Sophistique Noir White & Black Theme: Mourning Bracelets


During my late teens I lost my lovely Grandmother Elsie Margaret to a stroke. She died peacefully in her sleep, in her own bed – something I have lately begun to realise is very rare. She suffered from agoraphobia very badly during the last 8 years of her life, following the death of my equally lovely Grandfather John Robson.  I used to ‘grandma’ sit during this time, as my aunty had given up work to become her full time carer, and had little opportunity to get out and have time to herself.

I’d not at this stage of my life heard of the Victorian trend towards buying mourning jewellery such as jet. My grandma was not a wealthy woman but I was left a teeny sum of money from her estate. I decided to buy two bracelets with it, black enamel with a white and silver flower pattern hand painted on the surface.

Mourning Bracelets

Mourning Bracelets

I recall at the time my mother thought I should have bought ‘more fashionable’ jewellery – but these suited my particular style and my Grandma loved flowers. During her last year I was in my first at uni, a short bus ride away from her house. In between lectures I’d hop on a bus and go see her and aunty for a cup of tea. I always took her flowers. Usually carnations, but if I had a little extra cash I bought white freesia, her favourite flower.

Elsie Margaret during the 1920s

Elsie Margaret during the 1920s

When I read this month’s theme from the lovely Sophistique Noir was black and white my thoughts immediately went to these two seemingly insignificant bracelets. After 23 years of loss I still wear them at least once a week. Every time I do I think of my lovely Grandma and remember how lucky we were to have her as part of our lives. She wasn’t perfect – she was 4 foot 10 inches of pure temper sometimes (my mum being her 5 foot equivalent!), but she adored me and my brother. She loved the way my hair glows copper in the sun. I needed that as a teenager, when all around me were telling me how ugly red hair is and that I should dye it – something to this day which I have never done. She was proud of me in the way only grandparents can be, and the last time I saw her insisted on giving me extra pocket money because I’d just passed my first year at university.

So I dedicate this post to Elsie Margaret, and I will continue to wear my beautiful enamel bracelets for hopefully the next 23 years and remember a very ordinary and yet very special little woman.

Random Facts

Over on Facebook a friend nominated me to come up with 20 random factoids that people may not know about me.  Just did so, and thought it may be fun to share them with you guys.

1. My first name is actually Victoria, but I have always been called by my middle name, Jane. Even now I find it strange when I go to appointments and they call out Victoria
2. I am an April Fool
3. I’m a natural redhead but I have naturally black eye lashes and eye brows (which have a tendency to take over my entire forehead if left unchecked). This causes no end of interrogation from hair dressers etc, who are always amazed that I don’t dye either my hair or my lashes
4. I spent several of my early years living above a pub in Winlaton, a small northern village, where I suspect I lived on a steady diet of coke and salt & vinegar crisps. I used to love the leek shows, the cheese and pickles on the bar, the fact that if I snuck downstairs at closing time I could scavenge fish and chips that were always bought in for the staff. I was also small enough to get under the fixed seating where I used to find so much money people had dropped that I managed to equip my Sindy doll’s house with a splendidly awful yellow and brown bathroon suite.

The Crown & Cannon - my bedroom was in the odd corner above the red door

The Crown & Cannon – my bedroom was in the odd corner above the red door

5. I bought my first pair of Doctor Martins aged 18 and have been a DM whore ever since. Still can’t do heels, despite being a shrimp. I currently have 4 pairs, including my cherry red shoes, standard black boots, my beautiful heeled Darcy dancing boots and a long pair of patent leathers that are beyond comfortable.
6. I may love goth / rock music, but I also have the guilty pleasure of loving female orientated bubble gum pop which I sing frequently & loudly in the car (Little Mix, Britney, Christina, Girls Aloud, Rihanna, J-Lo, Enrique (he’s an honorary girl))…
7. Ditto Spandau Ballet’s back catalogue. My big brother took me to see them when I was 13 and just getting into music – my first ever concert. I’ve adored them since.
8. You all know I write short stories, but I am also a dreadful poet!
9. After having ME / CFS as a teenager for 2 years I find it difficult to stay up past 9pm on a night time, I crave my bed and can barely function past this time unless fuelled by alcohol.And then I get 3 day hangovers..
10. I am obsessive about how the dishwasher is stacked and frequently have to re-organise rogue items (Him Underfoot can get a little indignant about this!)
11. I LOVE doing surveys & questionnaires and having a good whinge to government / political canvassers, and indeed have just done a doorstep one this morning, for which I rather surprisingly got paid £25.
12. Chocolate may be the food of the gods, but it’s cheese I couldn’t live without!
13. I can’t stop buying inappropriate frocks on Ebay…
14. I always seem to get monumentally hammererd when my big brother David is in the building….! Though of course I take full responsibility for my prodigious libations..
15. I always swore never to have a Kindle but secretly I love it…
16. Roses are my favourite flowers, blackbirds are my favourite birds, so both are encouraged in my yarden (along with a world of weedage)

Mrs Blackbird terrorised by great tits!

