Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Semi Detached in Stanmore Middx

Miller residence 1947/1964 
 48 St Andrews Drive, Stanmore, Middx is my idea of a living hell. The whole family hated it the moment we moved in in 1947 and it took 17 years for the three of us to escape. None of us looked back! It was the most unpleasant 17 years of my life and all our neighbours felt exactly the same way. They could not wait to escape either. These houses deserve to be bombed and Hitler missed.

Admitedly the Google Maps screen shot makes it look worse today than when we moved in in 1947. Then a line of mature elms embellished the street which was on a steep hill and Lang the builders had given every house an ornamental tree and hedge. It was far more basic than today. It had no porch, no extra bedroom and no garage, and no tarmac garden. It was just house/space/space/ house and all the houses were the same. You entered number 48 and you became soulless. You became a prisoner.

The houses had long narrow gardens and we did all try to do something with them. Again the garden has not improved as we had it lined on both sides with fruit trees and roses and at the bottom was a hedge of conifers that shielded us from being overlooked by the house that backed on to us. They kept hens! We never talked as they hated the fir trees as they said it took their light!

Mummy did try to garden but the ground was pure Middlesex clay and nothing grew unless very, very hardy. It did grow magnificent champagne rhubarb, apples and marigolds. Lots of marigolds and golden rod! Lots of golden rod!

After the war nobody had anything and furniture was strictly rationed. You could have a dining room table but no chairs, or a bed and no curtains. The winter of 1947 was freezing and we just had a sack of slack to keep us warm so it was not a good start.  We didn't have any clothes either!

I was surrounded by boys, Andrew Kett next door and David Tinsley across the road. the Tinsleys were Irish and quite mad. These two were rather like the brothers I never had. Then there was Rodger, he was never in the gang as he was different. When he got older he bleached his hair and became a hairdresser, made lots of money and got out as fast as possible! Nowadays Rodger would have been understood. His brother Derek who was much younger was the same. I feel bad about Rodger.

The Rutters had the house attached to ours and they had two sons, John and Michael. The first morning Mummy was there Mrs Rutter called. She said simply that we, the Millers were the wrong class and she did not want her sons playing with me. Mummy was never to bother her and she would never speak to us and she didn't in 16 years. Mrs. Rutter kept her word and her class hatred. She died of cancer in the room a joining my bedroom. I never went in her house. She never gave us or me a Christmas present. We were not asked to help and were not asked to the funeral. If only she'd known that our family was more working class than hers. Slums of Glasgow and Manchester us!

The house was a mile from any shops and a mile from Canons Park Tube Station. I made the trek to both virtually every day of my life as the 18 bus and the Tube were the only places that offered a glimpse of freedom.

Life got better. We got a fridge and a television, a spin dryer and eventually a Hovermatic but I never had a wardrobe. The bedroom was too tiny for that and a piano which I could not play. The drawing room never got knocked through during our stay. Mummy tried to make it look good by having red wallpaper in the alcoves.

I was so ashamed of the place I never asked my friends back. I did once with the Young Conservatives, yes I cringe when I admit I belonged but you had to as it was the only social kid on the block. This was a disaster as the Upper Class YC's were just so sarcastic. Charlotte Rampling was one of the crowd! Still Robin Lynch of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous hailed from a similar background. I knew him well.He too had an urge to get out and he did... to LA. In fact we all did get out eventually. A semi detached upbringing certainly encourages one to succeed as it is the only way to freedom.

We tried to get out twice but each time the sales fell through  Eventually in 1964 when my mother and father had a life crisis I went out at the age of 21 and found them a house in Pinner. We escaped. Pinner was bliss!

Fortunately I shall never return. I could not afford to buy that house today and who in their right mind would want to as it is even worse now than it was then!

48 St Andrews Drive Stanmore Middx.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Pamela Vincent?Burke A sort of sister for an only child

Pamela Vincent/Burke at Auckland Wintergarden
I am an only child but I am so lucky in having a sort of sister!  Pamela Vincent/ Burke is the only person I have left living who actually held me as a baby and has known me throughout my life. We shared a lot of our lives and I look on her and up to her as I would a real sister. She even asked me to be her bridesmaid while my real first cousin Gillian did not!

We met in Taplow. Mr and Mrs Vincent ran the cafe almost next door to Thamesway our house in Taplow during the war and literally saved our lives because we were able to buy extra food from them. My grandmother had a meal sent in nearly every day and Pam would sometimes bring it for her.

We played together, Mrs Vincent was a fine tennis player and nearly made it to Wimbledon only a having a baby interfered and Pam came to our famous Christmas parties in the Indian Room with Auntie Jo's  Toy Theatre. Pam was also very good at dancing especially tap at which she as good as Shirley Temple and I never mastered at all.

Margaret Vincent, Janette Miller, Honey Miller at Clifftonville 1950's

After the war the Vincents moved to Cliftonville where they ran a guest house and sadly Pam's father died leaving her mother to cope with two little girls. I spent many happy hours at Cliftonville and these holidays were the major enjoyment of the year. The happy time we spent in the lofts together. Margaret, Pam's sister and I entered all the talent competitions.  Margaret usually won with her rendition of Maybe its because I'm a Londoner. With her red hair, freckles and cockney accent she was unbeatable but I came a close second with Somewhere over the Rainbow.

Because of her talent for dance Pam won a scholarship to the Arts Educational Schools in Tring. As she had to board and Cliftonville is so far away she came to live with us for exiats. We shared my  tiny bedroom and we had such fun as Pam could teach me all the new ballet steps. Mummy took us to the ballet, Ice Pantos at Wembley, Harlem Globe Trotters, you name it.

