Saturday 18 November 2017 06.45 GMT Snapshot: Incredible views from the chemical toilet This photo of my brother, taken one summer in the mi
Snapshot: Incredible views from the chemical toilet
This photo of my brother, taken one summer in the mid-60s, brings back memories of annual family holidays on a farm in Awliscombe, Devon. We spent two weeks there every year for many years, with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
We would be woken very early in the morning to be bundled into the car. In those days, the journey from London to Devon could not be done on motorways and the drive took all day. After a few hours on the road, we would unwrap cold, hard-boiled eggs, which used to stink out the car, and bread and butter. Whoever was in the passenger seat was responsible for holding the radio and turning it to try to maintain a decent signal as we drove along. We would play pub cricket on the journey and, as we neared the Devon coast, it was a race to see who would be the first to see the sea.
Access to the cottage we stayed in was via one of two gates (we knew them as the top and bottom gates). My brother and I took it in turns to open and close the gates and ride on the car bumper to the cottage. I once jumped on the bumper to open the bottom gate, but my father changed his mind and drove two miles round the country lanes to the top gate with me hanging on. Imagine his surprise when I jumped off at the end of the journey.
We had an outside loo with a chemical toilet, an Elsan known affectionately as Elsie, which we had to empty, digging the contents into the garden. I remember having to do a visual sweep with my torch to make sure there were no big spiders in there. With the toilet door open, there was an incredible view; we had competitions to see who could count the most fields. We played french cricket on the front field and badminton in the back garden. Each morning, one of us children would get up early to help the farmer with the milking and bring back warm, fresh milk for breakfast.
They were idyllic holidays and the wealth of happy memories still amuse us at family gatherings.
Playlist: Singing in the kitchen with Mum
Chorus from Mendelssohn’s Elijah
“Lift thine eyes … to the mountains, whence cometh help / Thy help cometh from the lord, the maker of heaven and earth / He hath said thy foot shall not be moved / Thy keeper will never slumber.”
It is an ordinary summer afternoon in the 60s and I am in my mid-teens. My mother and I are standing in our tiny kitchen doing the washing up. We are singing this beautiful piece together, she on the second soprano line and I on the alto, as these are the parts we know, so some of its beauty – the first soprano – has to be supplied by our imaginations.
From my factory-worker father (who left school at 13) and clerical-worker mother (who left at 14), I had learned to love classical music. Dad’s taste was for opera and Mum had sung in a good amateur choir. Our family life was not always happy, but musical experiences, both singing and listening, stand out as good times.
I had recently taken part in a performance of Elijah with a local church choir. I was the youngest member and it felt like a rite of passage, being one of the grownups.
Adding to the thrill was the fact that we had a real opera star – Rae Woodland, a native of our town – as one of the soloists.
Over the course of my life, I have enjoyed Mendelssohn’s powerfully dramatic oratorio many times, both in the audience and as a chorus member. It was the concert I went to just days before my first child was born (she enjoyed the Baal choruses, if the kicking was anything to go by); I heard it sung in German in an exciting performance in a tiny village in the Swiss Alps; and Lift Thine Eyes was the music we played as Mum’s coffin was carried into the crematorium.
It sounds mundane to say that this beautiful song, promising help in times of trouble, reminds me of standing at the kitchen sink with Mum, but what I treasure is its power to recreate the happy feeling I had singing it with her.
We love to eat: Frizzy Lizzy
Ingredients (serves four)
2 x 135g packs of jelly (flavour of your choice)
250ml boiling water
1 x 350ml tin of evaporated milk
Hundreds and thousands
Melt the jelly in the boiling water. Whisk the evaporated milk until frothy. Slowly add the melted jelly in a thin stream and whisk to combine. Chill until set and decorate.
“This is Frizzy Lizzy,” announced Jean, placing a pink-filled bowl on the table in front of us. My two brothers and I dug our spoons into a glorious, sweet, frothy concoction that dissolved on our tongues and just cried out to be squeezed through our teeth, which we did with every mouthful, roaring with laughter at each other’s sticky faces.
Jean, or Beanie, as we called her, had helped to look after us for as long as we could remember; we were staying with her in her tiny Yorkshire cottage while our parents were away. She had no interest in proper cooking, but she loved baking, so for two weeks we pretty much lived on cakes, pancakes, drop scones and Frizzy Lizzy.
But time flew by and we all grew up. Beanie retired and moved down south to live with her sister; we lost touch until, one afternoon, almost 30 years later, I went to visit her. She was nearly 80 by this time, but just as warm and kind as she had always been. She had spent all day making a special tea in anticipation of my visit; sticky rice crispy cakes and fairy buns with little sponge wings and buttercream icing, the things I loved most as a child. The star of the show, though, was a little glass bowl full of candy-pink Frizzy Lizzy, light as a feather and smothered in hundreds and thousands.
I was instantly transported to those carefree days of my childhood and, because I didn’t have to share it with my brothers for once, I ate the whole bowl. Oh, and yes – in memory of my six-year-old self, and because it is almost impossible not to, I squeezed it through my teeth.
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