Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Letter 'N' Meme

I have been tagged by The Weaver of Grass with a letter. I have to write about things beginning with that letter. Gosh, I think the letter 'N' is pretty ghastly I have to say. Still, I've been thinking about it for a few days, so here goes:

N for Nureyev (Rudolf) A Russian ballet dancer who escaped the restrictions of the Russian ballet in 1961 when the Kirov ballet went on tour to Paris. As I've mentioned before, my father was principal percussion at the Royal Opera House for 25 years and I was lucky enough to see many performances of ballets and opera. Sadly I never saw Nureyev in person as any tickets were quickly taken by my Mother of course.

Nureyev was the supreme male dancer who believed men should be allowed to dance with the same fluidity as the female stars. He was 23 when he partnered 47 year old Margot Fonteyn in Romeo and Juliet. Luckily one of these performances was made into a film which I watched in 1967. I have watched it many times since. Fonteyn looks about 15 and the final pas de deux, where Romeo dances with the drugged (he thinks dead) Juliet, has to be seen to be believed. Fonteyn and Nureyev remained friends for the rest of their lives and he imparted a new vigour and youthfulness into her dancing, so expressly illustrated in that film of Romeo and Juliet. Sadly he died of Aids in 1993, aged only 55.

New Boots and Panties, Ian Dury and the Blockheads

From one extreme to another but both men were true exponents of their genre.

The year was 1977 and punk rock had hit the music scene like a sledge hammer. However, attempts to find a record label to publish the above completed album were at first unsuccessful. Dury's lack of commercial appeal and his unorthodox look worked against him even in the year of the Punk Rock explosion. However, it was released in September 1977 to great critical acclaim, not only in the music press, but also in the highbrow papers, a very favourable review appearing in The Guardian.

On a personal note, it was many years later (the year 2000) that I came to enjoy the music on the album. I was taking my Granddaughter Kirsty to London to see her Uncle Jason on his 30th birthday. I racked my brains trying to think of some music she might enjoy. Most of my CDs in the car were classical and opera. Not the musical fare of teenagers generally. Sifting through my then partner's collection, I came across New Boots and Panties and took it with us. Kirsty was so taken with it that we played it all the way there, a trip from Derbyshire to South London. In spite of myself, I enjoyed it hugely. Not so the party. The car engine blew up in London and we didn't arrive at Jason's until 10pm when almost everyone else had gone home.

Track listing

  1. "Wake Up and Make Love With Me" – 4:23
  2. "Sweet Gene Vincent" – 3:33
  3. "I'm Partial to Your Abracadabra" – 3:13
  4. "My Old Man" (Dury, Steve Nugent) – 3:40
  5. "Billericay Dickie" (Dury, Nugent) – 4:17

Side Two

  1. "Clevor Trever" – 4:53
  2. "If I Was With a Woman" – 3:24
  3. "Blockheads" – 3:30
  4. "Plaistow Patricia" (Dury, Nugent) – 4:13
  5. "Blackmail Man" (Dury, Nugent) – 2:14

When I left school, I should have gone to University and was going to become a teacher. However, becoming pregnant in the 6th form rather put paid to these plans. When my daughter was 18 months old I was looking for work. A chance call into an employment agency resulted in my going for an interview in the bank across the road from them, The National Provincial Bank, Catford, South East London. What was the only O level I had failed? Why Maths of course. However, I charmed my way into the job and, with breaks for children and running my own Bed and Breakfast for 9 years, that's been my main place of work. Of course National Provincial became NatWest and eventually they were taken over by The Royal Bank of Scotland. I worked in various offices of the bank, from Catford to Thetford, Norfolk. From Thetford to Sheffield, then to Bakewell, Derbyshire. Finally to Matlock, also in Derbyshire. We all know what a mess they're all in now. Not my fault, I left in 2002.

