Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hats and the Royal Wedding -My Take

Princess Beatrice.

I watched only a bit of the RW live and then a 1/2 recap on BBC which was all I needed.

Today, I'm reading in the Guardian that most guests were Tories and that the TV Coverage discreetly avoided showing any of the 'iffy' guests and when it doubt, they panned to Princess Beatrice.

I can see why. What a great hat! It's like she said, "Gran, if you are going to make me wear a hat, I'll wear a.. well."

I perused the hat fashions, since that's what I am interested in, from a Tighsolas point of view. It seems most guests got away with wearing headpieces, floral sculptures and all different but similar in a way. Society people do that well. (It also seems the wives of the very powerful are seriously hard-bodied and like to wear sheaths to show of their efforts.)

Summer Whatever, the Pointe Claire Girl was suitable Royal, as in Unimpressive. I think. Metallic coat, looked huge.

Princess Anne, who never was pretty -and lucky for her - wore a wonderful ensemble in purple, a little too young for her. But who cares.

And the best traditional hat goes to Camilla, large tasteful and it suited her.

The Queen looked old and 'cute' in too much yellow.

All my personal opinion as a hat connoisseur... hat historian, who never wears one, although I may have to start. My skin seems to hate the sun lately. My olive, Mediterrean skin. I guess all that abuse over the years.

And Kate seemed natural, herself, at ease in her 'little dress' which is interesting. Especially now since she will set the standard for all these other society women.

I liked the way the couple glanced at each other, now and then, sending themselves little private messages in a very public forum.

Maybe it will work, after all.

Friday, April 29, 2011

William and Kate - the Balcony Kiss

It was short wasn't it? This is a live shot as it happened.

Anyway, I got up late and I'm catching up on the Royal Wedding.

I've decided to watch CTV but turn off the commentary.

Tracey Ullman, I think it was her, looked funny in a kind of diaphanous rat's nest on her head, making fun of the hats.

This Flo in the City story is all about hats, because hats meant something in 1910. They represented class.

Now hats are only worn by members of the Royal Family and the hoi poloi at Royal Weddings. I met someone who was invited to the wedding of Anne's son, Summer Whatever, from Pointe Claire Quebec and she had a long list of fashion dos and dont's for that wedding and hats had to be worn.

As I watched the footage, I realized something. Most hats don't look good and most people don't look good in hats.

So back in the Tighsolas era with those huge hats, most women must have looked ludicrous.

Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, does look good in a hat. It is a pre-requisite.

Will hats come back into style?

No, they will not.

That is until actresses on the Red Carpet start wearing hats and they will not. Their hair stylists want all the attention.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Textile Research 1910.

Well, I've finished the outline of Flo in the City, the one with the plot involving garment workers. And it works. I just need to keep on working on it and hope that I have a few creative brainstorms. I used to have them on command, but, alas, my brain is old.

I had the major brainstorm to revisit the 1911 Census, to see what garment workers in Magog did. I know from another source, that the plant produced print materials for Dominion Textile.

Well, sure enough, there are many many people working at the the plant, and most are Tisserands.. weavers.

The most common other job says "journalier d'oc" occasional worker. Oddly, everyone has put 60 hours work a week down. (That must have come down from the company, to do so. Otherwise it makes no sense.)

The pay lines are all messed up, for the workers. One amount superimposed over another. Anyway 218 a year over 400 a year. Makes no sense either. Were they deliberately made obscure, because they all are!

I found one 12 year old working there (admitting to working there) and a 14 year old, which was legal, I think.

In 1909 Dominion Textile's union went on strike and asked that child labour not be used, so.. there you go.

It's hard to read, as the enumerator scribbled, and I've only looked at a few pages, but "carder" is another job...or cardeuse.

Useful and I'll look at the other pages. 1000 people worked for that place at one time back then.

I also found out that the Milliner in Richmond was Vitaline Goyette, 27, whose father was also a merchant. She calls herself a modiste de chapeaux. No income entered for her.

There are also a number of dressmakers in Richmond. One woman, Esther Proulx, 25 ish, calls herself a couturier de robes and she made 108 dollars in 1910. Whoopie Do.

