12 February 2014


Aren't old photographs fascinating? This is my Mom and Dad's wedding picture. Dad was the eldest of six, the last was yet to be born. Look at the outfits worn by granddad and grandma on the left. And don't they look happy? Only the best man had a smile on his face ... perhaps he knew something they didn't. Here's a more modern one, taken when I was a child. The rest of the grandchildren came later. 

My family on my Dad’s side was both musical and artistic. Sad to say I know very little about Mom's family.

Starting with my grandfather who ‘played piano by ear’ the family members developed their own form of music, playing the piano, dancing or singing. Most were artistic … woodwork, art, craftwork or dramatics. Only now, as I look back, do I recognise the surfeit of talent in the family.

In view of the fact that I was a downtrodden child, with a mother who offered no praise or encouragement and constantly reminded me to ‘know my place’ and ‘speak when spoken to’ I went through life thinking I had neither appeal nor aptitude. Only now do realise I wasn’t too bad at a lot of things, but especially craftwork and writing.

My Dad was an artist too, but his imagination and creativity was not with the arts. 
He was a whiz with wood. By trade a carpenter and joiner, if there was wood to be turned he was your man.  

He loved to surprise Mom and me, doing things in the home when we were out. New bits and pieces would appear. I particularly remember door handles, big and extraordinary works of art that were the talk of the neighbourhood. As a child I was the proud possessor of a magnificent fully furnished dolls house, a dolls cradle, pencil cases, needlework boxes with three tiers, and a wonderful desk and stool, tongue and grooved to perfection. When I married he delighted in creating things for my new home, a radio stand that was an exact wooden replica of the bird bath, a cork topped, carved legged card table that was the envy of the family and fought over when he died. I still have the desk.

Uncle Norman was musical. He was the youngest of Dad's family. This is him when he was 80. I don’t recall him ever playing an instrument but he sure could sing. He had a fine voice; it reached the rafters in church. From birth he was a sufferer of osteogenesis imperfecta, better known as brittle bone disease. Judging by his stunted growth you would not have expected him to have such a fine singing voice. He sang with a well known choir for years and was a popular member of an amateur dramatics group run by the church drama group. Nearly always the star of the show, people would ask if Norman had a part before they paid for tickets. They knew they’d have a good laugh if he was in the show. He died a few years ago, but his memory lives on for many folk.
 Encouraged by Ann, Norman’s wife, who is acclaimed for her work with oils, Aunt Florence took up painting. She delighted in transferring images of her garden to paper, with which she taught me everything I needed to know about plant life. However, her special talent was marquetry, producing wonderful pictures from different types of wood veneer. 
Three Scottish cousins played in the National Youth Orchestra, but the one who shot to fame was Susan: noted concert pianist, writer. She was the first girl to enter the music faculty at Kings College, Cambridge, and is to this day a joy to listen to.

My musical career (said with tongue-in-cheek) started when Mom sent me for piano lessons given by an elderly professor of music, at any rate he seemed old to me. I did quite well, gaining two certificates from the Imperial School of Music. The third attempt would have been a doddle if the examiner hadn’t stopped me playing, pointed to a random piece in the sheet music, and ordered me to ‘start again from there….’  That’s when I realised he knew I was playing from memory.


I couldn’t read music … but my memory was fantastic.


The Professor was a dirty old man. He would sit beside his pupils close enough for legs to touch. He liked to squeeze young girls’ thighs as they played. I was very young and shy and scared of adults. I couldn’t fight him nor could I tell my parents. Mom would just accuse me of lying. My immature brain decided that if I memorised everything I could get away from him faster, hence the discovery of fraud at my music examination.

In those days girls kept that sort of thing to themselves. I guess we were ashamed to admit, to put into words that a dirty old man was stroking their thighs. How embarrassing was that?

The stroking didn’t stop at the thigh. I remember my skirt being pulled right up and fingers tugging at the elastic round the knicker leg. I remember making the excuse of wanting the toilet in order to jump off the piano stool and get away from him.  

I began to miss lessons, played truant, naively thinking no-one would notice. One day I caught a bus into town, whilst at home the police were organising a search party. Oooo the hiding I got for causing everyone so much worry! None of that ‘are you all right’ rubbish.

But that, as they say, is another story.


  1. Valerie, this was a fascinating read! I love the old photos: such treasures.

  2. "Aren't old photographs fascinating? "

    Yes Valerie, they are indeed! And I had to chuckle when you said, "And don't they look happy?", because I have a few wedding photographs from my father's side of the family and with the exception of one person, no one else was smiling. They all looked like they were attending a funeral instead of a wedding - HA!

    And it's quite obvious that you got your wonderful creative talents from your father's side of the family. WOW! There was a lot of creativity there, both musically and artistically!

    "I couldn’t read music … but my memory was fantastic."

    Me as well. I can't read music at all, so whenever I was in a musical I would memorize the songs and sing them my ear.

    What a FAB post! I love seeing and reading about people's family history.

    LOVE that final photograph of you!

    Have a lovely Wednesday, dear lady!

  3. pretty cool how music runs in your family and yet each found their own way....and i can relate to the father and woodworking...the same is said of my dad....we never really related there until later in life.