This went on for years and I loved it. It was so nice having someone close to talk to and Pam was such a delight and was doing so well at ballet school that when my father realized that all was not well for me with the nuns he sent me to the London AES version which was the best thing that happened to me.

Again we were able to meet when Pam came to teach at London school.

We have remained friends all our lives and I hope always will. Pam now lives in Australia where she has had a fulfilling career in teaching, only being a woman stopped her from making headmistress which thanks to the likes of her is now possible.  We Skype almost everyday. One could not have had a more wonderful real sister if one looked for a millenium.

Pamela Vincent/Burke 2004

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Lightening strikes on a Sunday in Centenary Park 1960

Centenary Park Stanmore
A very ordinary Sunday in Summer can turn into an extraordinary Sunday that one will remember for the rest of one's life. There was nothing unusual about it. I was gong to Centenary Park at the bottom of St. Andrews Drive where I lived for most of my life. I had been invited by a young handsome London insurance broker called Colin to watch him play cricket.

I met Colin or rather he met me at The Green Man our local pub. Mummy and I used to call in for a lemonade on summer evenings when we walked the dog. Colin served behind the bar and he seemed enraptured by me. Well I was very pretty.

The cricket pitch was huge and surrounded by hundreds of semi detached houses. It was very open and had then and still has today a line of huge elms about 20 yards in from the boundary but the little cricket pavilion which was on the west boundary has gone. It was in front of this pavilion that I sat and watched the match. It was so boring! Colin was not very good at cricket.

It was about the middle of the afternoon that it happened. There was no warning. It was a warm sultry day and a Lady in a blue coat was strolling around the field exercising her dog. She let it off the lead and it headed under the line of elm trees. Colin's side was Out but for some reason he was not with me.

Suddenly the skies opened and it started to rain very heavily and one could hear thunder. I got up to run back into the pavilion and the Lady in the blue coat raised her hand with the dog lead to get her naughty dog to come out from under the trees. Being under a huge tree is not a good idea as lightening strikes the highest object it can find.

I turned back to the field to see the fielders taking out the stumps and start to run back to shelter when an enormous bolt of fork lightening came out of the sky across the pitch and hit just in front of the pavilion. The noise was excruciatingly loud.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Lightening just takes a second to strike but this seemed to last for ten seconds. I was right in front of it and saw the fork jump upwards and then back to earth.  I could feel the vibration through my feet. It took me a second to realize what had happened.

The Lady in the blue coat was lying on the ground and I ran towards her but one of the cricketers told me to stay away. She had turned blue. She was dead. The Lady in the blue coat had died because in lifting her hand with the dog's lead she had given the lightening a piece of metal to strike. She never made it home from her Sunday walk.

All the cricketers under the lightening were badly burned or injured. Poor Colin seemed to be paralyzed up his left arm and was in a very bad way. He ran away from me and looked badly shocked. In fact most people were in a bad way except for me. I was lucky. Soon ambulances arrived to ferry away the injured.

I walked a very shaky young man back to my house nearby. Colin tried to be brave but could never forget it was I who helped him not the other way around. After a brandy and a tea Daddy drove him home and I never saw him again.

I was told it took him nearly six months to recover from the bolt. Some of the cricketers were ill for over a year. It made the front page of all the newspapers.

If ever I was in open field like a golf course and it started to thunder with fork lightening I should lie down flat. Lightening dosen't always go for the huge tree near by!

Monday, 21 January 2013

May Mckenzie my Irish Grandmother!

Mary Anne McKenzie/Miller on her wedding day in 1906

Mary Anne Hamilton McKenzie was an Irish beauty as can be seen in her photo on her wedding day. She was born in Dublin but I have no idea of her dates as the Public Record Office was blown up in 1916 and her new birth certificate got her name wrong! 

May McKenzie was the daughter of Charles McKenzie who was socially upwardly mobile as were many in the Dublin of that time. May could have been a dead ringer for Nora Barnacle whose family was on the way up who married the writer James Joyce who was around Dublin at that time and whose family was on the way down.  May Miller and Nora Barnacle had much in common. Both loved clothes and both were strong characters. 

So it is not surprising that May fell for the young Scots golf sundries manufacturer from Glasgow who was also upwardly mobile and they had this great wedding in Dublin in 1906 

They were very happy and had a wonderful 50 year marriage but in fact Grandpa got two McKenzies for the price of one. Betty McKenzie, the only unmarried daughter came to look after her sister May after Hughie my father was born in Golders Green London in 1910 as Grandma had contracted septicemia after the birth. Betty McKenzie never went home! Grandpa sort of had two wives! He was very fair, if his wife had a fur coat then her sister had a slightly less valuable fur coat.

The Miller family were very secretive about  how Great Grandpa Charles McKenzie made his fortune. I never discovered his trade until I inherited the marriage certificates in 1998. He was a plumber! That explains it! 

I had great fun telling my rather elderly pompous upper class cousins. I am not sure they were too happy I found out. My second cousins did not bat an eyelid and in fact we are all proud of our humble origins.

Grandma Miller had a lot with which up to put during her life as the wife of an entrepreneur, feast one year, famine the next but she had a sense of humour and was great fun which is just as well.

She died in 1964 from an infected injection of B12, hence my fear of any type of injection and now I have to inject myself! That's life.

Miller/McKenzie Marriage Dublin 1906

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Collecting a Lead Animal Farm in the 1950s

Alice Stapleton & my 50's Animal Farm in 2013
I have always loved collecting things, stamps, antiques, paintings but my first love was fostered by my father, Major Hughie Miller when he began giving me lead farm animals. These lead and now highly dangerous farm animals had been very popular with children since Victorian times and it seems if my grand daughter Alice is anything to go by, are still popular in 2013.