Well, lots of fodder for my story. It seems that's why the Nicholsons could afford to hire a seamstress, on occasion. These poor women made next to nothing. But then again, Edith Nicholson made only 250 a year teaching at Westmount Methodiste Missionary School.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The King is Dead, Long Live the King.

A monkey and Ma Mere, Old Orchard Beach Maine, probably 1925, as my mother there is about 3, I'd say. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, was in is professional prime, Director of Services, for Montreal.

The roarin' twenties.

I've finished off the 2nd series of Upstairs Downstairs and I seem to recall the final scene on the balcony when the King Edward VII dies. And I've ordered the next set which will only arrive end of May.
May 1910 was when Edward VII left this realm.

I know, not because I looked it up on the Net. Years ago, when I first found the Nicholson letters, I travelled to McGill to check out the Gazette and Montreal Star newspaper archives.

I was looking for news about a fire in a hotel in Cornwall, because Edith's 'fiance' died in one.

I think I found a notice, but most of the newspaper was taken up by news of the King's death - and about the Horse Show.

I was woefully ignorant about the Kings and Queens of England, although I took British History in school, as we all did. And passed.

I didn't like or dislike history class.

But I didn't take a history course in College, except for History of Art.

Now, I realize everything is history, except, perhaps, Science Fiction and Math.
(My father, an Oxford taught mathematician, said 'everything is mathematics.' )

Anyway, the royal nuptials are coming up. Soon. But so is an election, which is actually getting exciting toward the end. And Vancouver made the next round in the playoffs and Montreal will, if the team wins tonight. (They've closed the street around the Molson Center to traffic, in the case of ahh..either case, I guess.)

Who has time for Royal Nuptials. And no Royal will look handsome now that Colin Firth has played George VI. Not to me anyway.

Good luck to Will and Kate (sounds like a sitcom). Good luck to any newlywed couple about to live their life under the microscope.

I'm very happy, because I'm working on the DEFINITIVE draft of Flo in the City. I'm not posting it as I hope to get it published in hard copy form. I then have plans to make a sequel using Marion's life and then Edith's..all covering the same 1911-1913 period.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Suffragettes and Iconic Mini Series'

Suffragettes throwing flour at Asquith's auto.. from Pankhurst's bio.

I watched almost all of series two of the old Masterpiece Theatre series Upstairs Downstairs yesterday, it being a very rainy day (although I got my dahlias in, don't I sound like Mrs. Dalloway who lived in Belgravia, am I right?) Anyway, yes, it does appear that that iconic series got to the Tighsolas era before I did... :)

The last episode I watched was about the daughter Elizabeth and the Suffragettes. Now, I likely didn't see this episode in 72 (although I may have.) I was in CEGEP then, and not likely watching much tv. And, remember, in those days, families tended to have only one tv and the dad commandeered it at night.

My husband remembers the series, however. His Mom watched it and he took it in on some level.

Anyway, it's interesting for me to see that episode. Upstairs Downstairs did not have a huge budget .. that is obvious. So the producers and other artists had to be creative. The scenes with the suffragettes were stylized... Only a handful of women gather at Eaton Place and head out to break windows and vandalize a politician's home.

Rose tries to stop Elizabeth but can't, then follows her and gets put in prison.
And force fed..

There's a prostitute among the women, a noblewoman, a woman of the educated middle class etc and they are not particularly nice to each other in jail.

So the suffragettes are not portrayed too sympathetically here... although as per usual excellent research was done. (But had I seen these series I would have learned that the term suffragette refers to the militant brand.)

I did post, earlier on, an article about the British Suffragettes (Margaret Nicholson mentions them in a letter and I find the event she is talking about). The article does say the woman arrested represent all stratas of society.

