RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: 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

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Witness and Solitude

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To witness and to be witnessed is a form of acknowledgement of our own and others’ existence.  It is the sibling of ‘belonging’  identified by Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of basic needs as crucial to our emotional well-being.  Few are able to live entirely in the absence of either.

As I approach my mid-fifties, I suddenly find myself without parents – officially an orphan as one friend stated!  Neither uncommon or unexpected.  And yet I was unprepared for the sense of aloneness I experienced, even though I’m not from what you would describe as a close family either geographically or emotionally.  It has surprised me, since I live and work alone I’m used to and comfortable with my own company.  But parents or carers are our primary witnesses, they watch over us when we are young, validate our efforts as young adults and observe  from the sidelines as we progress through life.  And then at some point the witness becomes the observed as we in turn keep an eye on them in their advanced twilight years.

The threshold over which we take our first steps into aloneness is often experienced as abandonment.  Many will step back in fear and seek distraction, the company of an unsuitable partner or live at the edge of other people’s lives, rather than allow the space and time for a solitary life to flourish.  Alone we are faced with nothing but our own reflection, our repetitive inner voice, no-one to be impatient with but ourselves!  Tired of our own story, we eventually begin to tell it in a different way, we no longer need to filter it for the ears or expectations of others and we can live our life as a question rather than a fiercely guarded certainty.  Sooner or later a fresh complexion begins to appear, the gentle re-weaving of our inner and outer forms.

In the 21st century to seek solitude is considered odd, others feel rejected and offended by it.  But to allow ourselves – and others – to be alone, whether for hours or days or weeks, is to live something that feels like a choice again.  In this space we can experience our own truth, not to sink into despair of a mis-spent past or regret a decision made long ago, but to inhabit the space in a fresh way, to navigate the movable frontier between what has been and what we are about to become.  Self-knowledge allows us to adopt the manner of the fledgling novice once more, humble and gracious in our attention to ourselves, others and life.  It is good to remove ourselves from time to time from the chaotic flow of a world which never stands still, to find our place within it once more.

Painting ‘Field of Dreams’ Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Heirloom Bouquet

Bouquet of Heirlooms

Heirloom Bouquet Rebecca Pells 2015

Never have so many owned so much as we do in the 21st century.  Consumerism is spreading like a virulent disease infecting huge numbers of people.  Far from fleeing and looking for an antidote it’s welcomed by many who seek to catch the bug and embrace it.

From where does our love affair with the inanimate come?  The first objects were practical and necessary – clothes, tools and utensils and then excess commodities which could be traded in exchange for ‘foreign’ goods brought wealth and the ability to purchase more. But from earliest times we have evidence of purely decorative items such as jewellery and ornaments, artifacts which quickly became an indication of status or something cherished.  Items became integrated and entwined in our personal history handed down from generation to generation, a familial wave passing through our lives.

 Although many of us today continue to judge our success and that of others by what we own, abundance seems to have changed this relationship – things are replaced with an up to date version or simply because we have become bored and enjoy the fleeting satisfaction of acquiring the new. Many of us seek an identity  – or perhaps seek to escape from ourselves  – through the things we clutter our lives with.  Barely grasped and with little time for emotional attachment, we no longer truly inhabit the gift of inheritance. Perhaps that is the way it should be, the inanimate remaining transient, pleasing one moment and forgotten the next.

  However, there is a comfort in the familiar, in the multilayered existence of inheritance; a stabilizing, grounding sense of belonging which comes from things with which we grew up, the landmarks by which we navigated our early years.  They are the threshold between our history and the present, between what has been, what is and what is yet to come.  A kind of immortality we cannot ourselves achieve.  Often they are not of much monetary worth, but offer the far greater value of connection.

In the above painting the jugs are from a collection of my mother’s, the string of pearls my grandmother’s and the oak cabinet on which they rest from my great grandparents home.  By contrast, the flowers arranged in a mass produced vase offer a metaphor of contemporary ownership, admired for a short time before fading and being discarded to make way for the fresh.

My Great Grandfather Arthur Pells  1851-1927

My Great Grandfather Arthur Pells 1851-1927

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