Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

#48 Life, death and nostalgia at the car boot sale

In Gratuitous nostalgia, midlife, Tales on June 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

I thought a car boot sale was just about getting up too early on a Saturday and making a quick bit of cash; turns out they are a philosophically-charged hotbeds of self-examination, rites of passage, relationship diplomacy, and even life and death.

Having just filed the last tranche of the 40,000 or so words required for the forthcoming book Welcome to Midlife, which I’ve co written with the far more literary than myself John O’Connell, (published by Short Books this autumn), I thought I’d make a bit of much needed cash at the school car boot. (Writing books is a privilege, but it pays bugger all.) Read the rest of this entry »

#47 Somewhere between Station to Station and Low

In Jobseeking on May 31, 2010 at 10:38 pm



What can I say? It’s been an incredible journey. I’ve learned so much.

For those lovely people who misunderstood and thought  I actually got the job mentioned three posts ago – I didn’t, or I should say haven’t so far, only interviews, but that’s a start. Last week I made it to the third and final round of interviews, gave it my best shot (ok, messed up the second interview but really went for it on the third). Even managed to come up with three passable ‘interview outfits’ out of a rather limited wardrobe/budget. Read the rest of this entry »

#35 School dinners

In Food & Drink, Gratuitous nostalgia, Kids on March 10, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I wouldn’t exactly say I’d do anything for a free lunch, but this week I have set the bar pretty low.

Our primary school issued an invitation to parents to come and sample the school dinners to see what their children were eating.  It was free. I went. Read the rest of this entry »

#31 A call for a calling card revival

In Homeworking on February 10, 2010 at 11:29 am

If you don’t actually have a job, do you need a business card? Successful freelance friends have boasted that they’ve never bothered. But that was when there was work around and business to be had. Now we need to use every means available to remind people of our existence: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and, for instances of social faceworking*, cards.

My first ever own-brand business cards arrived yesterday, designed and ordered online at Moo, a really useful printing service who do also do stickers, postcards, greetings cards, etc, but who insist on sending cute emails from ‘Little Moo’ apologising for only being a piece of software but letting you know that Big Moo will be posting your cards to you forthwith. Nevertheless, I was so pleased with my modern, multicoloured cards, that I even splashed out on the iPod-esque acrylic holder:

The answer, perhaps, in the absence of actual business, is to revive the practice of the calling card or carte de visite, popular in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, and upon which many a plot device has been known to hinge. [Viz the duplicitous behaviour of Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility.] I for one love the idea of arriving unannounced at someone’s house, presenting my card to their manservant, and awaiting a response. I understand that how it worked was that if the gentleman or lady upon whom you had called subsequently dispatched their own card, then that could be seen as an invitation for a more prolonged visit. Perhaps even a cup of tea.

There were all sorts of unspoken codes governing the size and appearance of calling cards (for example, unmarried men used smaller cards) and a system of turning down different corners to signify particular reasons for the visit. This is all discussed most marvelously in  The Art of Manliness. A sort of American version of The Chap. It in turn quotes from the 1879 book by John H Young ‘Our Deportment – or the manners, conduct and dress of the most refined society’:

‘To the unrefined or unbred, the visiting card is but a trifling and insignificant bit of paper; but to the cultured disciple of social law, it conveys a subtle and unmistakable intelligence. Its texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of leaving it combine to place the stranger, whose name it bears, in a pleasant or a disagreeable attitude even before his manners, conversation, and face have been able to explain his social position.’

Another useful site, How To Do Just About Everything, refers to a 1893 New York Times article on the subject, quoting:

‘a society woman’s calling card follows her everywhere she goes, remains when she is gone, and is the recognized representative in the payment of social debts when personal attention is impossible.’

And celebrated American etiquette guru Emily Post had plenty of rules on the importance, and appropriate usage, of cards.