...I got an email from someone commenting negatively on a post about a Maclean's article from 1910 about the negro. The person said I shouldn't quote things out of context. Hmm. This entire blog is about the context of 1910, and contains an awful lot about immigration policy, the eugenics and purity movement. My goal is to get into the head of Marion Nicolson, a prim and proper Presbyterian, who happens to get a job in a school that has black students. Her letters reflect little of her feelings about her students. I have to research the ideas of the time. The fact that so many of these ideas have been censored, or at least not repeated in history books for the masses, is important. Indeed, a commentator in the New York Times wrote a similar article but a few months ago.. he perused 1911 articles from the New York Times about immigration to explore era attitudes about race and ethnicity. He remarked on how the Powers that Be liked to stereotype different ethnic groups with respect to personality and character. In his mind, they did this is similar fashion to the way the American Kennel Club describes different dog breeds.

Upstairs Downstairs touches upon the racism in the era, but only lightly. Their purview is class prejudice.

Lady Bellamy is a nice enough woman and a clothes horse, but she is not much into social some wives of MPS were. Indeed, Mrs. Snowden, a suffragist Edith heard speak in 1913, was the wife of an MP, a Philip Snowden who went on to get a very key position . I can't recall, now, which one.. I read it in the book The Thirties: An intimate history..

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Both Maid and Hostess


I am writing my final draft of Flo in the City, putting it all together and I reread this bit from the 1912 letters. Flora writing to her sisters in Boston.

This is the only letter I have from Flora to her sisters, and it contains a bit of candid information. She didn't enjoy some visitors. It was hard work. As I am also watching Upstairs Downstairs, this bit is particularly relevant. She was middle class so when people visited, she was both 'maid' and 'hostess'.

The middle class Nicholsons were neither Upstairs or Downstairs. They were In Between Stairs.

"We got card from Mrs. Cleveland saying that they expect to arrive in Quebec on Monday so that means some work for us. I would just as soon have the King come as Dr. C of course "he ain't a going to be any trouble" but from now on you can think of us scraping out all the corners, carrying newspapers to the attic, making lemon pies, etc besides "a talking to him in between times." Mrs. Cross from Mt and Mrs. Skinner are coming over for tea tomorrow night. Be sure and send Mrs. Dr. Skinner a card. Mrs. Cross was saying today she has been very sick in fact, they all have been. Now I must gang awa is ma wee bed so good night."

Your Pard,
Florrie Anderseed

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A not very meaty or spicey look at Anglo Montreal History.

I brought my husband and two friends to see Schwartz's the Musical at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal today. I'd read the reviews: the Globe and Mail critic trashed the thing, so I suspected it might be good.

It was. We all enjoyed it. The singing, we all agreed was A1 (I especially liked Dominic Lorange, who has it all, the pipes and looks and acting skills.) I liked the history explained in the play, too. But I might ask: Where's the Meat?

Shwartz's (sic re apostrophe) the Musical is tailor made for Anglo Montrealers, a dying breed, so consequenly the show itself is doomed in that it has a limited audience.

Or has it? I read somewhere that the cast dreams of getting to Broadway. Not likely. But the theme of the show is New York friendly. If you make it edgier and talk frankly about Jewish heritage in Montreal.

But Jewish immigration in the first part of this century, to Montreal and New York, was pretty well parallel.

Schwartz's the Musical steers away from controversy... there's nothing controversial about tasty brisket sandwiches. Unless you are a vegetarian. And trashing Toronto is a tad sour grapes and not very daring (Torontonians don't get it as the Globe and Mail review proved)... all considered. I imagine most of the people in the audience had sons and daughter and grandsons and granddaughters working or even retired in Toronto.

This Flo in the City blog and my book, Flo in the City, deals with this. Flo will hear about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and learn about the Eaton's garment worker' strike in 1912. And one of her fellow graduates will be a Jewish woman who is not allowed to teach, but who gets a job giving home visits to new immigrants.

There was one song, Kicked Out.. or something, that was interesting and if they had did more songs along this line, New York might have, indeed, embraced this odd niche musical.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Maupassant's and My Own Ramblings

Dome Centrale 1889 Paris exposition. Italian Modern according to Guy de Maupassant.

I am listening to a travelogue by Guy de Maupassant and it begins with a diatribe about the French Exposition of 1889. He's fed up, he says, by the sight of the Eiffel Tower, which you can see from anywhere, and which you can see everywhere, made out of every conceivable material in every shop window.

Ah, the modern age. John Berger explains about it in Ways of Seeing.

