RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: Childhood

Lighting a Candle to Mum

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To mark this Mother’s Day, I felt the best way to remember my Mum was to hand this space over to her.  Twenty years ago I asked her to write some memories of her early life and the following extract is taken from her own words.

Until I was fourteen years old, although by then we had electric light in the home, I still went to bed by candlelight.  My mother thought it was cheaper, so electric light was used only downstairs and then sparingly with low watt bulbs which made reading or needlework difficult.  To this day I ‘put out’ the light in one room before going into another.  It was thought very wasteful to have more than one room with a light on.

The house we lived in until I was about ten years old had gas lights.  The gas-pipe came down from the ceiling.  A delicate gauze-like ‘mantle’ was lit with a proper paper ‘spill’ lit from the fire.  A glass globe shade spread the light around the room and two chains enabled the gas to be ‘put up’ or ‘down’.  Usually ours was ‘down’ unless reading or writing demanded a brighter light.  And then one sat at the kitchen table directly beneath to obtain the best possible light.  The ‘front’ room had a similar light but was only used at Christmas. The back-kitchen had a light on an arm on the wall but was never used. For evening chores – washing up and the like – the door of the kitchen we lived in was left open and jobs were done in the gloom.  This also applied to bathing in the zinc bath on Friday evenings.  It was bitterly cold in the back-kitchen and sitting in the bath in the gloom the mice would run out from the pantry – which was the cupboard under the stairs – and the odd black beetle.

Ready for bed, a tin candlestick holding the candle, I had strict instructions to get straight into bed and blow the candle out.  I never did!  I used to play at making shadows on the faded wallpaper.  And best of all making ‘warts’ on my hand. I sat in bed, took the candlestick on my lap and tipped it slightly until the melted wax ran in hot blobs over the back of my hand where they set, looking – to me at any rate – like proper warts.  Once cooled and set I would pick them all off one by one.  Then my Mother’s voice – angry as usual – shouting up the stairs that if she had to come up to make sure the candle was out ‘there would be hell to pay’.  A quick puff and it was out before her foot was on the stair.  I often wonder if she ever thought of the hazard of sending a small child to bed with the naked flame of a candle.  At that time I would have been about seven years old.

When we moved to a new house, when I was nine or ten, there was electric light in each room and probably a power point , although no electrical equipment.  Even the iron was a gas one.  It was not until the Second World War when I was fourteen and my Father died in The Royal Navy and we had to take in ‘war-workers’ to make ends meet, that we finally gave up candles to go to bed by.  The bathroom had electric light but up until then we bathed with a candle standing on the floor.

I still keep a stock of candles in a jug – just in case.  J.K.

I too switch off the light before leaving a room and keep a stock of candles.

I will be lighting one this evening in loving memory.

Joyce Kathleen Pells nee Davis 1925 – 2004

Goran Haven 1963

                                                      Gorran Haven 1963

One Marshmallow or Two? The Lost Art of Delayed Gratification

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A desire indulged spontaneously offers little more than momentary, fleeting pleasure – a treat, whose value is briefly inflated before it melts with a small sigh across our memory.

That which has been anticipated, struggled over and procrastinated against carries within it our best efforts in the shape of an earned understanding.  The resulting fulfillment is part of us, radiating a deep and lasting satisfaction that the sugary goosebumps of a treat can never hope to imitate.

It is more than 5o years since Walter Mischel’s social experiment with four year olds, in which they could enjoy the instant pleasure of eating a single marshmallow or wait twenty minutes and have two. Each child was left alone to make the choice. It was a battle between desire and self-control; gratification and delay.  A seemingly simple tussle and yet the ability to resist impulse is a fundamental emotional skill, the foundation stone of self-control.  The children who managed to wait did so by distracting themselves, demonstrating perseverance towards fulfillment of a future goal.  Follow up studies showed that those who managed to resist temptation went on to lead happier and more successful lives than those who gave into it.