A quick Google has also thrown up the fascinating snippet that the calling card underwent a brief revival amongst Chicago gang culture of the 1970s and ’80s where for a time, leaving a calling card was not actually a metaphor.

* ‘social faceworking’ is one of the made-up buzzwords that comes with your business card order as a challenge to slip authoritatively into conversation. I told you they were cute.

#28 Orchids on Your Budget

In Gratuitous nostalgia, Save cash on January 27, 2010 at 10:24 am

Browsing in Foyles the other day, I came across this charming little book in the ‘thrift’ section. It preempts HTBUTWCW by some 70 years.

First published in 1937, Orchids on Your Budget (subtitle: ‘Live smartly on what you have’) told Depression era New Yorkers how to economise on money, without economising on style.

It was displayed alongside some other reissued facsimiles (this seems to be a trend – presumably a cheap way for publishers to capitalise on works that are now out of copyright – but a nice trend) on frugal living. Some of you may be interested in Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps by Claude Goodchild and Alan Thompson (first published in 1941 and retailing at 1/6) which features step by step photos of how to kill and skin a rabbit, or Richard Mabey’s beautifully illustrated 1972 foragers’ bible Food for Free.

Back to Manhattan ladies… Written by Marjorie Hillis, who had already made her name with the best-selling Live Alone and Like It, ‘Orchids…’  is packed with sage advice on matters such as: how to assemble a smart wardrobe (the key is some cheap house-frocks, a smart black dress, and shoe-trees); downshifting your lifestyle; getting a job; the importance of face cream; and whether or not you can afford a husband.

She writes:

‘An astonishing number of the people you know, probably including yourself, insist that they have to do a lot of economising… This isn’t because of the size of their incomes, or the lack of size; it’s because they haven’t as much money as they wish they had, which would be true no matte what their income… What most people don’t concede is that, with a little planning and a dash of ingenuity, they might have what they want.’

‘A slight financial pressure sharpens the wits, though it needn’t sharpen the disposition. But it takes an interesting person to have an attractive ménage on a shoestring and to run it with gaiety and charm.’

‘It’s not difficult to have fun out of economising, both because of the sense of accomplishment it gives you, and because everybody else is doing it too. Today, in the smartest houses, you are apt to find ten-cent-store glass mixed with Crown Derby China and the hostess boasting about it. Ladies of unlimited means have themselves a time in bargain basements and second-hand shops and tell about it to anyone who will listen. They tell, because that kind of shopping takes wit instead of money, and wit is a far less common commodity.’

‘There are economies that nobody can afford unless they are so poor in purse and spirit that they don’t care much anyway, and there are forms of thrift that are so expensive that not even a millionaire can pay for them. First and foremost among these little errors is the extravagance of Letting Yourself Go.’

‘It is a regrettable, but undeniable, fact that the most delightful people are seldom big money makers.’

‘The point nowadays is not merely to know the cost of a thing and whether or not you have the money to pay for it, but whether it’s worth the price to you.’

‘Any wardrobe that doesn’t have a dress that makes you feel as pretty an elegant as you can possibly feel is a wash-out.’

I could go on, but the book is quite short and I’d end up typing out most of it. The crux is that, as Marjorie counsels, there is no social stigma in not having money, and ‘budgeting’ doesn’t have to mean giving up hope, or nice cheese, or orchids (ok, perhaps during periods when things are really tight), it is about thinking about what really matters to you, and employing a little intelligence, ingenuity and effort to balancing your life as well as your budget.

The smarter lady, in both senses of the word, will, she says, relish the challenge.

#20 Family

In Family, Save cash on December 24, 2009 at 12:25 am

At this time of year, it is customary to think of one’s family. Personally, I think of my Spinster Aunt and Glasgow Granny whose distinctive approach to gift giving is legendary among my siblings and cousins.