Maupassant goes on to complain that you can't get a taxi or a table in a restaurant, because of the crowd that smell of perspiration.

He sees the Exposition as a tribute to the industrial sciences,and a slap in the fact to art, and a sign of a new society, without castes, just the poor and the rich.

He sees the future in the present, like all good artists.

Right now, I am ready to get down to writing the Final Draft of Flo in the City. Thanks to another discovery on the litteratureaudio website, a poem by Victor Hugo about child labourers, I figured out the plot. And I've done all the research, too, although yesterday I dug around for examples of health hazards for workers in textile in the era.

My story begins with Flo in her crunch year at High School: she has to read this poem by Hugo and it is difficult. She brings it to the only French girl she knows, an apprentice in the millinery shop, who has trouble reading it herself. But as they decipher the theme of the poem, the girl becomes agitated: for she is French Canadian and many of her relations work in the Dominion Textile factory at Magog. Flo says, "Well, it's nice that we don't have such things anymore."

And then she tells Flora about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, just the week before, about the girls jumping out of windows to their deaths.

And Flora says, what has that got to do with me? Girls in New York. And from foreign parts too. And besides, we at home make our own shirtwaists.

Yes, but do you make the "coton" too, the French girl asks? And then she tells her about the factory at Magog. About the girls who work there. (She would have to work there were it not for the fact her aunt knows the owner of the this millinery shop.. and she can speak English.)

And so Flora is introduced to an aspect of social responsibility not usually reflected on by Presbyterians...who are more concerned with the vanity aspect of women's dress and not the social costs of this preoccupation.

Ps. Today, I was talking to my brother in law who brought up Flo and said she often spoke of the students at William Lunn. She remarked how the Jewish parents would be upset if their children only got 90's.

That's for the final part of Flo in the City, when she is working. She does mention in a 1914 letter that Parent's Day is a great success, with all the moms and dads coming out wanting to know about Johnny and Sally.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Deja Vu In Between Stairs

I have finished watching the first series of Upstairs Downstairs that takes place between 1903 and 1909. I've already ordered he next set.

Like my Tighsolas story, the first series ends in a wedding. And as befits the 1910 era, hats are at center stage during this scene.

The original Upstairs Downstairs shows how to produce a period piece without a huge budget. There are no establishing shots, no outdoor sets to speak of, save the outside of the home in Belgravia and the outside of this church where the wedding takes place. Few wide shots either.

Furniture takes the place of setting (like on stage)...tables and chairs.

Writing and acting take center stage and there's a great deal of attention to historical detail.

And the costumes are impeccable, as well.

At the wedding a servant is wearing a ludicrous hat covered in cherries (which are meant to be real, I imagine. Lady Bellamy is wearing a breathtaking work of art on her head as she reflects the epitome of good taste (in a rather tasteless time) and there are all kinds of hats in between reflecting the personalities and levels of taste in between. Bellamy's society friend has just too many roses perched upon her hat, but ladies did that.

Now, of course, you can turn to YouTube to see real people in the era's hats and movies of the time.

The researchers for the original Upstairs Downstairs didn't have the Internet, but they did have real Edwardians to talk to. Edith and Flora Nicholson, for instance, were still alive and no doubt they watched this scene and remembered their own big hats. Edith always wore a hat to church, my husband remembers, even when they were no longer in fashion.

Now, after 5 years of researching the Tighsolas era on my own (without having seen Upstairs Downstairs.. I could have just ordered the tape at any time this past decade)it's like deja vu all over again.

There's even a short allusion to the eugenics movement in the scene with the daughter's bohemian friends.

Tighsolas is neither Upstairs or Downstairs. It is IN BETWEEN Stairs.. The Nicholsons are middle class and as I have been told, letters written by middle class women and preserved are rare.

Now, I didn't see this series because in 1972 to 77 I was at school, the one time in my life I watched no TV. I had better things to do. No doubt I saw a few episodes and I certainly heard all about it. Indeed, my introduction to the term Edwardian Period was likely because of that show.

The daughter in the first series is 21, and that would have been a bit older than me. They played up the New Woman aspect of the era through her - no doubt to appeal to young female viewers like me. I certainly would have identified with her.