  4. Great family pictures. I keep meaning to scan some of my old pictures to a posting and I will one day. Unfortunately, probably every young girl has a story like yours and when I was growing up in the 50's we were too scared to tell a grown up too for fear of not being believed. When my mom heard about a neighbor who did something similar, to his step daughters she figured the step kids were lying. She did not know that was the reason I never spent the night with them after the first time. It seems some kids are getting the message to tell now days. Though, there are still the horror stories of abuse.

  5. Ron, I think it must have been the norm to look very serious when posing for photographs. Odd !

    About music, I loved it by the way, I was okay singing but could't master playing the piano.

    So glad you enjoyed this post x

  6. BC, yes, it was no good telling the adults about things that happened... thankfully unlike today, and even now I think some would keep it hidden.

    Brian, I think the musical tradition has now come to an end... I don't know one member who can play or even sing.

  7. Good stories! Wow! What a talented and interesting family. And you had quite an interesting young life! So glad that perverted old man didn't scar you for life!

  8. They are treasures indeed. I've been converting my childhood album to digital on the computer...:)

  9. You are the only one in your family to have sung in the Royal Albert Hall n London though , and the only one to appear on stage there in front of thousands of women to receive a National Trophy! I am proud of you x

  10. This really was a intriguing and interesting post! It's a shame that I don't know that much about my extended family and ancestors. Perhaps I should look into or some similar website to help me get a start on discovering my past...

  11. That was lovely Valerie. I really enjoyed reading about your family. Have you still got the doll's house or a photo of it maybe? I'd love to see it. Did Dad make you figures to go in it? and furniture. I am also writing my memoirs for my sons to read one day. I think you should write more about your family. You have an audience here :)

  12. David, I guess they were all interesting in their own way. Something I appreciated more as I got older.

    Troutbuilder, it must be interesting to convert to digital, and well worth doing.

    Joseph, my light hides under the bushel, but thank you, anyway.

  13. Herman, it was easy to write about the family in this case because they were all around in my lifetime. I tried delving into the past but didn't have the patience.

  14. Stella, I don't have a photo of the dolls house. Yes, it was fully furnished but I can't remember if there were figures as well.

    Nice to hear from you, especially as I am unable to leave comments on your blog.

  15. What a beautiful post. You know the part I loved the most? The piano-playing "by ear". It reminded me of my own experiences as a boy tickling the ivories.

    Thanks, I really enjoyed that.

    Greetings from London.

  16. Thank you, Elliot.

    Thank you, Cuban. When I was a kid I took the expression 'playing by ear' literally! Can you imagine someone doing that?

  17. You have a very talented family Valerie, you included but oh dear, that was such a shame you had to go through such an ideal with that awful piano teacher. The photos were wonderful, and you were and are such a pretty lady.

  18. Thank you, Denise...I'm blushing now!

  19. What a talented family.

    What happened with your piano teacher wasn't unusual, sad to say, things like that happened more than was ever brought to light, I know from experience. Thankfully it's talked about more often these days. x

  20. Hi Pearl. Yes, it did happen a lot, and most of it not believed by adults.

    I've missed you... hope everything is okay with you.

  21. Wow. What a wonderful and talented bunch of folks. Enjoyed reading all about it. Sorry to hear about the nasty old man that you had to deal with. Hope all is well. Take care, Val.

  22. Valerie, the inclement weather has kept me from keeping up with your blog as well as I should have. You are a gifted writer, and your modesty only makes me appreciate your talents more.

    My mother would probably prefer to chew hot coals than proclaim herself a "feminist" - yet the lessons that she showed me through her actions made me understand something better than any political tract ever could: anyone who believes women are the "weaker sex" is an utter fool. She had to fight every day of her life to be given the same respect that a man takes for granted as his birthright. The only tragedy is that she or anyone else ever had to fight at all, for such a basic human right.

    I apologize if anything I said gave offense; it was the best way I could articulate something simple: your stories are fascinating, and they reveal so much of the strength of the author. I look forward to reading more!

  23. Nathaniel, thank you for your comment which I found quite insightful. It is true that women had a hard time being 'noticed' when surrounded by men who were considered to be the 'head' of everything. I'm grateful for the suffragettes!

  24. I am sooo not happy this post snuck past me...but, I can't NOT note a few things here...

    One: I think you need to listen to the man who loves you and who sees the greatness in you....then and now.
    Two: How awesome to be surrounded by all of that talent...AND to share in it.
    Three: I wanna applaud your ability to memorize and play music.
    Four: I wanna knock the block off that professor who robbed you of that gift and who violated you.

    No, not every victim finds the strength to tell the truth. Some can't find their voice, others continue to find themselves in circumstances that don't promote it. There are many reasons to remain silent, most driven by our need to be physically and emotionally safe. Finding the strength to speak truth about the circumstances takes an internal fortitude that I'm glad lives in YOU. It's made you the awesome woman you are today.

    So yup....I agree with Joe. And we BOTH can't be wrong....that just ain't possible!!

  25. What a wonderful and interesting read, Valerie.
    I do love the old photographs and am lucky to have a nice little collection of them myself.
    You certainly are creative, nice to see the family connection.
    Shame on that dirty old man. :(

  26. CrystalChick, I thought it would be nice to share a few family talents. Even now, XXX years later I still wonder how many others the music teacher nterfered with.


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