When we were children, the Christmas cards we received were traditionally the fronts of those from previous years detached from the bit with the signature of their original giver, and re-imagined in postcard form. Granted, my six year old recycled 2008’s Christmas cards this year, but at least he cut them up and made his own collages. And besides, I don’t give him any pocket money so he can’t buy his own cards. The more charitable might see my relatives as being ahead of their time, a vanguard of the eco war; more likely it was just a case of good old Scottish tightfistedness.

But it was their presents that were truly memorable. Usually these were free gifts obtained with cereal or un-pc pots of jam; occasionally they did splash out and one year we all received a book of second-class stamps. I didn’t use one.

This year I have become an ardent admirer of the art of belt-tightening, but my aunt and grandmother’s rational for their pursuit of it is less clear. Though by no means wealthy in the Tory-shadow-cabinet sense of the word, they were nevertheless a solidly middle class mercantile family who bought shares, sent their children to public school (at least until my father disgraced the family name and was swiftly removed), spent time in the colonies, had a billiard room, and ran an account at RW Forsyth. [Needless to say, two generations of layabout writers and theatrical types has ensured rapid downward mobility.]

And yet they never made home improvements or even installed central heating (which has meant the family home is now a rare example of perfectly preserved Edwardian domestic architecture, barely habitable but a fascinating historic record), bought job lots of everything when they saw it on special offer (even shoes) resulting in 50% of the food in their cupboard being well past its sell-by date (in particular a tin of WWII powdered eggs that by now must surely be worth something), and sat in one room of the house all evening to conserve electricity (in fact I doubt that billiard table was ever used for more than storing wine). Even pushing 77, my Aunt still travels by overnight coach rather than splash out on a train ticket, and part of her Christmas present this year is a laminated picture of herself and five loose crackers left over from a charity dinner. And I had to go to meet her to save on postage, though to be fair, she did buy me a sandwich.

I suppose the lesson is ‘look after the pence, and the pounds will look after themselves’. Plus, contrary to popular belief, expenditure on education does not equate to having lots of ready cash (all available cash having been spent on the education). Or perhaps it’s just that spending money was considered vulgar. My late father always said you could tell how posh someone was by the state of their furniture – the more battered the armchairs, the more old school their owner. A new three-piece suite, on the other hand, was a sure sign of being nouveau riche. Maybe that’s why we never got a new sofa.

My mother’s side of the family, on the other hand, lived in a (nice, neat) council house with an outside toilet and a tin bath (as opposed to an Edwardian bathroom suite with a shower that sprayed from the sides). Their husbandry took the form of growing their own vegetables, making their own cupboards, knitting their own clothes. This grandfather, Andover’s most sought after painter & decorator, didn’t trust banks, passed up the opportunity to start his own business, and refused to buy his own house when the council offered. Their currency of choice was Co-op stamps, which kept them in electrical appliances, and instead of a billiard room they had a shed. Whenever we went to stay for our annual summer holiday, we’d eat fluffy potatoes and succulent green beans; there’d be cake at tea time, and every Christmas (until arthritis got the better of my gran) I’d get a lovingly knitted jumper and a hand painted toy or picture.

Though as a child I obviously favoured the family who gave me the best presents, my older self has learned to be less judgemental, to accept that people have complex reasons for behaving as they do and to love them anyway, to realise that they all loved us equally, and to smile fondly at my relatives’ idiosyncrasies while exploiting them for anecdotal purposes.

#9 (Don’t) watch daytime TV

In Down and Out, Homeworking on November 9, 2009 at 11:17 pm


There are certain things that should only be done after dark, and watching TV is one of them. Yet when I left full time employment to go freelance (it seemed like a good idea at the time), the most freque

nt comment was how much Daytime TV I’d be watching.

To date, I’ve never actually watched daytime TV, except at Christmas. There seems something slightly sordid and shameful about it. But in the interests of bloggery, I decide to give it a try, hunkering down in the sitting room after school drop off, but closing the shutters first in case passers by look in and see me. Read the rest of this entry »