1971, forty years ago. There are quite a few references to homosexuality in this series, quite adventurous for a series in 1971, I would think.

I also think the respresentation of female sexuality was pretty well bang on. With respect to sex. Kissing was considered risque behavior and prudishness crossed the class lines, although the daughter mentions the bedroom activities of the upper class marrieds during her Scottish visit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Shirtwaists: More than a mere blouse.

Shirtwaists from the Eaton's Catalogue

The Tighsolas letters mention shirtwaist. When I first discovered the letters, I had no idea what a shirtwaist was. I soon saw pictures in the magazines, like The Delineator, that I purchased off Ebay.

I have a picture of Edith in a shirtwaist. She is posing in front of her school.

I still didn't quite understand the significance of shirtwaists. Apparently, they were working women's garb.

The Nicholson's made their own shirtwaists, although you could buy them from the Eaton's catalogue, for about a buck.

The Delineator showed much more fancy ones, not the kind a woman who had to work could afford, so the leisure classes also bought into the fashion.

Well, 2011 is the 10oth annversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Greenwich Village New York.

As it happens, in March 2011, Flora was in her crunch months at Academy, hoping to get into Macdonald Teacher's College.

She would fail French but still be allowed to go to Macdonald.

I recently found this Victor Hugo Poem called Melancholia about child labour in France during the Industrial Revolution.

Où vont tous ces enfants dont pas un seul ne rit ?
Ces doux êtres pensifs que la fièvre maigrit ?
Ces filles de huit ans qu'on voit cheminer seules ?
Ils s'en vont travailler quinze heures sous des meules ;
Ils vont, de l'aube au soir, faire éternellement
Dans la même prison le même mouvement.
Accroupis sous les dents d'une machine sombre,
Monstre hideux qui mâche on ne sait quoi dans l'ombre,
Innocents dans un bagne, anges dans un enfer,
Ils travaillent. Tout est d'airain, tout est de fer.
Jamais on ne s'arrête et jamais on ne joue.
Aussi quelle pâleur ! la cendre est sur leur joue.
Il fait à peine jour, ils sont déjà bien las.
Ils ne comprennent rien à leur destin, hélas !
Ils semblent dire à Dieu : « Petits comme nous sommes,
Notre père, voyez ce que nous font les hommes ! »
O servitude infâme imposée à l'enfant !

I think I will have Flora have to read and write about this poem in her final year. She will take it to Miss Gouin, a French woman who sews for them and the only French person she knows. Miss Gouin will tell her all about the Magog plant at Dominion Textile where many of her relations work. Flora will get an education, but not the kind expected by her teachers, but one that will serve her well as a teacher in Griffintown, where many of her students will be the children of Jewish immigrants. In 1912, Eaton's garment factory workers, all Jewish, will strike. They won't win their cause as the non Jewish workers will not support them.

There's also an unrelated strike of garment workers in Montreal, complete with a protest march.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Upstairs Downstairs 1903-2011

I've just watched the second episode of the new Masterpiece Theatre Upstairs Downstairs, as well as the first four episodes of the original.

I bought the first series of the classic series off, and it takes place in 1903-08, the beginning of the Tighsolas era.

Right away, I was pleased to see a dressing scene in the maid's quarters. In Flo in the City, I describe Flo getting dressed. Now I can see it for myself.

I don't recall seeing Upstairs Downstairs, but it's hard to tell. It is so iconic that you don't have to see it to 'have seen it.'

I recall the Forsythe Saga, (I recall this scene if the baby Fleur) and Duchess of Duke Street...and I Claudius.

Upstairs Downstairs started in 1971. I was in 10th grade. The other years I was in college and university.

Still, it's very likely I watched the show. And I am pretty certain Flo and Edie did, from Tighsolas. (If they could get PBS...hmm.) And then they probably thought back to their lives in 1905 and 1908 (perhaps remembering that upstairs in the attic was a trunk full of era letters). And they probably joked about having no they were their own servants. Well, we all know where they were and what they were doing in the Edwardian Era before the war.