After the war my father rejoined his father Hugh Miller and they started up their golf sundries business, Humil Ltd this time running it from my grand mother's dining room in Edgware, Middlesex.  This ment that Daddy had to travel and was away for weeks at a time.

At that time I spent many school holidays in Lymm, Cheshire where I lived next door to a working farm. The real mixed farms of the 1950s and I loved it. I cried when I had to return home.

I disliked my Daddy being away so much so to make life more pleasant Daddy started to buy me a farm. Each journey he would arrive back with a different animal for me, a cow, a sheep, a chicken or even a dog. I loved the two collie dogs best. The farm grew over the years and I kept it for my daughter Chloe who loved to play with it too.

I would spend hours getting it out. We had green cushions made out of died parachute silk and these made perfect fields. I had a wooden Swiss chalet which served as the farm house and it took ages to get the whole collection displayed. In fact eventually my mother allowed me to keep it up. It cluttered the small drawing room for weeks.

I knew how a real farm worked and I would go through the daily ritual, feeding the chickens, cows to milk so the butter  could be churned by hand. This is very easy and quick by the by. Then there were the kittens to play with. Always lots of cats to keep the mice and rats at bay. There were stooks of corn to turn and after tea we collected the eggs. No battery hen chickens for us. Our chickens laid where they wanted. It was hunt the egg! This took hours which was just as well because a TV did not arrive in our house until 1953 with the coronation.

I would wait with feverish anticipation for Daddy to arrive back and see what animal he had for me. Sometimes it took ages to find the right one. I wanted the St Bernard dog. I never got it as Daddy never came across it on his travels but he took me to Selfridges Toy Department and there it was. Bliss!

The lead animals of my farm are old and battered but I can't bring myself to throw them away. My delightful 3 year old grand daughter was intrigued by them too and spent an hour and a half engrossed in playing with them. She especially liked the scarecrow!

Three generations of children have played with and enjoyed Daddy's collection. It is a pity farms are not like this today in 2013.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Wolsey Wasp

The Wasp Hughie Miller's first car
As a young man my father, Hughie Miller, was a lad about town. He started life at Lloyds but did not fit in so joined my grand father's golf sundries company Humil Ltd, in Ely Place London. The Golf business was doing well and daddy, as all young men do, bought a sporty car.

This must have impressed my mother, Honey Thorpe. I can vouch all middle  class girls of this age were impressed by little red sports cars although the one above was green. I think it was a Wolsey Hornet and the family called it the Wasp.

On a fine summer's day it must have been a delight but then England is not known for fine summer days. Most of the time it rains and this car was agony in the rain. It almost put a five year old off sports cars for life but not quite.

The Wasp was laid up on bricks for the war but when we moved to Stanmore this became the Miller family car. It was not a pleasure to own. Mummy and I used to dread going anywhere in it as there was no guarantee that you would arrive. One memorable trip to Cliftonville ended in the lavender fields outside Canterbury with a blown gasget. Mummy and I ended our journey by train and Daddy did not turn up till two days later.

Then it leaked. Daddy told my mother to get out her sewing machine and he would run up a new hood in no time. Mummy obliged. Ten hours and a good deal of colorful language later Daddy had not even succeeded in threading the needle.

When my grandfather Pop Thorpe died in 1952 we inherited the Ford V8 and the Wasp was soled for pennies. Now you would need a small fortune to buy one as it is a classic car but I wouldn't give you tuppence for it even if I could.

However the experience did not cure me about the joys of little red sports cars. Far from it!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

How I met my Father!

Major Hugh Miller RASC. 1944

There are some moments of one's life that one wishes one could do again. Meeting my father Major Hugh Miller is one of them. To say it was a disaster does not do it justice. It was one of those events from which the whole family, especially my father never recovered and in some ways neither did I.

Wars cannot be helped. My father left for North Africa just before I was born and did not return until Christmas 1946. I was nearly four. Since I could remember I was shown this photo above and told he was my Daddy. I was oh so proud of it. I was told by all the family that I would meet my father off a big boat one day.

Christmas 1946 was that day. I lived with my two maiden aunts, my grandmother and my grandfather. Pop was the only man in my life up until them and I adored him and in fact he was my father. I had no need of another. 

In hindsight, the family should have had a plan as how to tackle the momentous occasion but they didn't. My father just turned up at 6 pm at Taplow on Christmas Eve, in battle dress, unshaved and off the boat. To make matters worse he hadn't phoned my mother but had gone straight to Edgware to see his mother first without telling his wife. My mother felt slighted.

My mother was off to a Christmas dance and was all dressed up to go out with her dancing partner Dennis so was not amused that Daddy had not warned her and Daddy was not too delighted to see his wife going out dancing with another man however innocent.

I remember coming down the stairs at Thamesway and seeing this soldier who I did not recognize in the hall. The whole family was assembled as they were there for Christmas so it was a very public first meeting.  I was terrified of soldiers as I knew they had tanks! One of the family not my mother told me to come downstairs and meet my father.

Daddy squatted down on the hall floor and opened his kit bag which was full of sweets. I had never in my life seen this many sweets before. In the war we did not get sugar let alone sweets. He had saved his sweet ration for me. It was a lovely thing to do.

I overcame my fear rushed to the sweets. The whole family was agog to witness my reaction. Daddy clasped me to him and gave me a kiss. His unshaved face graised my cheek and I recoiled and pulled away screaming "Daddy prickles" and ran away upstairs. I could not be coaxed down again.

Eventually, I was put to bed. I slept with my mother but now my father usurped my place. I had his uncomfortable a camp bed. I resented this strange man coming into my life. To make matters worse I was not given the sweets. These disappeared as my family helped themselves.  

