Leafing Through the Pages of Time

My love of magazines began in childhood. My mother bought stacks of them every month and passed them on to me after she had read them cover to cover. Titles like Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman and Home were the ones I saw most, with an occassional Photoplay thrown in, but I was also quite happy to get my father’s Mechanics Illustrated when he had done with it and filed his favourite projects. No one remarked on the clear definition of interests – things were very traditional then. At street markets we bought American magazines like Life and Seventeen (my personal favourite – how I longed for a pair of saddle shoes!) My mother loved Life magazine – a confirmed royalist, she cherished her copy with this portrait of the then Princess Elizabeth on the cover.

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So my main interest in vintage mgazines is mainly womens’ magazines from the 1940-60s. The physical changes are immediately apparent when you look at the covers – older magazines are thinner, smaller but more densely packed with text.
As you come up through the decades, the paper becomes smoother and glossier, the pictures get larger, color is introduced and, of course, the advertising becomes more lavish. So if you remove the larger illustrations and the pages of advertising, womens’ magazine have actually not increased much in text content.
But how that content has changed! Our mothers and grandmothers really enjoyed their magazines, and looked forward to every issue. Just skimming through a magazine of the 50s shows plenty of varied reading matter, from short stories and serials to feature articles.
The idea that women’s magazines once only contained recipes and knitting patterns is quite wrong. The target reader for these publications come across as outgoing, curious and eager to learn about the world she lived in.
In contrast to the self-absorbed reader of today, there is a noticeable lack of self improvement and self analysis. Problem solving was strictly practical – the advice columnists were no nonsense types who upheld strong social values and had little time for women who could not control erring husbands and wayward emotions.
There were the pages of recipes, but in the older magazines, these didn’t have today’s mouthwatering illustrations. The favored cooking style was cheap and plain. Foreign food was largely unheard of, and even Chinese cooking got little attention. The curry was a popular dish because it could be left stewing all day while housewives got on with the business of housekeeping without modern aids.
Crafts were simple, mostly confined to knitting patterns, crochet and embroidery – some of these are so pretty, I am tempted to learn to knit!
Toward the end of the fifties, the magazines started to include movie news and reviews and star stories, but nowhere near the salacious content we see today. The stars are never seen at less than their best and little reference is made to their private lives. In fact, one article strongly defended Hollywood marriages, saying the divorce rate in the star community was smaller than the populace at large!
Some obsessions seem to be perennial. There are long articles discussing the latest trends in child rearing, and the problems associated with motherhood. Did you think that diets were the prerogative of our generation? Wrong, women of the early 20th century were just as concerned with the state of their figures. But the ideal wasn’t a six pack set of abs, it was a tiny waistline. There are lots of ads for miracle slimming pills and other products that “magically melt away that ugly fat.”
No political correctness or consumer protection guarded gullible readers against these ads, but they were no sillier than the claims for miracle herbal “fat blasters” today.
The aim of slimming was just the same – to look as good as the willowy models in the fashion pages. But the bodies were very different – full hips, nipped in waists, and womanly bosoms – the ideal was the `hourglass figure’.
No wonder women of the sixties fell on the `sack’, a shapeless, waistless, baggy number that skimmed all manner of figure faults. But even then, one catty fashion editor remarked that it looked much better with a belt.
The magazines of the 40s, 50s and 60s were aimed at the homebody, to be enjoyed with a cuppa and your feet up after a hard day’s housework. If you want that kind of cosy reading today, you have to go to the `lifestyle’ magazines.
Today’s women’s magazines, with their lip licking celebrity gossip and pages of advertising, are clearly designed for the woman with nothing better to do than read them.

The Connectedness of All Things

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When I listened to A Girl’s A Gun (my daught Lucia and her partner Jack) perform Me and Bobby Mcgee recently, it was bittersweet – a song I’ve always loved, done so well, in a beautiful setting, but one that always reminds of the people I lost along the way. It’s a Traveller’s song, from the busted flat and looking for a ride, to the giving of all your tomorrows for just one yesterday in some place with someone long gone.