As they watched the maid, played by Pauine Collins secure her stockings with garters, perhaps they discussed when they changed over to garter belts (which were just going out of style thanks to pantyhose). I doubt that at 88 Edith had changed to pantyhose. Pantyhose is still problematic for very old women.

When they heard about the coal stoves, they probably thought back to the wood stove, that was in Tighsolas for a long long time. They might have discussed how in 1910, the more modern stoves where both coal and wood.

The cool thing about the old Upstairs Downstairs is that it makes reference to technological changes happening. The cinema, the auto. Incidently.

Anyway, I will purchase the next series, 1908 and beyond to further study the era. I realize the show's real strength is its acting. Still stand out after all these years.

I also watched an HBO programme about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on the anniversary of the history-changing evcnt. I was taken by how beautiful all the victims were, even their descendants.

Jewish and Italian.

In Montreal, French Canadians also worked in the factories.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

BBC Radio Four 4 Extra

I just discovered Radio Four extra (it's new) and I listened to a much fun omnibus of the Ottley's, which featured Colin's brother Jonathan Firth. I told my hubby, "I got a gift from Heaven, older BBC Four stories."
I guess he was happy for me.

It all sounds a bit like BBC Radio 7.

The Ottley's was wonderful and took place in the Tighsolas Era. 1908-1912. I am enthralled with BBC radio FOUR (4) and pray to heaven that they won't take it away, or offer it for pay. I'd be happy to pay. I'm one of the few Canadians who signed up to pay for the New York Times. I understand we won't have any REAL journalism unless we do so.

I see they are re-running Fortunes of War. I enjoyed that mini series so much I bought the original with Emma Thompson. The BBC four edition was TERRIFIC. It blew me away. So was the Emma Thompson version. I lent it around. I spread the wealth. Such pleasure at my fingertips!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Upstairs Downstairs -Then and Now

Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh in the new Upstairs Downstairs. I watched the first episode of the new Masterpiece Theatre Upstairs Downstairs Sunday night and it was a very fine thing.

And it takes place in the 1930's so the set designers and dress designers had a spree. (I am renovating a bathroom and I just drooled over a bit of deco bathroom.) And it is set this time in the same era as the King's Speech. And it feels a lot like Gosford Park. And the format is perfect for showing how the BIG PICTURE, the political, impacts on the SMALL PICTURE, the personal, my main aim with Flo in the City.

I liked this new Upstairs Downstairs so much I immediately went on Amazon and purchased the original, its been so long since I saw it. My husband surprised me. He doesn't know his Brideshead from his I Claudius (He's more a Shogun kind of guy) but he walked into the room when the TV had a head shot of Jean Marsh and said, "She was in the original." His mom watched Upstairs Downstairs.

Anyway, I might have missed out on all this fun except for an article in Someone was lamenting the American fascination with the class system. "Haven't we got past this yet?" she asked. ( I stopped reading her article because I quickly went to the PBS site to see when the miniseries was playing.)

But I'll answer her anyway: No. You are deluded if you think there is no class system in America. Maybe we don't have accents, but... And statistics reveal that here in NA we're getting pretty close to Edwardian style feudalism, with a tiny proportion of people holding most of the wealth. (Our Prime Minister Stephen Harper is building prisons instead of poor houses for the hoi poloi, but...there you go.)

(Now, in my previous blog, I remarked upon how I live a similar lifestyle to people in West London, despite my home being worth much much much much less. That is, I am of the same class, essentially. My interests, education, even lifestyle. But there have always been anomalies in the class system.)

Of course, all this business about the servant class fits in beautifully with Flo in the City. In 1910, as I've written they had 'a servant problem.' And when Flora Nicholson attended Macdonald Teachers' College in Ste. Anne de Bellevue in 1911, many of her fellow female students were studying domestic science. It was an institution originally set up to train men as farmers and women as domestics.

I am reading The Thirties: An Intimate History on my Kindle, which is another reason I am so pleased to have discovered Upstairs Downstairs.

I am only 13 percent into the book (says my digital slate) but it is clear that in the UK in the 30's, with rampant unemployement, the Powers that Be thought that unemployed women (from textile factories in the north, etc.) should be trained as domestics. This first episode of Upstairs Downstairs was about the difficulty of finding good help in the 1930's in England.