I do not think Mummy, Daddy or I ever truly recovered from this first meeting.  In retrospect, it should have been planned very carefully. I should have been warned a few days before and Daddy should have looked as he did in his photo in his Major's uniform. He was truly handsome in real life.

The next day I spent hours searching the large garden for the rowing boat! I knew my father had arrived in one and I wondered where he had parked it!
It wasn't there!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Hiawatha my school debut

Janette Miller as Hiawatha Rosary Priory 1950

There must be a pivotal moment in one's life when one finds out what one is going to do with the rest of it. At seven I was at Rosary Priory, a convent school for young ladies in Bushy Heath near Watford. It was already evident that I was not going to Oxford as I had only just mastered reading! It was not that I wasn't bright but not being able to read was a bit of a handicap. By complete chance my teachers decided I would be on the stage.

I hated school. I felt that I did not belong there. I was not bought up a catholic although I had an RC mother who had married a non catholic in a registry office. This to the Irish nuns was a worse stigma than illegitimacy but they did try to be kind.

I was in the sevens and one summer day I was bored stiff. A young nun had been assigned to produce the end of term performance for parents day and had decided to do a part of Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Now I come to think of it this was an ambitious choice for very uneducated seven year olds. It is an 1855 epic poem, in trochaic tetrameter featuring a native American hero.

Sister needed a Hiawatha and her idea of casting was simply to ask the class "Which of you can learn lines?"  I having nothing else to do put my hand up, nobody else did and that was it. I was Hiawatha. I was an actress and that is what I have remained for the rest of my life.

I spent a memorable afternoon sitting on a log by the bicycle sheds learning my lines with Myra Charmers, my best friend, who was to play my mother, Nokomis. The rest of the class who were to bee the animals that Hiawatha hunts and the the chorus and actually had to learn much more than me had to continue with arithmetic.

Ann White, Janette Miller, Myra Chalmers, Hiawatha
Rosary Priory 1950

By luck my father had made me a tent shaped like a wigwam. You can see it in his photo and mummy made me a costume which had a little shrimp broach which I loved. I can remember little of the performance which was held on what was supposed to be the croquet lawn. I can recall having to point my bow and arrow at various animals who would say ' Do not shoot me Hiawatha!'.

I must have been a success as I was given parts in every school event after that whether I wanted them or not. Maybe it was just that I could remember the lines which is a help.

I end with the immortal Longfellow verse that began our excerpt. Its rhyme is unique and once heard never forgotten.

       By the shores of Gitche Gumee, 
By the shining Big-Sea-Water, 
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, 
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis. 
Dark behind it rose the forest, 
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees, 
Rose the firs with cones upon them; 
Bright before it beat the water, 
Beat the clear and sunny water, 
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Variety Fayre Brixham in the 1950's

I had two magical maiden aunts, Auntie Jo and Auntie Flo. When my grandparents died they decided to move to Devon and open a very high class gift shop, Variety Fayre in Middle Street, Brixham, South Devon.

They couldn't have done anything better for their one nephew John and two nieces Gillian and me. Brixham at that time was a small picturesque working fishing village in Torbay and was a magical place for any child. Children had much more freedom than they have today and the three of us were allowed more or less carte blanche to do whatever we wanted. It was very much Swallows and Amazons.

The shop was a treasure house of beautiful things, lovely jumpers which became my trade mark and helped me at auditions as they were so outstanding, oil paintings by local artists and an Aladdin's cave of costume and real jewelry. I still love these pretty things today.

At first we were not allowed to serve in the shop so for five years we had to help in the background. I loved organizing the jewelry and counting the takings at the end of the day. This took place late at night as the shop closed at 9 pm. The first time we took £100 Auntie Flo bought us all a strawberry milk shake. I used to do the banking too at the age of 13.

The shop had been a fisherman's cottage and was tiny. It was built into the side of a cliff and you could see the cliff face through the drawing room window.The kitchen was just a sink and a stove. My aunts did not go in for cooking. It was virtually falling down but it was magic to live in. The gas geyser in the bath room would burn eyebrows off whenever we needed a bath.

I spent every Easter and Summer holidays here and loved every minute. It was and still is my idea of heaven. Sometimes I went in October when Brixham was empty and the wind whistled down the street. I loved this empty time too.

Janette Miller in garden Brixham 1959

How my aunts put up with the three of us during this busy time I shall never know as the three of us could be difficult. They were such troopers and the most perfect maiden aunts ever.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

An Ice Skating Family

Hughie Mille, Janette & Miles Heffernan, Honey Miller Paradice Auckland.

Ice skating has played an important part of the Miller/Heffernan families as my mother met my father on an ice rink and I met my husband on one too. Ice dancing has played cupid twice!

Ice Skating became popular in the 1930's partly due to my grandfather who introduced skating to the Empire Pool Wembley. Ice Hockey was a tremendous financial success on Saturday nights but the rest of the week was devoted to Ice Skating and this is where my father, Hughie Miller spotted my mother.

Honey Thorpe was the youngest daughter of the Thorpe Family and as she had no education at all my grandfather did not know what to do with her so he gave her a skating pass. She turned out to be a first class ice dancer even gaining  a silver medal when this was the top award. I never got even a bronze.

It is not surprising that my father, a young Lloyds underwriter, fell in love with her. Daddy adored skating as can be seen here in the Daily Mail skating at Golders Green wearing a kilt!

Hughie Miller, in kilt in the Daily Mail 1938?
I met my GP husband Miles at Queens Ice Rink in Bayswater. It was a good place to meet people when I worked in London.  Queens was near St Mary's Hospital Paddington and to my surprise many young doctors skate.