But then, as is sometimes the way with these things, a whole lot of other things started coming together – I watched Man on Wire with Jack and Lucia, the film of Phillipe Petit’s walk on a wire strung between the Twin Towers in 1974, and I heard the melody La Strada playing in my head. Petit reminded me of the romantic young aerialists  I met as a young girl travelling with the circus – especially one of the Renz troupe who joined us briefly in Spain. His reputation as a daredevil had proceeded him, and we gathered to watch the fabled opening of his act, when he walked up one of the long guy wires that anchored his high wire to the ground. It was superb, something we had never seen before, and the music of La Strada swelled all around us. My friend told me the music was from a Fellini film of the same name – “You must see it,” she said. “It’s about us, circus people, travelling people – it made me cry.” So did I, when I saw it.

The strongman, played by Anthony Quinn, cries too at the end, when he realises he has let slip away the greatest treasure of his life, like the singer of Me and Bobby Mcgee. In the coincidental way of things, I then came across an interview with Kris Kristopherson, explaining how he came to write the song. He wrote the song about a woman called Bobby who sang the blues, and he said that he thought of La Strada when he was writing it, and how the strongman ends up “howling at the stars on the beach’ girl he let slip away. Later, of course, Janis Joplin recorded it and any connection with La Strada faded away. But it became a classic song that meant so much to Travellers like me.

All of these little threads came together in a six degrees kind of way, weaving everything into the fabric of my life, and telling me the story of how none of the people we have loved are really lost, they remain in our hearts and in the music of our memories forever. Everything is connected.

The Reality of TV These Days

On the one hand, I can’t believe this is TV season Prime Time in Australia – on the other hand, it’s all too stultifyingly obvious. Reality shows, stretching as far as the schedule can go – weight losers, cooking losers, building losers in hard hats and neon vests – all bursting into tears and having tantrums at the least excuse.

One look at The Biggest Loser (what a perfect name for this show) told it all. The hulking trio of Rambo, Xena and the other guy strode into the fattest town in Australia assuring us that they were going to make it shape up. I thought they were going to do a Jamie – open a gym, drag the population down to the park for push ups and improve eating habits by teaching the denizens how to cook. But no, only the chosen ones would get the opportunity to be snarled at by Rambo, yelled at by Xena, and handed tissues by the other guy.

The usual bunch of self loathing fat people sobbed and self immolated their way through the auditions, while Rambo et al deliberated which ones needed to lose weight most. How’s this for a radical idea? All of them! Get them all out there running in circles in the park!

A first glance at My Kitchen Rules (which I have to admit I have watched before – I did love those two bitchy gays in Season 3) but I’m over lame-assed dishes, sob stories, ‘my dream’ and sniping Disney villains now. Watching someone try to slow boil duck in a baking dish full of oil (I think its called a confit) was utterly disgusting. I think it’s safe to say I have moved on.

But I don’t mind if other viewers love these shows and want to see them return. Fine. I’ll watch something else. Except that there is nothing else. What’s this deal with putting them on every night? What’s wrong with once a week? Maybe twice for recaps? But EVERY night?

Last year I would have chuckled and said ‘SBS to the rescue.’ Not only better cooking shows, but better TV all round. Until I moved into an area that doesn’t get the SBS signal. At. All. Luckily, I have also recently upgraded to a new laptop – one that streams SBS on Demand like a boss, not like my old laptop, which didn’t. So instead of people dropping their ingredients on the floor and sobbing in Manu’s arms (is there nothing these women won’t do to inhale his Frenchness?), I have been watching a couple of shows that have restored my faith in the better nature of TV programers.

In Archeology: A Secret History, Dr Richard Miles traces back to the first archeological explorations – and surprisingly, that’s not that far back. Ancients, after all, made the stuff we dig for and like today, didn’t think it was ever going to be worth that much (Barbie collectables, anyone?) and later societies just saw it there every day and didn’t think about it much. I was tickled to learn that the first true archeologist was the Emperor Constantine’s old mum, Queen Helena, whom he sent off to the Holy Land in search of relics that proved the existence of Christ after he shook the scattered pieces of the new religion into order. Nothing like slamming the stable door shut after you’ve let the horse loose on the populace.