Auntie Nancy

I have known 'Auntie' Nancy for as long as I can remember. Not a true relative, she's one of those 'pretend' aunties but that didn't make any difference to me. She had a shock of dark auburn hair which turned completely white when she was relatively young. She came from Warrington and had the strong accent to match with a volume always on the loud end of the scale. She, like my mother and maternal grandparents, had hearing difficulties. She used to call me flower, then with a wink, she'd say 'cauliflower'!

For ages we called her 'the Smarty Lady' as she always brought us a box of Smarties when she visited. A real treat in those days. She moved from Warrington to Finchley, North London and later to a new house over the road from my parents. Nancy had a sister Bessie and they both remained spinsters their whole lives. Nancy was also often the chosen one to go on my Mother's jaunts to The Royal Opera House when there was 'something big' on. They used to go together to watch 'Tosca' and 'weep buckets'. Then, as a sort of penance, they would endure the 4 operas in Wagner's 'Ring' cycle. I was always a bit jealous of those outings.

She worked her entire life in the civil service and was secretary to 'Sir Charles' for years. I never knew who he was! It was a bit of a mystery and I always felt Nancy had a bit of a 'thing' for him. I remember as a small child watching her type at home and being utterly amazed that anyone could type so quickly. When I later learnt to touch type myself, the mystery was unveiled. Nancy also used to have a full set of Beatrix Potter books, which she read to us. I have loved those stories ever since. She moved back to Warrington to be near her niece and is now approaching, if not already 90. I haven't seen her for many years and must make the effort to go and see her this year. Time for some reminiscing.


Suggested by my husband Jim. What a huge world that word encompasses. I have always had an affinity with plants, flowers, birds and animals. At school I loved taking in acorns, spiky conker shells and their shiny chestnut coloured fruits for the nature table. Occasionally my father would find an empty bird's nest in a bush and I'd proudly take that too - a real trophy.

My parents always used to feed the birds 'save it for the dickies' they would say. To this day I have always had a bird table and fed the 'dickies'. When my daughter came to stay she said it was just like being at her Grannie and Granddads' house with the birds on the table and breakfast in the conservatory. That made me smile.


A section of nature of course, birds have been a life long love of mine. Jim, my husband, is also a great fan and was a member of a birdwatching group in Worthing, Sussex. His daughter Ali works for the RSPB but not at the moment as she has a small baby to look after. He and Ali went to observe and count nightjars for a survey Ali had to complete.

Jim then took me to experience the unique sights and sounds of these amazing birds for myself. At first one can hear the male's churring call. It was a little hard for me to hear but once I had 'tuned in' I could catch it quite clearly. Then the nightjar males 'clack' their wings together in a courtship ritual. It is such a surprising and noisy display - quite unlike anything I have seen or heard before. If you ever get the chance, do go and see for yourselves.

Narcissus and Nasturtium

I'm sure if you follow my blog, you will have observed my love of flowers from photographs of the garden here in Ireland. At the moment, the narcissus are already in flower, though there are many more to come. The first of the 'daffodils' their little nodding heads herald spring as much as the snowdrops and crocus. The second group of narcissus are a gorgeous creamy colour and have a wonderful scent that drifts on the air as you pass by.

The first of the narcissus at 'The Deenery'

I have always loved nasturtiums. At school we used to grow them in pots for a competition. My father knew the trick of putting them in poorer soil so mine used to have lots of flowers and not too many leaves.

I once rented a house in Derbyshire and planted the whole of the small front garden with every shade of nasturtium. It was an absolute picture and passers by used to stop and comment on them. In Worthing they have never done terribly well but here in Ireland they seem to pop up all over the place, many of them self seeded and they flower right up until the first frost. Some of the modern varieties have gorgeous variegated leaves and others trail for many feet along the ground with little or no effort on my part.


Whenever I hear the word 'Norway' it reminds me of the time I played the role of Anna in The King and I! At one point Anna is teaching the King's many children some geography. She is pointing out 'Norway' on the map and makes the children repeat the word. Then a big row breaks out because Norway and many other countries are shown on the map as larger than Siam. The children have been told that Siam is the biggest country and are angry with Anna! How the real Anna coped I cannot imagine.