I'm not sure this happened in Canada during the Depression.

My mother's French Canadian family, in the 30s in Montreal was well off, but they didn't have maids although my grandmother often took in 'troubled girls' the nuns couldn't handle...

My anglo father in law, however, had a cook and a maid and they were upper middle class, I'd say. They lived on Tupper near the Montreal Forum and later on Chesterfield in Westmount. A maiden aunt, Emily, was his nanny of sorts. (She was not poor, she left 50 thousand at her death.)

I don't know who these maids were, but I do know that after the war Caribbean women were brought in to work as domestics, even if they had professional credentials. This was the same in England. The book Small Island is about just that.

And today wealthier people hire Philippino women to take care of their children and our elderly. So to say there is nothing for us to learn from the past, how ridiculous!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Little Loos - Big Job

My guest bathroom. About 10 years ago, when my husband was laid off from his editing job in TV (for the third time) but with an option to move to the Toronto station in Scarborough, we brought the real estate agent in to appraise our suburban bungalow. She looked at our house and said right away, "first thing that guest bathroom must be renovated.... You can do it yourself for about 1,000."

Well, my husband got his job back and the bathroom, which had dark green tiles on the floor, many cracked, and a bottle green bath and sink (so seventies)never did get renovated. We've been using it as a cat bathroom.

For years we contemplated a quick cheap makeover for it: merely replacing the floor tiles, vanity and toilet and perhaps getting someone to spray the bath white. We started on that path last week, but suddenly the project became much more complicated and expensive, not a unique situation, for sure. We gutted the bathroom and prepared to put in a new shower --and it will all cost much more than 1,000 dollars, even though my husband is doing the work himself - with some help.

Not only that, but the downstairs bathroom is being redone, as the plumbing had to be changed anyway.....and if you are going to open the ceiling..... So it goes.

I got caught up in all this, too, largely because I had spent some time looking at other people's bathrooms on a London Real Estate Website. I got hooked on this weird passtime because I find it fun looking at average 4 bedroom two bathroom homes like mine, that sell for 20 or 30 times the price of my house.

These London folk have more MUCH MUCH money than me, but their lifestyle is essentially the same. They buy the same organic chicken and local veggies, they listen to BBC radio four. And frankly, from what I have observed, they have no more, no less taste in decorating than I have. Indeed, the most nicely decorated homes I saw were in 'cheap' Acton, not Kensington. But that's my opinion.

But their bathrooms are all very very nice... the fixtures almost uniformly white. Marbly walls. The vanities with the sink overhang very popular, and oddly that is what my husband chose for our bathroom. (I wasn't so sure.)

(My fantasy bathroom is 'art nouveau' style, with scallopped sink (no longer in style) and jewelled Lalique style cabinet doors.

Of course, many of these London loos on the Real estate website might have been recently renovated in order to sell, but frankly, if your house is worth 5 million pounds, you can afford 10 thousand for a new bathroom. This has nothing to do with Flo in the City, a story I am supposed to be editing, except it's hard to work with all that banging going on.

And all that the cursing. (Our house, apparently, seems that it was made by two different people, one lazy person who cut corners and one perfectionist who double re-inforced everything.) I cursed a little yesterday myself, when my husband refused to put on safety glasses while prying tiles off the wall, and they exploded all around his head when the wall finally came loose.

"You're an editor," I wailed. "You need your eyes." Today he is wearing safety glasses.

Tighsolas had one bathroom upstairs, and in the 60's, when Flo and Edith moved back after retiring, they needed to have one put in downstairs, so the great nieces chipped in.

Not one Nicholson letter contains a hint of toilet activities. Well, they were prim and proper in those days. I do have a doctor's prescription from 1896, and it says take a pill and then go to 'closet'. Water closet. WC.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Something's Happening Here...

1936, Saranac Lake. Snapshot my mother in law took of Einstein, the greatest man of the century, according to Time Magazine.

