Gus was 8 years old when he arrived at my door, he was supposed to meet a new owner but they refused to let him in when they discovered he was a Staffie. The lady from the South Coast Staffie Rescue had gone to a lot of trouble so I invited them in for a cup of tea, this dog sat up on his back legs and begged with his front paws and never left.
I hadn’t lived alone since I was 18, when he came into my life I was so lonely, but his gentle playfulness brought me out of myself. Working from home I rarely left my flat until he came along, he was so good at getting me out every day. They don’t deserve the reputation – as the vet told me this week – Staffies are very low down the list of incidents with Golden Retrievers being the highest. Gus was the gentlest dog I had ever known and if you are considering a dog please give them a chance.
He had a passion for football, and would enjoy playing with the ball unfortunately the balls would not last long. Once he heard the noise of a ball he would be off like a rocket. I once had to apologise to two very lovely rugby players when Gus took their ball and ripped it to shreds in front of them, thinking he was playing the game. He loved Christmas or Birthdays, helping people unwrap presents gave him enormous pleasure.
He had a lot of strength, and would often try and pick up the longest heaviest log he could find! He really liked to play fetch – we kept our local Pet Shop in business because frisbees and balls did not have a long life.
Gus began to struggle to go to the loo recently, I took him to the vets, they gave him some antibiotics and probotic fibre to help him. However things did not improve so he had X-rays and ultrasound under anasthetic on Thursday. Unfortunately the results showed his prostrate was misshapen and huge and the neck of the bladder was also affected – there wasn’t anything they could do to improve things. The vet said he was incredibly heathy apart from this one area.
I took him home and we spent the evening and the night together, I told him how grateful I was for him being in my life. I knew things weren’t right when he wasn’t interested in playing fetch – which was his favourite game.
As much as I wanted him around I had to do what was right for him. The next day I took him back to the vets, it was a beautiful sunny day so we drove with the roof of the car down, he sat up straight with a big grin enjoying the sunshine on his face and the wind blowing through the car. I stayed with him to the end, cradling his head and looking into his eyes telling him how much I loved him. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.
I am beside myself with grief – I have lost a loyal, gentle soul and life won’t be the same without him.
While I was browsing Pinterest I came across some Ladybird book illustrations that had me all misty eyed in no time! Those little hardback books have such an endearing quality full of joyful memories. This illustration was the first book in the Key Word Reading Scheme the mainstay of primary education in the 1970s. Just looking at the pictures brings back vivid memories of toil as the five year old me tried to decipher the strange squiggles -into words.
Despite never being read stories and books, once I learned – I became an avid reader -these books were beautifully illustrated – the series depicting family life of the 1950’s that was already seen as old fashioned in the 1970’s but had a profound influence on the children it was educating – including me.
Ladybird books were the start of my life long love of reading, seeing this picture gave me a tingle of joy – Beauty and the Beast was beyond my reading ability when it was a favourite, I scoured the pictures to decipher the story and that memory is vivid forty years later – The slight fear, the ugly monkey in fancy clothes, I could not understand why the girl in the story stayed with him. As an adult I can look upon this and see another underlying message, that beauty comes from within and rich people can make demands!
Another was Rumplestiltskin – he might have been a rather nasty character but I did feel that he was unfairly treated, by then my reading was much better and I have a clearer idea of the story. Imagine spinning straw into gold.
Another favourite was the Elves and the Shoemaker (is that where my love of sewing came from?) Those beautiful clothes made for the Elves at the end were so quaint. Ladybird had a love affair with the 17th Century all the stories seemed to be set in that time frame, Cinderella, The Porridge Pot and Sleeping Beauty.
Ladybird did not just stick to reading schemes and fairy tales; there was a vast range of Learn about books with subjects covering Crafts, Nature books to Science, History and workplaces. It is why they are such a valuable resource for social history as well as illustrating the development of technology, the book on space included a trip to the moon long before the moon landings of the 1970s.
