Thursday, 17 April 2014

Guest post by Gueh Yanting, Claudine

I am delighted to share a great guest post on the blog today.

Dear March House Books Readers,

Although I can’t remember it, I heard my first story from my parents. Not from story books, no. Real-life stories. Theirs.

They were the children who ran around in villages (we call them Kampong) in Singapore during the 50s and 60s, slippers slapping the dusty paths and clothes drenched when they hopped into ponds to catch fish. And that’s where the setting-inspiration for my children’s novel (in mid-60s) came from.

{How the Kampong looked like. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications. 

I asked my father, who especially loves telling snippets from his childhood, to contribute some for this post, and here’s what he told me:

·         As my father has 11 brothers and 3 sisters, they all crammed in one house, with one yard and owned one family plantation. My grandfather also reared chickens and pigs. At one point, there were more than 20 people (wives and baby cousins) living in that house!

·         My father and his brothers were too poor to afford school bags, so they used rattan baskets instead. When they had to sharpen their pencils, they used my grandfather’s shaving blade. They used to cut themselves quite often but never worried about it.

·         They showered using only one bar of soap: for the hair, face and body. That bar of soap was actually also used for laundry.

·         When he got off school at around 1pm, my father would return to the fields to help out. After completing his chores, he and my uncles would play at a nearby pond. Their main hobby was catching a certain species called ‘Fighting Fish’ and … letting them fight, I suppose.

·         Snacks were usually wrapped in newspapers. Sometimes they bought dried hawthorn flakes. If they didn’t have money for snacks, they’d get sweet potatoes from their fields, and roast them on a bed of charcoals.

{Dried Hawthorn Flakes/Cakes. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications.}

·         When the weather was hot, and in Singapore it mostly is, the children would buy balls of shaved ice to eat. The man who sold ice balls would drizzle colourful sugar syrup over them. By the way, we still have these at our marketplaces. During my childhood, it was also one of our favourite desserts. They are shaped like a small hill now, and have extra corn or red bean toppings, like this:

{Shaved Ice, a.k.a. Ice Kachang. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications.}

·         During lunar new years, parents would give children red packets (money stuffed in small, red envelopes) on New Year’s Eve, symbolizing good fortune for the coming year. When my father and some of his brothers received theirs, they spent all the money on firecrackers. Lighting up firecrackers was still legal then in Singapore. And they absolutely loved it! I suspect my father is waiting for Baby Olive (my one-year-old niece) to be slightly older so he could buy sparklers and play with her during New Year’s Eve.

{Red Packets. Picture from Google Images Labeled for Reuse with Modifications.}

·        My father studied in the village school till he was Primary 4, which was the highest level in that school. To go on to Primary 5, students had to travel farther out. My father and his brothers didn’t have the gift for studies, because even when they’d reached Primary 2 or 3 (around 8-9 years old), they were still not accustomed to gripping a pencil and writing with it. Usually, my grandfather or one of the elder brothers would have to steady their elbows in order for them to write neatly!

·         So he stopped studying after that and worked in my grandfather’s fields until he was about 16. Then he went into the construction industry.

A Gross, Mushroom Story (If you have a weak stomach, please skip this part!)

Those days, the nearest toilet could be quite far away and it was inconvenient to walk in the dark to get to one. People had chamber pots instead. However, with so many people under one roof, pots were too small. My family used pickled jars.

Sometimes they only poured the waste away after a few days. I’m not quite sure about this because I haven’t seen few-day-old urine, but I hear there would be sediments or dregs left in the jars.

Once, my grandfather stepped on a big, rusty nail. It was likely to give him a bad inflammation. Yet, he didn’t go to the hospital. They distrusted hospitals. My family had learned of a traditional folk cure, which was to soak a mushroom in the urine dregs overnight before applying it onto the wound. It sounds terribly gross, but it did work. The swelling went down the next day and my grandfather recovered fully soon after.

My father also told stories about adulthood, like how female guests attended wedding meals in the afternoon and all went home with a flower in their hair while male guests attended the evening round and each got a cigar, and how villagers called on midwives rather than hospital nurses when one of the women went into labour, and how one of my aunts ran off with a man she knew only briefly. My grandfather was livid, but they managed to get her back. That was the year the Queen of England visited Singapore.

Those were the days that were tough, but those were also the days my father and his brothers had the most fun. Those were the days I hadn’t experienced except through his stories. Those were the days (or close enough) that I’ve let my latest characters live in.

Gueh Yanting, Claudine, has written and published two picture ebooks (age 6 & up) and one middle-grade ebook (age 9 & up). Her latest story, LITTLE ORCHID’S SEA MONSTER TROUBLE, is about a girl trying to prove to her Ma that she hasn’t been spouting nonsense about the Giant Cuttlefish, and later turning into a sea monster herself. It is set in Singapore in 1965.