In December 2001, just after Christmas, my then partner and I went on a mini cruise to Norway, Bergen being our main destination. The journey overnight was pretty spectacular in that we had the worst storm the crew could remember for 16 years! The boat pitched and rocked but although I didn't feel at my best, I did manage to sleep most of the night. I think there was one other couple at breakfast!

Bergen is a lovely old town with wooden fronted colourful shops and of course, inches of snow on the ground. We had decided to take a trip up one of the fjords rather than explore more of the town.. The air seemed so crisp, clean and fresh everywhere. The water was just as I'd imagined it, glass clear and mill pond still. The scenery was like a winter wonderland, snow coated all the trees and muffled every sound. The churches with their thick coating of snow on the roofs stepped straight out of Christmas cards.

We stopped in a small town and walked to a waterfall. It was very slippery but well worth the effort as most of the fall was frozen. Stalactites of ice hung down all along its width, the whole thing looked like a scene from The Snow Queen. It was cold, but not the miserable damp cold you often feel in Ireland or the UK. This was a dry cold and the whole snow covered experience was so so beautiful. I would recommend it to anyone.


Nylons, or nylon stockings, were one of the most sought after items of clothing in wartime. The first pair of nylons were shown in February 1939 and were a vast improvement on the previous hosiery for women, which was usually thick and wrinkly like Nora Batty's.

The first pairs of stockings in the US were sold at that time for $1,25 a pair then during the war the price rocketed to $10 a pair on the black market. Wartime pin-ups and movie stars like Betty Grable auctioned nylons for as much as $40,000 a pair in war-effort fund raising. That's a few million dollars now. Rumour has it that the US soldiers often carried pairs of nylons to make 'instant friends' with the girls they met abroad. During the war some girls used to paint their legs if they couldn't afford nylon stockings and even drew a line up the back of their legs in an effort to complete the deception.

Tights of course have mostly replaced stockings although many men still seem to find stockings and suspender belts much sexier. Personally, I hate the things, then I hate tights too.

Nursery Rhymes

Thankfully I didn't find out for some years that most nursery rhymes had their roots in history somewhere. I have always loved the catchy rhythmic rhymes and their odd sounding tales of blackbirds in pies, a big egg falling off a wall and Jack and Jill trudging up the hill, then falling down in a splash of buckets and water. How tedious to find out the truth about these silly songs.

Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross
To see a Fine Lady ride on a White Horse
With rings on here fingers
And bells on her toes
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

Before the suffragettes came along, women often had to us devious means to get their wishes. Lady Godiva was one of these and the nursery rhymea above refers to her story. Her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, imposed a very heavy tax on his people. Godiva was upset by the hardship suffered by the town's folk and argued their case with her husband. He listened at first with patience, then with increasing annoyance. Finally he offered her a dare - 'Ride through the streets of Coventry naked and I will do as you wish'. He was sure Godiva would never do such a thing.

Little did he know. Godiva rode through Coventry, naked but for her copper tresses, riding a magnificent white horse. All the town folk stayed inside to spare her blushes. True to his word, Leofric removed the tax. 'And she shall have music where ever she goes' probably refers to the praises heaped upon her when ever she walked through the town. What a girl!

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put humpty together again.

Humpty Dumpty was a powerful cannon (the sort you fire, not the church man) during the English Civil War and it was mounted on the top of St Mary's at the Wall Church in Colchester. The church tower received a blow which sent 'Humpty' crashing to the ground below. Naturally 'all the King's horses and all the King's men' were quite unable to fix the smashed cannon. If true, that little rhyme, still as popular today, would have been written in 1648 or thereabouts.

Ring a Ring a Roses
A pocket full of poses
Atishoo, Atishoo
They all fall down.

I was told that this rather pretty little rhyme which has children hooting with delight as they crash to the floor was actually written about the great plague or the Black Death. This would often start with cold like symptoms, such as sneezing and of course, fairly soon afterwards would lead to the death of the afflicted. A bit macabre.

