating as Timmy Mallett, particularly when everyone around me is winding down.
In the good old days BK (before kids) this second wind resulted in lots of late night drinking and musing on the state of the nation and how to dispose of Thatcher Thatcher Milk Snatcher, while listening to Patti Smith, Kevin Coyne, The Wedding Present, The Smiths and Otis. Nowadays, I tend to use this time to catch up on the ironing.
But last Thursday I joined some new chums on my Recreational Photography course on a night visit to Bewdley, a beautiful little town on the River Severn, just three miles away from my hometown of Kidderminster.
After some false starts, I discovered how wonderfully illuminating photos taken at night can be.
While I find my daytime photos tend to strike a discordant note when compared to my memories of the moment – the skies are never quite blue enough, the detail not deep enough – I discovered that night photography reveals hidden depths, hidden details and hidden secrets that I hadn’t noticed at the time.
This picture was one of my last of the night. I had sneaked away from the rest of the group on the riverbank opposite Southside, a beautiful row of townhouses skirting the water’s edge. On my travels I discovered a steep set of uneven steps leading right into the brown, mysterious water. Perched on my bottom on the penultimate step, I took this image. My tripod was lopsided and I hadn’t been able to get my remote to work so had to press the button to take this picture, so I know it could be sharper. At the time the reflection of the bridge was somewhat muted and barely noticeable, yet when I got home it came magically alive. I plan to pop back one night to try again.
I have been musing on my photography adventures so far with some disappointment. I don’t feel that I have progressed sufficiently. But then I remember that I have spent very little time actively seeking out photographic opportunities. Until starting this short college course, I had only once gone out purely to take photos – the rest of my pix have come about during day trips or family holidays. So I have now resolved to spend at least an evening or morning a week taking photos – and this blog is a good way for me to keep my promise to myself. It will be interesting to see how long I last. I tend to be a bit flaky when it comes to sticking at things…

Hello world! Welcome to my first blog.

I have two adorable sons, both with wildly different personalities. I’ll be asking for your advice on my “evil genius” younger son another time (is it normal for four year olds to threaten to slice your tummy with a laser gun?) but the topic for today’s blog is my eldest.

Aged nine, he is growing up into a really lovely little fella.

But he’s what my granddad would have called “a bit soft”.

He can be brought to tears easily by a harsh word, thinks Dale Winton is ace and one of his favourite Christmas presents was tickets to see Hairspray, the Musical.

He hates being “scruffy”, doesn’t like football because it’s too rough, is kind to his little brother, thinks the merest scratch is a medical emergency, likes to make sure there are candles on the table for tea, and still loves nothing more than climbing into our bed in a morning for a cuddle.

He takes the smallest criticism from any quarter to heart and thinks the world will end if he ever “gets his name on the board” (a warning used at his school for bad behaviour).

He’s not a wimp – far from it. He has scaled Snowdonia and other mountains several times, swims long distances like a fish, likes rock climbing, and will have a go at pretty much anything.

So why do I feel that I’m somehow failing to prepare him well for life? Should I be doing more to “toughen him up”, to give him a harder edge, to prepare him for life’s slings and arrows?

My hubby adores him as much as I do, but gets particularly frustrated at our son’s dramatic reaction to physical pain.

He only has to knock his knee or stub a toe and he reacts like he’s been shot and/or tortured! He howls in pain, sometimes throws himself down dramatically, and generally makes a big show. We have tried being sympathetic, but now we just roll our eyes at him and carry on with whatever we are doing, much to his annoyance.

If I ought to be doing more to harden him up (and I’m far from convinced that I should) how would I go about it? I don’t want to be mean to him, or undermine his self esteem by somehow suggesting he should be different to the way he is.

I would be so proud should he stay just the way he is into adulthood – a gentle, sensitive, kind, funny man.

It’s just that I also want to make sure he is robust enough to deal with life’s hardships when they come. Am I wrong to assume that because he is so sensitive he is also lacking in mental toughness and fortitude? And can mental strength be taught anyway?

Blimey, that’s a lot of questions! Your thoughts would be much welcomed!

Finally, as a case in point – last night he was offered the chance of chopping firewood in the garden and then watching Star Wars with his dad, or coming with me to watch a family friend perform in Carousel. Needless to say, we both woke up with the words of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” still ringing in our ears.