Mrs Blackbird terrorised by great tits!

17. My entire life revolves around Miss Sally Robert’s feeding & walking schedule!
18. I hate scratchy sheets and use flannelette even in summer. And my bedding is always white, which is a pain with a black hairy dog in the building.
19. Rather surprisingly, I though both Dracula & Frankenstein were dreadful books to read (as were the two 1990s film versions of each to watch), though I like the story themes.
20. I turn into a screaming howling banshee if ever I come into contact with wasps. There is no rational reason for the existence of wasps, other than to terrorise me. Death to wasp kind!

Random, I know, but did make me (and my brother) smile 🙂

Interlude: Isabella & The Pot of Basil

I’ve been in a bit of a snit recently, hence the radio silence. I had to take myself in hand at one point and force myself out of the house. Many of the local libraries and galleries local to me are currently running small but very well constructed World War 1 exhibitions, so I headed to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle to see their petite but interesting selection of original art produced by artists local to my region. I particularly liked lithographs by brothers Philip & Robert Spence from North Shields, and an imposing post war picture by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevison‘s Twentieth Century that was based on Rodin’s Thinker and somewhat taller than me!

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

I like the Laing, I often used to lurk in there on my lunch breaks as it’s a pretty building and has a nice shop. I know very little about art, but I do like to visit the John Martin paintings there, my favourites being The Burning of Sodom & Gomorrah (which was a commentary on the hell of post industrial revolution factories) and Clyte, where she almost seems to float off the canvas with her own inner light (sadly not captured in a photo).

However, the picture that completely lifted me out of my gloom on this particular visit was one I’d not noticed before – William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil – it had previously been hung up high on the stair walls. Quite rightly it is now more prominently displayed in the permanent collection. It is absolutely stunning. The canvas is massive, I felt dwarfed standing before it.  I’ve seen the Titians at the National Gallery in Edinburgh – this for me actually rivalled them for beauty. The picture I am inserting into this post doesn’t do it justice – it absolute glows from the wall and the intricate details, such as the skulls on the post, are exquisitely rendered. It in turn was inspired by the John Keats poem Isabella.

Holman Hunt's Isabella & the Pot of Basil

Holman Hunt’s Isabella & the Pot of Basil

I just sat and admired it. Didn’t want to leave it. Actually wanted to steal it. Still do. It’s amazing how something painted over 150 years ago can still be so fresh, so vivid – and yet the artist will never know how it continues to reach people. A melancholy thought perhaps. But fitting to my current frame of mind.

Read the small print

Ice bucket challenge. All for charity, right? Nope – originally it was created to get out of donating to ALS, a bloody awful disease that deserves every penny it raises for research and support for people with this awful disease. Now ice buckets are being dumped from high on the great and good. Has the message been lost? I suspect so. Macmillan have rather naughtily suggested it was their idea in the first place. I’m not getting into the politics; what I will say is that I worked with some brilliant charities, and the ones that I choose to donate to are not the ones that give me the highest social media status.

So Mine and Him Underfoot’s current status to anyone even remotely considering “nominating” us for the ice bucket challenge? The House of No Seasons and it’s grumpy gothic residents are saying ‘BUGGER OFF’.
Computer Says No

Computer Says No

It’s great that social media can raise awareness. It’s great that it raises money. But the cynic in me watches people strip to their soggy short and curlies with no intention of donating, just to flex those perfect pecs, and thinks, no thanks. This mass produced self gratification just ain’t for me. 



Too much choice!

I am off on a writing retreat on Monday, to the beautiful highlands of Scotland to hide in a valley where I will have no access to wi-fi, internet, phone reception, a television, or any form of news other than the radio. There is a pay phone – it’ll be like going back to the 1980s and I am rather excited. Weeny Pink Suitcase is stuffed to it’s limits and laptop bag is overflowing, ready for a six hour train journey through some outstanding countryside until I end up here:

Moniack Mhor

Moniack Mhor

The Arvon courses are pretty simply structured: breakfast, morning seminars as a group, a light lunch, tutorials and free time after lunch then a communal tea and readings from the lecturers, a special guest, our own work and then finally, a reading from ‘your favourite book‘.