Check it out here:

Thank you so much for letting me spread my father’s story snippets here on your lovely blog, Barbara. I hope your readers enjoy them!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Easter Greetings - Postcards from my collection

Three of my favourite Springtime postcards illustrated by Rene Cloke;

Welcome to spring - posted 27th April 1939

Spring Babies - Also posted in April 1939

A Dance of Spring - unsent card but I'm guessing it's from around the same time as the previous two.

Another favourite but this time illustrated by Racey Helps 
Message reads; Dear Jane & Mary, I hope you see a Kingfisher like this one by the river. Love Grandad xx

I bought this pretty Easter Card from on an online auction. The seller provided scant information;  Easter post card; Published by J. Salmon, Sevenoaks. England. It has not been through the post, but it does have a message on the back. 

When the card arrived, I was delighted to find it addressed to Babs.  It was obviously meant for me!

Dear Babs, I wish you and Bun a Very Happy Easter. I hope you are quite well. I have been staying near Sidmouth with a little pupil of mine - she is spending her holidays at the Convent there. You must be getting a big girl. Much love E. Walker.  
Reading between the lines I think 'Bun' must be a toy rabbit or maybe even a real rabbit. It would certainly explain the choice of card. Don't you think that is just lovely?

Another eBay purchase bought more for the illustration than the words.

This was sent to a Miss Best & Family of County Down, Northern Ireland on the 19th March, 1940.   

This is a small section of an old opening greeting card. I wanted to show it in close up so you could see the detail. It’s made from very thin paper and is extremely fragile, but it's been part of my collection for a number of years, and I love it.

It’s been a busy few days. The decorators are arriving on Monday, so I've been moving furniture and packing things away. It’s been about six years since any decorating was done so it’s time for a spruce up. There is nothing like spring sunshine to show up what needs doing.  I hope you are all enjoying some spring sunshine – or at the very least, it has stopped snowing! 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Children in Verse Fifty Songs of Playful Childhood

All words and images taken from Children in Verse fifty songs of playful childhood collected by Thomas Burke with illustrations by Honor C Appleton. Published by Duckworth and Company in 1913.

Here you have the faery songs, the golden, glad, and airy songs, when all the world was morning, and when every heart was true; Songs of darling Childhood all a-wander in the wild wood, songs of life's first loveliness - songs that speak of you!
Thomas Burke

All night long their nets they threw for the fish in the twinkling foam, then down from the sky came the wooden shoe, bringing the fishermen home; 'Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed as if it could not be; and some folk thought 'twas a dream they'd dreamed of sailing that beautiful sea; But I shall name you the fishermen three,
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
Dutch Lullaby by Eugene Field.

No skies so blue or so serene as then; - no leaves looked half so green as clothing the playground tree! All things I loved are altered so, nor does it ease my heart to know that change resides in me!
A retrospective Review by Thomas Hood.

Bartholomew is very sweet, from sandy hair to rosy feet. Bartholomew is six months old, and dearer far than pearls or gold. Bartholomew has deep blue eyes, round pieces dropped from out the skies. Bartholomew is hugged and kissed! He loves a flower in either fist. Bartholomew's my saucy son; No mother has a sweeter one!
Norman Gale

The boxes about our courtyard we carpeted to our mind, and lived there both together kept house in a noble kind. The neighbour's old cat often came to pay us a visit; we made her a bow and curtsey, each with a compliment in it. After her health we asked, our care and regard to evince, we have made the very same speeches to many an old cat since.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

When the voices of children are heard on the green, and laughing is heard on the hill, my heart is at rest within my breast, and everything else is still. "Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down, and the dews of night arise; Come, come, leave off play, and let us away. Till the morning appears in the skies."
William Blake  

Children in Verse fifty songs of playful childhood with illustrations by Honor C Appleton.

Regular readers of this blog may remember a previous post about health-food pudding and nursery cake.  My sister left a comment saying how much she would like to own the featured cookbook. I sent it to her and when Terry and I visited yesterday she had cooked one of the cakes from it (thank you lovely sister!)

This is the deliciously gooey chocolate cake. 

 This is the very talented chef (my sister Sue)

Terry on the left and Sue’s husband Brian on the right enjoying a little spring sunshine in the garden


Sue and Brian's pretty courtyard garden 

Orchids on the windowsill

Thanks to Sue and Brian for a lovely day and thanks to everyone who takes the time to call in at my blog.  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Book of the Month; The Weather Fairies by Marion St. John Webb Illustrated by Margaret Tarrant c1924

March winds

and April showers

bring forth May flowers

Listening to the wind and rain outside my window it’s difficult to believe spring has arrived.  I was hoping to take a few photographs today, but due to the inclement weather, I'm reverting to some from previous years.

6th May, 2011
Sunshine, dogs and walking shoes; see original post here

3rd May, 2013
Bluebells at Dunster Castle; see original post here 

Published by The Modern Art Society, London.

I love the spring. Do you have a favourite time of the year?

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