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Dr Richard Miles – I love the way he loves archeology

In her 80s, Helena was a game old girl, toppling a temple in her quest, and bringing back a nail from the cross, a robe (not the Turin Shroud) and bits of wooden crosses. Irrefutable proof, now on display at the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany. They even made a solid gold container encrusted with jewels to  house the nail- imagine that, a rusty nail as long as a man’s hand given a solid gold container.

None of it proves that it had anything to do with Christ (unless there is a good sample of his DNA still to be found) but it is still astonishing to see an actual nail – the sheer heft and size of it – and imagining it being hammered through a man’s hands or feet. Dr Miles was pretty exited to be holding it, and well he might – real relic or not, it is an amazing link with the past. Good on ya, Helena.

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Neil Oliver, part rock star, part archeologist

In A History of Ancient Britain, another windswept and interesting archeologist takes the viewer back to the dawn of humanity and a Britain that was still part of the frozen tundra of the ice age. Neil Oliver has the rugged persona of a true Celt and looks a bit like Gabriel Byrne. The camera loves him a bit too much, but in between rugged close ups, there is a lot of fascinating information – such as the ancient Paleolithic tribe that made Nutella (by grinding hazelnuts to a paste to take on long journeys) and a huge tsunami that finally freed Britain from the mainland. Riveting stuff, can’t wait to see the rest. Both shows are also availble on BBC4 as well.

This is probably how I will be watching TV until the reality shows end. SBS On Demand has Iron Chef, as well. Bargain!

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I love this man!

Can there be too many mangos?

In short, yes! This is how our mango tree looked a few weeks ago.

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Loads of green mangos, waiting to ripen. It looked like the lushest bounty imaginable.

Do you remember that Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter films? How it suddenly threw off every leaf as if it had become extremely irritated with them? Well, mango trees seemed to do the same thing. The mangos ripened practically over night – might have been something to do with the big heatwaves we have been experiencing – and next thing you know…

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As if the groaning weight of all that fruit just proves too much for the tree to bear, down it all comes. We have been picking as as much as we can, peeling, cutting and freezing (mangos are good for the skin, by the way, my hands have never been so soft) but there’s just so much! The birds love it, we have had some delightful parrots in the garden lately, but even they have struggled to cope with the glut and there are half eaten fruit everywhere.

The rainbow lorikeets are so gorgeous, I have been trying to capture them on camera, through the back porch window.

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Not as close as I was hoping to get, they spotted me hanging over the windowsill with my camera very quickly.

Between us we are clearing up the mango glut – but there is still some way to go…

The ‘blonde angels’

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Anyone old enough to have swung on ‘Beaver’s Boats’ in the late 40s/early 50s around Dublin and Dalkey in the South of Ireland, might still remembered the dark skinned couple, Maree and Patrick (known as Beaver) who owned and operated the beautifully carved and painted swingboat ride. They might also remember the scruffy, cheeky blonde kid on the bike. That was me.

Dad was a traveller, born and bred. He was a respected man among the Roma, with whom he had ties. My mum, on the other hand, was not born on the road nor was she Rom, but she looked the part with her black hair and olive skin. They had one child, and she was as blonde and blue eyed as Cinderella. The eyes later took on a green shade, the hair darkened, but in  infancy she could easily have passed for one of those ‘blonde angels’ the gypsies are said to be always stealing.

However, I was a little blonde traveller and no angel. I hated wearing shoes so I stuffed the new pair mum insisted that I wear under a bush before we moved on. They were never found. I turned a brand new toy pram into a lumber wagon. I tried to escape to Narnia in a wardrobe and tipped it over (before I’d even read the books!). No one ever accused my parents of stealing me – for one thing, I was such a little monster that I could only be a traveller child in general opinion, and ‘blonde angels’ are ten a penny in Ireland. There’s no profit in stealing one when anyone can make one. Those vikings made sure no DNA went unblonded.