Book?! Singular?  Oh lord, you have no idea how much grief this is causing me.  How can I choose just one book from a lifetime of reading? I’ve had a book in my hand since I have memory. So you try to think strategically – what is a good literary book that I also enjoyed reading? Well, ok. I could choose the brilliant Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt, a short, beautiful tale of a young girl’s spiritual de-awakening during the second world war, and her love of Norse mythology. It’s the best book I read 2 years ago. Or Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, easily the best book I read last year and both of which I do genuinely love?

The Dig by Cynan Jones, the most beautifully written book I’ve read in 2014. About grief and badger baiting, with glorious sparse prose. I think its a literary masterpiece – but I find it difficult to say I love it. Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother had me revelling in the sheer technical beauty of her prose at the opening of the book (though the conclusion was not so strong).

So I’ve been thinking about the books that are perhaps not so perfectly executed but which hold huge emotional sway for me. There’s The Belgariad by David Eddings, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere. It’s the comfort blanket of fantasy books. I first read it aged 13. I still read it today. I love it beyond belief. But is it really something to read to a group of people I’ve never met who wish to write the next literary great novel?

There’s Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. I had no idea what to expect when I picked this up in a charity shop. I adored it – despite some reckoning it’s about 100 pages overlong and speckled with purple prose. It’s beautifully written, utterly tragic purple prose with a mess of emotions and conflicts twisting through the narrative. It’s gobsmackingly good – to me. It’s also a very fat book, but may fit in my back pack – just!

There’s American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I won’t list the many reasons why – but it’s the size of a house brick (I have the hardback) and will not fit in the Weeny Pink Suitcase, so relegated to the bookshelf on this occasion sadly. And I really can’t take a Sandman graphic novel as it may be a tad difficult to read out loud!

Then there is the wonderful William Horwood, for me one of England’s greatest living fantasy authors who gets nothing like the recognition he so richly deserves. You have to immerse yourself in his worlds, give yourself over to the pleasure of his glorious words that are interspersed with exquisite sadness. I suspect he’ll be making TPS – once I decide between Skallagrigg or the wonderful introduction to Hyddenworld, Spring. Both made me cry. Each was a rare treat that needs to be approached with extreme caution and a quiet place to lie down afterwards. And I’m not even looking at the Duncton Wood / Wolves of Time series – that just opens a whole new world of complication.

So, I’m going to allow myself 2, and then decide whilst away which to read from to other folk. Right now the two hottest contenders are Hyddenworld: Spring & Skippy Dies – both books provoked a strong emotional response in me, and both are beautifully descriptive books; my particular literary poison.

So that’s me done blogging for ten days or so. Will be lovely to go, but equally lovely to return and catch up with folks. Take care, all.

Private 48169

Private 48169.  My Great Uncle Michael Maughan Renwick. Died aged 17 in Ypres, on the 11th April 1918.

Until two weeks ago I had never heard of this young man. Never knew that my grandfather’s brother had signed up for the war aged just 16, lying about his age to go and be a man for his country. I don’t know how long he fought for, but I do know his body was never found.

I recently signed up for 2 writing sessions at my local library, connected to a competition they run for which they are seeking stories of the Great War. Up until the day I attended the first session I’d assumed I had no relatives who’d fought in the conflict. A comment to my mum about the theme of the session provoked the recollection about Michael, who would have been her uncle.  My grandfather – one of life’s gentle souls – never talked about the loss, although he would have been just 10 at the time. That generation simply didn’t discuss loss.  He and my grandmother – one of life’s feisty souls! – also never talked about the death of their only son aged 8 days old. Instead they were content to adore their two strong willed daughters who are 11 years apart in age. I am glad I’ve had the opportunity to learn about Michael.

Sadly I have no photographs of him, but I have discovered a few mementoes, such as where he is memorialised amongst the missing dead at Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium, a Commonwealth War Grave Memorial for those who fought at Ypres. It is a beautiful memorial – as Wilfred Owen would have perhaps said, Dulce Et Decorum Est. What is staggering to me is that he is just one name amongst 11,367 missing dead from the Great War who died in Belgium memorialised here.

Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing

Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing

I’ve written a story in memorial for him. I found doing so led to a very emotional journey for me, and I was aware that I needed to be respectful to his memory. We know so little about his motivations for signing up at the age of 16, for lying to become a soldier like so many young men did then. He was destined like both my grandparents to be a miner, in fact was already working in the pit and as an essential worker would have been exempted out of military recruitment even had he been of age. It’s been a strange couple of weeks, trying to imagine his journey, and the hopes and fears of this young man as he set out on what would be his last journey.  To imagine the sadness and the grief that my great-grandmother must have felt, especially after losing her husband – Michael’s father – at a very young age. Here’s an excerpt, though it is still in second draft stage and needs a little more development:

The names have gone, receded with the night sky as the clouds clear and leave the light of a thousand silver stars to play on your face as your breath becomes shallower. There’s mud in your mouth, on your face, in what remains of your clothing. There is no rescue. The white knights are all dead or diseased and their noble steeds are frozen in mortis all around you. The artillery is getting closer, the battle field has no name. Ypres, Somme, Maretz, Ploegsteert. They’ve all been fought; all have their unknown soldier whose earthly remains have simply been absorbed by the land they fought for. A thousand, tens of thousands of young souls forever lost to their grieving families.

So this is where I’ve been, lost in the trenches of another man’s war. I’ll keep remembering though, keep thinking of the sacrifices made by so many – not just then but of all wars, all conflicts.

And on the 11th April 2018 I know where I’ll be. In a forgotten field in Belgium, to show that nothing’s forgotten.

The Perils of Being Perky!

So it’s been a nice week, having Him Underfoot about. We have fun and we have punished our livers. On Monday he indulged me by coming with me to meet author Joe Abercrombie at Waterstones.  I adore his books – fantasy with black humour, wickedness, bawdiness and cracking battle scenes. And the greatest torturer ever written, Glokta. He is a supremely nice chap, very affable and he kindly let HU take this pic of us:

Something tickled our fancy!

Something tickled our fancy!

His latest book is Half a King, a fantasy coming of age, which he told me is the most like Harry Potter he’s ever going to be – which having read his early work is quite an interesting prospect – imagine Potter with whips and chains! So looking forward to reading this.

We’ve pottered and puttered and had a couple of powercuts (the pavement blew up in a neighbouring village which was interesting) that blew our fridge freezer up and generally just spent very pleasant time together despite my hayfever.

So we decided to go out last night. Now this is not a goth blog. I identify as goth, but I’m not hugely scene. We are both curious about our local goth scene and have recently started attending more local gigs. Last night we thought we’d try a local goth night.  I had a clothing crisis, as you do when you’re going somewhere new and are a little unsure of yourself and how you’ll fit in.  And I realised last night that I am so perky goth. I can’t help it. I like girly clothes, I like to look pretty. I do like big boots, but with swishy skirts. I like my hair to be natural and equally swishy. I’m equally happy with dramatic dark lips (last nights option) or cherry red – but black or dark reds really corpse out my skin – in a bad way.  And I like to smile at people and generally be happy.

So this night starts nice and early which suits us as we are decrepit. It also has an older age palette – again this suits us, both being the wrong side of 40. And the music was superb, a great blend of older classics (Sisters, Mission, Cure & Joy Division) and new music such as Ayria, VNV Nation, Abney Park etc. It was a quiet night, I was very happy and wanted to dance. And yet…

And yet, it was obvious that I (we?) was an anomaly. I was as welcome on the dance floor as a wet fart. At one stage (before a raffle for concert tickets), we were actually asked by a disgruntled gent ‘are you local?‘.  Now we are huge fans of The League of Gentlemen, but never expected to be asked if we were local people in our own home town!  HU didn’t want to dance, so I bounced up and perked away merrily, despite the glares. The 2 women on the table next to us began to glare at HU as I swished my little skirt and teetered on my boots about the dance floor (there were 3 of us up in total). The other 2 dancers deliberately blocked me out, so I just perked even more and had a great time. I quite obviously wasn’t there to score – I was there with my lovely boy, so wasn’t threatening anyone’s love interest or indeed invading their (mostly empty) space. I should say that there were some nice people (particularly one couple by the dance floor), and I didn’t expect a standing ovation and flowers when we attended, but I really do not like leaving the toilets to be greeted by a wall full of women whose faces were set to permafrost.

So I had a great time. And I didn’t feel threatened at all. I just wanted to dance – and I did (and this morning I have exceptionally sore toes). Would I go back? Probably not – it’s cheap enough, early enough and the music is brilliant – but I did not feel as if I was somebody that was welcome there, more like it was a private party which you could pay to join, but not be fully integrated.  Which is a huge shame 😦