I remember thumbing these crafting books desperate to try out some of the projects, only now do I see the dawning of my crafting obsessions! I still collect crafting books that are running into six bookshelves. My love of sewing began with Ladybird.
There has been a great deal of criticism regarding the depiction of traditional White British Middle Class family life and stereotypical gender role models in the reading scheme – which makes me want to leap to their defence.
In 1960s versions Jane was shown helping her mother while Peter was helping his father wash the car. The illustrations were updated and altered a lot over the years. It is evidence of the shifting attitudes in society – the 70s was a decade of sexual liberation – shortly followed by racial equality. It is unfair to judge them as outdated and bigoted – they are representations of the society at that time. Values change with every generation but that doesn’t mean to say the past should be papered over.
The most striking memory when I see these illustrations was an overwhelming sense of being an outsider. My home life was very different, my poor father was working full time, managing a home and bringing up two children on his own while being in a deep and profound state of grief.
I had an idealised vision of what family life was like for everyone else – a realisation that there was a big part of family life missing. When we had a new housekeeper, I remember a vague expectation that I would return home to a table laid for tea and that she would be wearing an apron, but it was the 1970s -they shifted in and out my life with no explanations leaving broken promises behind. Oddly enough – when I see these pictures that state of confusion comes to the fore strongly – I knew never to ask questions so spent my childhood in a state of uncertainty. All this surfacing by looking at a few images!
That sense of alienation is not the fault of the books, times were very different, single parents were thankfully, rare. Yet I cannot help but wonder if these depictions positively influenced me when I had children of my own: I wanted to be a home maker, I baked with my children despite never having done it as a child myself and I remember trying to live up to a rather unrealistic ideal – one that still resonates with me after forty years.
Can these books be responsible, I wonder, for the growth of the Vintage Movement so popular in our culture today? There are so many women reaching out for the clothing and lifestyles of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Vintage Apron patterns abound and traditional home making skills are popular again – is there a deep seated perception about the past that remains imprinted from these early reading schemes I wonder?
I ponder if we are any closer to getting the balance right with reading schemes, my children’s books were alienating for them – no familiar domestic family but with Asian characters dressed in jeans and t’shirts called Biff and Chip. I believe that while politically correct the reading scheme books did not ignite the love of reading in my children. Reading with them became the medicine of our ‘reading time’ I had a sense of unease that my children’s reading was so political. Despite reading some joyful books with them, Dr Dog was a particular favourite neither became an avid reader until they were teenagers with the advent of Harry Potter.
What cannot be denied is the enduring appeal – the pictures are so beautifully done. Ladybird employed talented professional artists – Harry Winfield and Martin Aitchison
I love the movement of the water is depicted in this illustration, and the changing nature of the fox is vivid.
Harry Wingfield was an artist who worked for Ladybird up until his death in the 1980s, he illustrated the nature books and many of the Look and See Series- they are simply beautiful. I have found memories of looking at those beautiful illustrations with awe – there was so much detail to explore
The small bite sized books contained beautifully drawn infographics, making complex subjects accessible to a young audience. There was no sense of dumbing down, science, geography, travel, technology the subject matter was vast.
Ladybird are celebrating their centenary this year as the publishing company was set up in 1915, you can see some of the illustrations at the House of Illustration in London until mid September.
I am sure I am not alone in the love of Ladybird – who are still publishing today there are many enthusiasts out there.
Feel free to share your personal memories of these delightful books, I would be thrilled to read how special they are to you.
I have been writing journals most of my life and have found them to be the best tool for putting life in perspective and order. While photographs record a moment caught in time, it is just the external captured for that single second – a journal is a record of the inner journey – thoughts, emotions, fears, joys.
It is how we experience our lives, how we reacted to what was happening and what was important – on that one particular day.
If you have not kept a journal – I hope that this blog post will convince you of that journal keeping is worth the small investment of time.
A journal is the best friend you can have
Make a pact with yourself – that you will never allow anyone else to read what you write and you will discover a sacred place where you can be yourself and where your soul finds its voice.