Of course I heard the stories. “My mum said I shouldn’t play with you because you steal children away.” My reaction to that was always, “Why? Who’d want you?” Our adults didn’t steal children, but they rarely got out of town without having to pluck their own kids out of a donnybrook with the locals. “Dirty Gypsy” was mild compared to some of the insults thrown our way. Even in my early 20s, sauntering down the road in my best coat and heels, I was accosted by a girl who spat at me and called me ‘dirty gypsy’ because she’d seen me coming out of the traveller camp.

What to make of that? I never understood it. I could read and write, I earned my own living, I was mad about clothes (although I would never have dressed like those girls on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, my dad would have killed me. But I do remember we faced a lot of prejudice and the silly myths that we had to contend with – like stealing children. Among the Rom, and many travellers, the bottom line rule was that no child would go homeless or unloved. If tragedy took one or both parents, or a struggling single mother couldn’t go on raising her child, someone else would take care of it.

Yeah, they bent the rules. They never bothered telling ‘the authorities’ who would just have taken the orphaned or abandoned children away from everything and everyone they knew and loved . The authorities never understood that the tribe simply cannot relinquish its young. It goes against every deepest instinct, which are to protect the children and keep the families together. But neither were they so jealous of ‘blonde angels’ that they just had to possess them. They had plenty of kids of their own, both dark and fair

It’s been hard to watch the hysteria building up over Maria and the Irish children,  because I was little blonde gypsy too. And I’m not the only one. It showed me that these old racist views have not gone away, they have simply become buried in the psych, and all it takes is a scratch to have it erupt again, like a boil, all over the innocent. It is still there, the stupid fear drummed into settled children, “Be good or the Gypsies will take you away.”

Is that really the only weapon they could think of to discipline their children? As a card carrying little mischief maker, I was treated with amused tolerance or made to make reparation for any damage or upset my mischief caused. No one ever threatened me that ‘the authorities’ would take me away, even though that was far more likely. Shoulder to shoulder, man to man and woman to woman, that would never have been allowed to happen. Travellers and Rom love their children, and the children of their sisters and brothers of the tribe. What happened in Greece and Ireland will take a long time to heal for those families. It truly is their worst nightmare.

 

South Bank Dreaming…

South Bank in the late afternoon is ambient and wonderful – drinking a strawberry smoothie from New Zealand Natural, gazing across at Little Stanley Street, with its left bank atmosphere and sidewalk cafes.

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The sounds we can hear are the bubbling little water fountains, and musicians performing at the Plough Inn, just a few metres to the left. One of my favourite songs – “Better be Home Soon’ written by Neil Finn.

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On the tables is a gentle warning against feeding the Ibis, the water birds that frequent South Bank. They can become a downright nuisance to rival Sydney’s seagulls if you give them half a chance.

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On the way back we pass the Plough Inn and pause to watch the musicians we were enjoying earlier.

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Sunday 1939

This story is in response to the photo prompt at Friday Fictioneers. The prompt is not an easy one this time, and I honestly thought it would be beyond me. But it stirred memories of stories I heard from people who recalled the start of WWII on September 1, 1939, and my father’s comment that war was “never did anyone any good and mostly it’s the children that suffer.”

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Sunday 1939

Sundays were quiet in our house. Usually, we gathered around the radio – father quietly reading the paper, mother knitting, and me busy with my crayons and drawing paper.

This Sunday seemed different. Dad’s paper was still folded, and mum’s knitting lay idly in her lap. They were watching me with my crayons drawing dresses for my paper dolls, as if it were the most important thing on earth.

Then I caught the words coming from the radio. “This country is at war with Germany.”

My mother gave a sob and grasped me in her arms. Outside, air raid sirens shrieked for the first time.

Next day, I was standing on a railway station with a name tag and a suitcase. I never went home again.

 

*Just a note to say that this did not happen to me. I am a Baby Boomer, born after the war. But it did happen to a British friend of my parents, who was evacuated to the country as a child when war was declared. Her home was destroyed in the London bombings, and her parents did not survive the war. I thought this was actually a story that could be told on both sides of the war, since my father heard similar stories from death camp survivors. Suddenly they would find themselves on a train station and never see their home again. As he said, it is mostly the children that suffer.