It took 8 years many ice dances for Miles to eventually  ask me to marry him. We kept skating twice a week for years. I had to give up because I hurt my back badly when I fell but Miles continued to skate all his life. I was never any good at skating but I gave up three years of my life to it as it is addictive. Never regretted it although I was hopeless.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Janette Miller's Excellent BBC Education

John Charles Walsham Reith BBC

The BBC's founding charter states that it is to inform, educate and entertain and in my case it certainly did educate. I am a testament to Lord Reith to whom I have been extremely grateful all my life because without him and the BBC  I could never have achieved or in fact enjoyed my life to the full because I received no formal education. I am self taught or rather BBC taught and it sure made a better job of it than the nuns.

My father, Major Hugh Miller who had the very best education himself and went to the finest educational establishments that money could buy decided that his daughter should go to the local convent. This was a disaster for me because in 1947  Rosary Priory was mainly run by 18 year old Irish nuns, They did their best but basically had no idea of how to teach. Consequently I was six and a half before I learned to read.  They had no idea of how to teach reading. The nuns were really only happy when teaching the faith and they definitely were brilliant at that. They taught me rather too well the importance of Adam, Eve and Original Sin. This turned out to be a big mistake for them.

However all was not lost as my Grandfather Henry Thorpe was a self educated man and had risen from railway clerk to the head of Ceylon Railways. Pop owned one of the first televisions in about 1946 and I was captivated. Televisions were rare then and the content limited but Lord Reith had taken the educate seriously and the BBC saw to it that the audience was educated by providing the best.

Every week we were treated to excellent drama on Saturday and Sunday, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Wilde, Shaw. I saw my first Midsummer Night's Dream at the age of five and loved it. I watched and enjoyed opera and ballet as well as more typical musical and variety shows. The BBC showed films too and I loved those of Alexander Korda. I was introduced to Great Expectations and Dickens this way. I started to read Dickens which was in my grandfather's library but I preferred Ibsen and Austin and my favorite Shakespeare, I adored Romeo and Juliet.

BBC was good at science too and the new inventions and discoveries were featured. I watched everything especially the test programme every morning which presented classical music. The Waltz from Act 1 Swan Lake and Lena Horn featured. I enjoyed the BBC News and knew everything that was going on in the world. I recall Bernard Shaw's famous interview and also the atomic bomb tests. Aged 4 I saw the opening of the Belsen Concentration Camp and I knew then there was no God. This one news item changed my life. I grew up.

By ten I had started to read Shakespeare and I analyzed  Oliver's Henry V, which the nuns had taken their pupils to see. It was not as I remembered from the text. I discovered that Olivier had taken a lot of licence and I was shocked!

At 13 the nuns introduced us to Dickens  for the first time. It was Great Expectations which I had read when I was 9. We never got past Pip's early life. For me it was a wasted year as I was bored stiff. Later I told one of the nuns about this and she apologized for the dreadful education we received. I felt sorry for all my classmates.

My father realized that I was not thriving at my convent.  As he thought all my brains were in my feet he sent me to a ballet school Arts Educational in London. There I received a secular education for the first time. The Headmistress was the most wonderful English teacher. I can parse my way out of a paper bag.

The BBC had educated me in the arts well so when I got my chance to work at The Royal Opera House as a child I appreciated the opportunity. The management could see and in fact were astonished at just how much a tiny 13 year old knew. I could discuss opera, ballet, Shakespeare on their level. I had a wonderful time as everyone helped me as they enjoyed talking to me. I met many of the finest artists of the day from Sir Malcolm Sergeant down.  It was because of my knowledge of modern music I got to know Benjamin Britten. I was the only girl favorite and I certainly would not have been able to cope with my brilliant Oxford educated GP husband  Miles Heffernan who did not suffer fools gladly. It was he who completed my education in the field of science.

Without this grounding by the BBC none of this would have happened. So when I say I received no education it is not really true. I had one of the best educations money could buy. Thank you Aunty BBC.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Miles Heffernan GP Oxon Only the Best

Miles Heffernan GP at Epidaurus
Dr Miles Richard Castlhow Heffernan (1929-2002) was a character! He was universally liked by patients and friends and had the self confidence only available to those lucky enough to be male and educated at the very best of British Public Schools and universities. He was not handsome but he was gorgeous. He had the most attractive Oxford accent. He was rather like the actor Richard Wattis.

Miles had his own philosophy on life. It was quite simple Life is short and There is only time the Best! Miles knew what he liked and he knew The Best! He also believed that Life is for Living and Miles lived his life by these precepts. He lived simply and considering how brilliant he was conservatively.

Miles was stubborn and very condescending on occasions. If you made what he considered a silly remark you would get a look  and you would be dismissed. I was once stupid enough to say that I didn't enjoy Wagner. Miles countered with 'That's the problem with middle class girls, they are uneducated'. This was said in the middle of Queen's Ice Rink while skating a waltz. A few Three's later and he said 'Sorry there is not much you can say to that. Would you like to come to the opera tonight at the ENO?' I did.

In all forms of Art Miles started at the top and worked down. He started with the finest literature, Shakespeare, Proust, Tolstoy. He had no time for Dickens. In music he had a short list of greats, Mozart, Berlioz, Wagner, Schoenberg. Brahms and Puccini were never mentioned. Being a man of science Darwin was a particular favorite and Miles liked Freud, the complete works were on the shelf. I think Miles may have been wrong about Freud!

Miles spent hours in the London art galleries and had a love of architecture. His weak spot was dance. Miles loved to dance hence his life long love of ice dancing and he always bowed to my knowledge of ballet.