A home for your wildest dreams, your ideas, hopes and plans.
A journal is a gift you give yourself, it is your kindest, most patient listener, your loyalist companion and your tolerant loving confidant. It is a place you can go any time; day or night – where you are never judged.
Captured within the bound pages of a journal – is place of safety to pour out your heart, express your fears and record triumphs.
Those blank lines can hold all the emotions that course through your veins – the disappointments, the jealousy, the rage, once expressed, have a tendency to lose their potency. You can lay bare – the thoughts and feelings that could not be discussed with another living soul.
It gives your life perspective
I have been journalling over twenty years, there are a stack of books that represent my life so far, not the external – photograph albums but the internal – thoughts, emotions, reactions and lessons.
Life is fleeting, days fly by and before you know it years or months have passed, a journal is like catching each day, and preserving it.
At any moment I can travel back to a particular day and read what was on my mind. It helps me to see each day as a page in my book of life, one that moves the ‘story of me‘ – forward.
I have the photographs of my daughter’s wedding, but I also have my joy recorded in the pages of a book, the elation, the laughter, the pride – the preparations and small incidents noted that would be forgotten. Any day I choose, I can go back and re-live that moment of triumph- preserved forever.
It helps us to solve problems
Life gives us lessons, sometimes painful lessons; our journals can be a place where we can record how we react, but once the emotion is spent, we are able to discover our own inner wisdom. It can be where we reflect and explore strategies to handle similar problems in the future.
We can re-read the some of the darkest moments of our lives with the benefit of hindsight – the fear that gave us sleepless nights – resolved itself eventually.
We can read how we were knocked back by life – and yet, slowly, day by day, got back up and began again.
Hopefully – when the same lesson presents itself – we know we shall survive. We are able to see how much we have learned, how well we handled the situation – and how much faster we recovered.
Arguments and disagreements feel like monumental events – but as time moves on – they change, incidents can lose their importance. The argument with the woman you work with – years later is someone who’s name you had forgotten. The period of unemployment – was an opportunity to review your career path and a change of direction.
It puts you in control
If the past is still haunting you, a journal can be a place to re-write the story; laying events to rest so they don’t overshadow the present. You can record all the great ‘come backs’ you could have said, or write an ending where you come out on top. The job you didn’t get – can be a blessing.
Just the act of writing these things – helps us to release the grip of pain and regret so that they don’t take up any more of our lives than necessary.
This lovely quote from The Simple Abundance Companion always fills me with joy – words have a tremendous power to change our feelings, change our perceptions and alter the course of our lives.
When you write in a journal, that power is in your hands.
It makes you happy
We live in a world full of advertising – bombarded on all sides with glimpses on a better life that are designed to make us dissatisfied with what we have. A journal can be a place to record all the blessings we have which give our lives balance.
Happiness comes from within – recording just five things that you are grateful for every day – focusses your thoughts on what you have. It can turn the worst day, into one where it is good to have a warm bed, good health and something to eat.
It helps creativity
As the digital world takes over, written documents are becoming increasingly rare. Handwriting becomes an exercise in mindfulness, it slows your thinking.
The Artists Way advocates morning pages – three pages of stream of consciousness writing – it gives an outlet for all the thoughts running through our heads, clearing our minds for creativity.
Ideas can be captured, expressed and developed – all within a place of safety, until they are ready to emerge.
Journalling is accessible and affordable
I tend to use blank journals, a diary has limited space and if you are busy there are no empty pages to greet you when you return. Some days I can write night and morning, or I will miss a week or two.
You don’t need an expensive notebook, some of my early books were simply exercise books – you need something that you aren’t afraid to ‘spoil’.
Journals are your very own story – recorded in your own hand – who you are and the life you have lived.
Or here are some great books that will start your journey into finding your authentic self, click on the pictures for a link to purchase. (I am not being sponsored for these clicks!) they are all books that I have found useful.