Well, Weaver, I hope you feel I have done justic to the letter 'N'. When I began to think about it, I could have made a very very long list indeed, but enough is enough.

Did you notice I managed to avoid 'N' for Nasty Neighbours.


Carol and Chris said...

Oooohhh you got some good N's there my dear!!

C x

Leatherdykeuk said...

Super, Gina. Loved the history lessons. I didn't know the origin of Humpty Dumpty - thank you.

aims said...

Wow Gina! What a lot of work you've put into the letter 'N'.

I too loved the history lessons!

Sam said...

whats with all the code at the end? have i missed something, very good, could have been worse you could have got Z! X

The Weaver of Grass said...

BT If that is what you produce when you think it is a rotten letter then I can't imagine what you would do with your favourite letter! A fantastic list. A jolly good read. Loved the Norway one - the farmer and I went on the Hurtigruten three years ago, over the Summer solstice - right round to Kirkenes on the Russian Border. It was the most fantastic holiday - reading about Bergen reminded me of it - isn't Bergen a lovely place?

BT said...

Thanks Carol and Chris, glad you liked the goodens!

It was new to me too Rachel, about Humpty Dumpty. You live and learn...Nobody's mentioned the lovely Auntie Nancy!

Thanks Aims, so glad you enjoyed it too.

What code at the end Sam? At the end of your comment? The word verification? Z, hmm, would have been hard that!

I'm so glad I 'passed' Weaver! Your Norwegian holiday sounded fabulous. I would happily go back and spend more time in Bergen. It is indeed a lovely place, fabulous shops, too, but very expensive. What a good meme it was.

If anyone else would like to do this meme, just let me know and I'll give you a letter.

DJ Kirkby said...

This was really good, lots of interesting N's, loads of new things I didn't know too. I really like Ian Dury's music too. What is with all the wing dings at teh bottom though? xo

BT said...

Hi DJK. Glad you liked the 'Ns'. Now, the code thing is a bit of a mystery. It only shows up in Explorer and we use Firefox. If you view it in Firefox you can see another couple of paragraphs, the whole post doesn't really make sense without that last bit!! I'll try and see if I can edit it out and put it back, see if that works. Weird!

BT said...

I think I've managed to sort out the gremlin now! I've had to move Lady Godiva's story to the start of the Nursery Rhymes then cut and pasted my end remarks and moved them to their correct place. Phew!!

Ces said...

BT you have outdone yourself. A truly marvelous read this was and quite an interesting glimpse into your ever interesting life and marvelous past. Wow!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...


Very interesting and fun. I would love, love to go to Norway. I have done several houses for clients who are from Norway and I love to hear their stories and see the photos. It sounds like an amazing place.

BT said...

Thank you Ces for your comment. I have had an interesting past but most of it is unprintable!
Pamela, lovely to see you, it's so hard keeping up with everyone's blog I find. I would love to see more of Norway as I only had a glimpse myself. x

Son1 said...

Took me some time to get through this blog. Very good. Interesting.

I heard the other night that the legs were somwtimes painted with gravey browning and then the lines drawn on. Very sexy!

The history of ring o ring of roses is very interesting. There are different versions in many countries. Some say it was created after the plague. I always thought it was from the plague, it makes sense. It was supposed to be first written down in the late 1800s and the plague (black death one) was 1347. So the thinking is if this was around for several hundred years it is unlikely to have taken that long for a poular rhyme to be documented which makes some sense. There are also version which are not very plague sounding.

So as mots things in time it is a bit of a mystery, although I'm sure many say they no the answer.

Anyroadup, thought that might be interesting. Its one of them weird facts. Was on QI the other night. :-)

Thanks for making me think of non work related matters for 10 minutes. I learn more about you with this blog than ever. x

Sam said...

Update your blog woman!

BT said...

J, the gravy browning sounds revolting. Supposing it rained?! I read about another meaning to ring a roses so maybe there are 2? Glad I took your mind off work for a short while.

Sam, cheeky thing. Had no internet today! Just come back on.