But Miles hated modern medicine. He had been forced into it as a profession by his TB specialist father Patrick Heffernan Tipperary (1879-1971). In his surgery Miles was rather like Martin Clunes in Doc Martin. Miles had a lovely bedside manner but woe betide the patient who arrived just as the doctor was leaving for Covent Garden.

How did I, a very pretty uneducated but his standards,blonde come to marry this paragon of learning? I suppose it was a bit like Arthur Miller marrying Marilyn Monroe. It was because I was very intelligent and if pointed in the right direction I would be a suitable life's companion. Much to both our surprise we had a very happy marriage.

As Miles only bothered with The Best I am still very flattered the he chose me!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Major Hughie Miller's Home Guard Medal Second World War

The 1939-1945 Defence medal
Flame coloured in the centre flanked by stripes of green to symbolise enemy attacks on Britain's green and pleasant land, with narrow black stripes to represent the black-out.
The Defence Medal was awarded for non-operational service. This type of service in the UK included those service personnel working in headquarters, on training bases and airfields and members of the Home Guard. Home Guard service counts between the dates of 14 May 1940 and 31 December 1944. The Defence Medal was also awarded for non-operational service overseas, for example in India or South Africa.

My father Major James Charles Hugh Miller had lots of medals. He served in North Africa and Italy as a Workshops Officer in the RASC. Not one of the best army companies. I loved looking at these medals especially the one above which was my favorite. I never knew what they were for and being young I never asked.

So it was with some surprise that I found out last week 2013 that my favorite medal was awarded to the Home Guard! It was the medal awarded to those who did not fight abroad and as everyone knows the Home Guard was a bit of a joke. Dad's Army as it is fondly known. It was given for reserved occupations or those who served their country but did not go to fight abroad so how did my father a Major who certainly served abroad, come to have it in his collection?

The answer was simple and telling. Before the war my father served in the Auxiliary Fire Service in London. He was a young Lloyds underwriter and it was something that these young men did for fun. Come the declaration of war and these young men found themselves if not on the front line abroad in the front line on the home front. Nightly German bombing!

My father was a fireman during the worst of the Blitz. Every night he was out putting out incendiaries and worst of all digging people out of bombed houses. I have many photos of him infront of his fire engine. They were billeted in St James's Park. 

He did this until 1941 but when he married my mother he had enlisted as a private in the Army. Having been educated at Glasgow Academy he lasted just three weeks as a private and spent the rest of the war with jittery pips ending up as a full Major in Italy.

Hughie always said his most dangerous War period was the London experience. He said the Blitz was terrifying but exciting. I think this is my father's finest moment and he deserved his  beautiful Defense Medal. I wear it with pride for him on ANZAC Day.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Train Spotting at Taplow

Taplow Station Bucks
image is owned by Ben Brooksbank and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
Anyone who knows me will no doubt be surprised to learn that for years Train Spotting played an important part of my youth.  I started in the early fifties when my cousin John became a train spotter and decided he needed help from his younger sister Gillian and his first cousin Janette Miller.

Gillian and I had no choice we were marched each morning of the holidays down the Bath Road to Taplow Station and we would spend all day there spotting trains. The station staff had no problem with this we were allowed on the express platforms and left to it.

John had the official train spotting book with all the UK train numbers listed. We all had our roles, John would get the number, Gillian the name and I the difficult charge of configuring the wheels, 4-2-4, 2-6-4. As it was written in the book I thought this was pointless but even today when I see a steam train I look at its wheels.

The local trains were easy as they stopped, and so were the shunters for goods but the real excitement was when the huge express trains roared through. These were usually some sort of Castle. We had to be quick so spot these beautiful brown, cream and gold Great Western trains on their way to Wales and the West country.

It was a very pleasant way to spend a lazy childhood day. The station was attractive and had a very picturesque Bridge which was memorable and it seems still there today.

Later  my mother and I travelled a lot by train down to Devon and up to Manchester and I took my Official Train Spotters album. This made train travel really interesting. I even graduated to London Tube Train carriages and many school days were wiled away collecting the carriage numbers. Lots of school children did this as I spent almost two hours traveling each day for most of my early life.

Would I do it again? Yes! I enjoyed it. I like collecting things.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Hugh Miller and the Multi Colored Golf Umbrella

Hugh Miller (1881-1964) was my paternal grandfather and I can hardly believe it Alice's great great grandfather. He was born in Rutherglen in Glasgow in the 1870's and was the son of a stone mason, James Miller (1855-1896). When work got short in Glasgow his father, Alice's great, great, great grandfather moved the whole of his family to Pittsburgh, USA and his youngest sister Grace  (1884-1980) was born a USA citizen.

Grandpa Miller had one claim to fame  as it was he who invented the multi colored golf umbrella. He had the idea around 1900 of a large colored umbrella in alternate colors to keep the constant British rain off the keen golfers. Grandpa was astute businessman and applied for a patent.

The success of this umbrella is still with us today and while the patent was pending Grandpa made a fortune. The first of three. Obviously this could not last as barbers shops had red and white colored umbrella shop signs!

His first golf umbrella was black and yellow and a pagoda shape. I still have one of the originals. Soon other colors and the shape we know today followed. Grandpa promoted the game of golf. His company The Glasgow Golf Company made golf clubs, golf balls, golf bags in fact anything to do with golf for about 50 years.

He never played the game or allowed anyone in his family and especially his son to do so as he felt it might interfere with his business. I was brought up on golf courses. I know every course in Southern England. I never got to play but I did talk to the green keepers about how they kept their beautiful lawns.

The whole of our family fortune, it is small today but the legacy lingers on, was made by Hugh Miller, three times. He lost out twice and had to start from scratch. He was a true entrepreneur.