Our capacity to resist is under threat.  Modern life teases, tempts and torments, seducing us into believing that not only must we have the latest phone, the most exotic holiday or the best job, we need to be the first.  We expect to achieve with limited effort on our part – because we deserve it, don’t we?  We have conformed to – and now embrace – an era of instant gratification and our ability to satiate our constant demands has become the currency by which we value ourselves and judge others, the scale by which we perceive our success.  It is the market by which our economy thrives or dives, the treadmill updated from industrial 20th to digital 21st century. Gone are the days when saving up for, or working towards the object of our desire was not only necessary but character building, strengthening resolve, patience and the ability to endure discomfort and disappointment.

 Patience is a word out of sync with our modern society.  We are so used to our desires being  instantly met, that a certain complacency sets in and we struggle to endure the discordant sensations of wanting and lack.  Waiting feels an unreasonable request, we expect it not of ourselves but of others;  so we complain and demand like a two year old whose needs are not attended to.  The planning and  anticipation of fulfillment has become the new addiction, the skin deep ‘high’ satisfying little more than a momentary whim before we’re seeking the next fix.  Lasting satisfaction comes from striving, embedding our heart and soul within our endeavours, elevating the pleasure and value way beyond the instantaneous.

The art of balancing treat and toil is fast disappearing. Let’s refuse to settle for indulgent underachievement and strive for the infinitely more satisfying depths of delayed gratification.

And then enjoy a treat!  One marshmallow or two . . . .

A Sense of Un-Belonging

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Singapore 1966

Am I to be forever on the outside looking in? It has become a place – a feeling – so familiar, that I now fear the very thing I seek.  I carry it with me and yet it doesn’t have form, this nebulous  thing;  I cannot grasp it, and yet I can feel it’s elusiveness.  I have looked for it in my home, work, relationships and among my things.  I have few items from my family home –  they should evoke a warmth of feeling, a welcome symbol of my belonging somewhere but I find none, only a physical ache for something lost – no for something I’m yet to experience: an ongoing penance for daring to be here at all.  It’s not my destiny, it is and always has been my reality, the outsider as one country became another and I learned to count the number of schools in different languages.  Letters sent to best friends who’d formed new allegiances before the postmark had dried.

For a moment, I felt I belonged to something or someone, I wasn’t sure.  It was a feeling unfamiliar despite my one score year and ten. It was only later with divorce papers in hand that I realised I hadn’t belonged at all, I’d wanted it so much that I believed for a while only to discover I’d found something different, an identity that didn’t even begin to fill the void.  I’m trapped in this waiting game, on the outside while everyone else is within, strangely similar to my childhood punishment of being left out in the hallway while the rest of the family were in the sitting room with the door firmly closed.

And so I find myself on the outer edge of others’ comfort zones, kept in some kind of friendly exile as they perceive my differences.  Or perhaps it is I who perceive them, me that does not know how to fit in.  The roots of belonging are established in childhood and strengthen as we mature.  If for some reason this fails to happen, I have come to accept, at least for me, that it will never do so.  A sapling starved of essential nourishment, continuously uprooted and replanted in new territory every few years will struggle to thrive,  it’s energy channelled into mere survival, unable to blossom or reach it’s full potential as a mature tree.  It will never have the stability of it’s contemporaries, it’s roots exhausted by constant disturbance have little strength to weather the next storm.

Unlike the tree, I can choose my environment and find shelter from stormy weather and in the calm of my simple life I can thrive and flourish, untethered by my un-belonging, abiding by society’s rules but unbound by it’s conventions. There is a freedom to this existence from which I can emerge at my choosing.  In this existence I can create my own place unrestrained by outside expectation and dictates.  I’ve ceased to seek this thing called belonging – the need, the void is still there but I have learned to carry it not as a burden but like a warm coat.  There is now a comfort in not belonging, a familiarity I would miss.  I can finally embrace being on the outside looking in, not in judgement but with a welcome sense of reflective clarity that is borne by detachment as a gift.  These are the desired nutrients for the flourishing of creativity and unfettered freedom to blossom.

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Acrylic on Canvas 2014 Rebecca Pells

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