I didn't ever get to know him but I liked him and I admire him. He was quite a character.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

James the Tortoise

Honey Thorpe with James the tortoise in 1940
I love tortoises. I was bought up with the family tortoise James. He was large and old! He had been in the family for many years before I met him in the 1940's.

James lived in style in solitary splendor on the bank above the tennis court. He had a large enclosure and a big fall onto the court if he tried to stray. This was to stop him eating the pansies. However this did not stop him getting out and occasionally a Hunt the Tortoise call went out when James had escaped.

This happy life continued into the fifties but in 1954 after my grandparents death my aunts sold Thamesway and moved to Eton Square, Belgravia and there was nowhere for James to go so he came to live with us in Stanmore.

Poor James, Middlesex clay is not good for tortoises but he survived for years with us. He was not enclosed  but had the run of our garden and to our surprise did not decimate the pansies but lived on bread and milk and dandelion leaves of which there were plenty.

Sadly in 1963 James met his end. Tortoises hibernate and this particularly cold winter James did not wake up. Daddy buried him beneath the fir trees.

The next year we moved to Pinner and Daddy decided that it would be nice to take James with us or at least his beautiful tortoise shell. Daddy knew exactly where James was buried and started to dig. NO James! Daddy dug deeper and in fact a very large hole developed during the course of the morning. James had vanished!

Obviously James had woken up! What happened to him we shall never know but I still loves tortoises and I can't resist any tortoise ornaments.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Vegetables or Flowers? My love of Gardening

Grandma Miller  & Betty Mackenzie in the cabbages, Edgware, Middx, 1941.
I love gardening and so does my daughter Chloe. She loves vegetables and I love flowers. I am hopeless at veges and can hardly grow parsley but I am a dab hand at flowers.

There is no doubt that I get my love of flowers from my grandfather Pop Thorpe  and my daughter gets her talent from the Miller side of the family who went in for veges in a big way. Just look at the size of the cabbages in the Dig for Victory garden that my grandfather grew in deepest Edgware during World War II. They were enormous!

Grandpa Miller had a sizable garden for a large semi detached. He came from Rutherglen, then a distinctly unfashionable side of Glasgow not known for gardens but he became a dab hand at it when he got the chance. It was done in the cottage garden style and before the war must have bee quite beautiful but the war meant digging up the lawn into two large beds to grow food and Grandpa Miller did this well. It was never returned to its pre war glory and I never appreciated it.

Grandpa Miller's secret was lots and I mean lots of water. He would sit, hose in hand for an afternoon watering the delphiniums for hours. They reached the sky.  Today I cannot afford this. A quick ten minutes night and morning is all my plants get even if gasping.

By contrast Grandpa Pop Thorpe's garden was flowers, flowers, flowers. He grew everything from seed and he too loved his garden. Coming from the back streets of the Manchester slums his garden must have seemed like heaven and I still think of heaven as part of this garden. The bit by the greengage tree and the tennis court are my idea of The Garden of Eden.

It was huge, well it seemed huge to me and it was designed. Unusual for the 1930's, rose garden, orchard, herb garden and one section that I think was supposed to be the kitchen garden but Pop did not care for vegetables even during the war.

So I am a Thorpe when it comes to gardening and my daughter a Miller. Neither of her other grandparents cared for gardening. We both garden!  It seems to be in our genes.

Thamesway, Taplow, Barr's tulips 1952.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Mary Ann Thorpe From Rags to Riches

The Thorpe Family Ceylon 1905

Take a good look at the woman in the above photograph. There she sits in front of her huge house in Colombo in Ceylon with her husband Henry Thorpe and her two daughter's Flo and Jo and their servants. It is a picture that is typical of the colonial period when the British thought they ruled the world but all is not what it seems. Ma was no ordinary Lady, in fact she wasn't a Lady at all but for 60 years I had no idea at all where she came from.

This is how I knew my grandmother. She was like Queen Mary, the wife of George V and just as upright and terrifying. Ma was a Lady from the moment she got up to the moment we went to bed. The house was run like clockwork and everyone knew his or her place.

I was never told about my family. I only knew the ones I met. I became curious as to my great grandparents. I wanted to know who they were and from whence they came but nobody could tell me. All I knew is that they came from Manchester.  I knew they lived in some style in a beautiful house in Taplow and Pop was the chief accountant at Wembley Stadium and they were well off. We had four millionaires living next door but that was it. I remember asking my auntie Jo just before she died and she told me she knew nothing. Auntie Jo was pure Rodean.

Then along came Genes Reunited and a few years ago I found out. What I discovered far from disappointing me delighted me and explained why I am as I am. I could never think why I never fitted in comfortably with the upper professional middle class and that is simply that my family never belonged. My family on the Thorpe side  couldn't be more working class if you tried.

Granny Thorpe, Ma, was born in the slums of Manchester in the very worst part, Royston. Her name was Mary Ann Booth and she turned up on the census. However I discovered that there were two Mary Ann Booths and at first I got the wrong one but I expect that their lives were somewhat similar. My grandmother probably worked as a child in the local cotton mill doing something. Let us hope she was not a piecer a child that crawled under the mills picking up fluff for 12 hours a day but she could have done.

Granny would have had little education. I know she met my grandfather when she was 17 as I knew they were childhood sweethearts although she did not marry Pop until she was 25. She chose well. Although Pop was the son of a man who made coal wagons and lived beside the railway in Gorton in a two up an two downer of early Coronation Street architecture with 16 in the family, he went to night school, eventually university, passed in the top section of the civil service exams and low and behold became accountant to the Ceylon railways.

By 1905 Ma had gone from mill girl to the grandest lady. Some social leap upward for that or any time. She did it well. None of us ever knew her background. It was a true Cinderella story of rags to riches.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Arthur Atkinson - Speedway Star

Arthur Atkinson Speedway Westham
Arthur Atkinson was my uncle. He was a Speedway super star of the 1930's. In his time as Speedway was more popular than football he was en parr with say David Beckham today and as you can see just as handsome. He married the bosses daughter Tippy Thorpe!

My grandfather, Pop Thorpe, was the chief accountant at Wembley Stadium and was helping Sir Arthur Elvin to run it. After the Empire Exhibition of 1924/25, like all large stadiums even today, nobody knew what to do with them. Pop's answer was the dogs, football and speedway. The latter became the craze of the world and the young daredevil  riders became super stars of the age.

I have a relation who made it on to a Players cigarette card! These famous cards were avidly collected and still are. They came in cigarette packets and were exchanged and traded. Uncle Arthur made it such was his fame.

Auntie Tippy and he led an extremely glamorous life. They were rich and feted. They drove expensive cars, traveled the world and had beautifully houses and clothes. It must have been very difficult and I can see now very worrying and tiring. Uncle Arthur won many championships and had a wonderful glass case full of trophies which always fascinated me. Sadly in later life these got stolen. The glass case was empty the last time I saw it.

Arthur came from Yorkshire and was a yeoman farmer. How he got into speedway riding I  never knew. My aunt with my grandfather's help eventually went on to run Westham Speedway.

I was intrigued because although uncle Arthur was color blind he loved painting as a hobby and I still have one of his paintings. He and I were not intellectually ever on the same plain but he was always kind to me.

During the war uncle Arthur made a fortune in munitions so I am told. He made nuts and bolts for the war effort at a penny a piece. He never fought in the war but was to my father's disdain in a nice safe reserved occupation that never left England's shores. My aunt had mink coats when everyone else had nothing. However the family did have to live in the East End of London and slept under a table for the whole of the war.

I liked him and I am proud of him. He was the sports super star of the family. He ended up running a garage in Southend.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Honey Miller's answer to Hitler! Her Secret Weapon

Masons Ironstone plate first ironstone plates ever made. Royal Pattern. Left unused, right used!

My mother Honey Miller was a character. In real life she was rather shy and although she was extremely beautiful  she was often overlooked. However on occasions my mother could be a very strong and likable woman and her answer to Mr. Hitler and his horrible War was very unusual.

Honey Miller had to live through the Second World War. I don't remember the bombing as I was too young. I do remember the tanks on the Bath Road  on the way to Dunkirk and I remember the rationing that went on till 1954 but my mother had to live through it all.  Living near the Slough trading estate meant  nightly bombing during the Blitz but her main grumble was the food rationing which was harsh and went of for years even after the end of the War when it actually got worse.

When my father returned from Italy we moved into a tiny semi detached in Stanmore. We had nothing but my grandmother gave her a few beautiful plates from the family dinner service for best. My mother decided that while rationing was on out family would eat whatever was given to us on the best plates. It was her snub to Adolf Hitler.

We ate off the finest Mason Ironstone China like royalty every day. In fact the pattern was called Royal and one could imagine Queen Victoria and Prince Albert eating off them. If we were going to die we might just as well make a party of it! If the food was non existent the china was exceptional.

Rationing went on for nearly ten years after the end of the war in 1945 so the plates were well used. We ate every meal, breakfast, dried egg on toast, lunch and dinner which could include whale meat off the finest china. It was washed up by hand and it you look at the photos above you can see all the gold decoration has disappeared.

Immediately meat came off the ration in 1954 the Mason Royal plates were put away and only used for best. "Any food looks good on a beautiful plate with a red edge as it makes the food look warm" was my mother's advice. Sadly today because the red glaze is so full of lead I no longer use them. Mummy was slowly poisoning us without knowing it!

That particular red glaze is no longer made and so far no company has come up with a replacement. One pretty piece was broken but it was impossible to repair.

I love this dinner set as it reminds me of my mother's courage in the face of adversity. Very Dad's Army.

Janette Miller 2013 New Year's Resolutions

My New Year's resolution in 2012 was to write this Strange Blog almost every day for my grand daughter Alice who lives in Christchurch, that's in the South Island of New Zealand for my geographically challenged friends, and no NZ is not part of Australia. I only see her occasionally as Christchurch is a long way away so I want her to know about her Grannie and her family when I am no longer here to tell her.

These short anecdotes are what I should tell her  about her family if I could. My father did this for me orally and I didn't listen. All those stories about the Second World went in one ear and out the other so this way I shall have it in writing and this is the best it it can be printed out. Also I shall only have to tell it once!

It didn't happen because I was so ill.  I started but B12 Deficiency thought otherwise Fortunately at the moment in January  2013 I am almost back to normal but I still need to rest for long periods so hopefully I shall have the time to pursue this blog.

As I said in 2012 I shall tell the truth as I see it. I am not going to go in for character assassinations so my friends and family even if you have been off colour occasionally need have no fear.  Your reputation is safe with me. Also if you can be bothered to look you will get to know the real me and not the one that you see socially when good manners and  tact will tie my tongue.

Mark you once dead all gloves are off and belief systems look out! I never discuss these in social situations as I hate embarrassing my friends so my religiously challenged friends may care to skip these pages.

If I can I shall supply references but all will be true, I was raised as a good catholic girl.

So fingers for 2013 crossed and here goes. I'll start with an easy one. My mother's bravery, sense of humor and determination in the face of adversity tomorrow.

A very Happy New Year 2013 and go out and smell the roses and come along for the ride.