I've been reading The Thirties: An Intimate History by Juliet Gardner, the chapter about poverty in England. I have a stake in the story, as that is where my father lived as a student. His parents were rubber planters in Malaya. He went to School at St. Bees in County Durham, a pretty place on the coast.

He's dead, but he often spoke of his miserable childhood in England. He said he starved at his prep school and that he was shuttled from relation to relation in the summer as he couldn't go 'home' to Malaya.

From what I read in this book by Juliet Gardner, he wasn't alone in his misery. The thirties were a miserable time for miners and factory workers in the North of England, most of whom were 'on the dole' for much of their life, living a subsistence existence.

Some men turned to petty crime, such as stealing pieces of coal from the mine's rubbish bins, for heat, or poaching rabbits for food(considered vermin in those days, but you still couldn't catch them legally).

These desperate men sometimes went to jail, but jail was OK as at least you got shelter and something to eat.

Anyway, yesterday as it happens, my son gave me a call. (My husband had phoned him.) And we talked a bit. He's twenty two and he's worried about the kind of society Canada is evolving into. (He's studying philosophy.)First, he's worried about the economy.

His food bill, he says has doubled in the past year (and he works as a cook part time so he knows about food.) So has mine, I said, feeling a bit guilty about the 20 dollar organic chicken I am preparing to eat this weekend.

Then he told me about some media outrage over a man who had killed his children, was deemed not guilty because he was mentally unfit (a very rare occurrence)and now after two years is allowed re-enter society.

My son can't understand why people are upset; this shows that the system is working, he thinks.

He believes that our government just wants to create a new industry, a prison industry, like in the US - for free labour, etc. So, I told him a bit about the Gardner book I am reading, and I said I had to agree: Yes, it does look like we are trying to go back to 'the good old days' now that most people who remember those days are dead and gone.

Today, I read in the online newspaper that our Prime Minister Stephen Harper promises to put through an omnibus crime bill in 180 days - if he gets a majority. And stories like the one my son told me are what convince some average Canadians he is in right to do this, even is statistics reveal otherwise. And this despite the fact Mr. Harper seems unconcerned about hiring criminals for his inner circle.

Too bad average Canadians spend no time reading social history or the great books that came out the 30's. That's all I can say. It's so deju vu all over again.

Gardner desconstructs the crash of 1929 and it sounds no different from today: greedy ivory tower money speculators bringing down the economy, no political party able to figure out what to do to fix the economy because the problem is far too complex (even back then)..although they all vow to never again leave the economy at the mercy of high stakes gamblers. (Well, until next time.)

So it all comes down to whether you want to open your heart to the suffering of ordinary people, or practice "tough love" and cut down on unemployment insurance etc. etc and blame these working men for being lazy (even though some young men walked all over Northern Britain looking for work, any work, until their boots fell off their feet. Then people called them vagrants because they looked shabby.)

Or blame the housewives for being selfish and incompetent for not being able to make do on their husband's miserly dole money. Britons back then closed their hearts and chose the second option and booted Labour big time out and it was only after the war that they were re-elected.

War is a great way to kill off all those superfluous unemployable young men.

The fact is you only feel compassion for the less fortunate ONLY if you feel safe yourself... If it's a matter of 'them' or 'me', a person (a bundle of very selfish self-serving genes) always chooses 'me'.

Naomi Wolfe says that there are five steps toward creating a fascist state: the first is to create an internal and an external threat. Well, the external is obvious, but the internal in Canada is 'criminals' on the streets. (In the US it is immigrants, but that doesn't work in Canada.)

The second step is to build prisons.. Hmmmm. But I digress. In those days, the early 30's, Britain was 75 percent working class and 40 percent of these people were living under the poverty line. And still, Britain wasn't as badly off as the US or Germany.

Women suffered most, its seems. (Gardner claims it was 4 times more dangerous for a woman to have a baby in those days as it was to work in a coal mine. Poor pre-natal nutrition and medical care...and to think that Britain and the US today are cutting back on just these things, reproductive and maternal health.) You see, women were the ones who managed the meagre family earnings and they often fed themselves last, if at all. So, in those days before birth control, many many babies were still born.

And then there's me and my organic chicken.

I'm like a modern Marie Antoinette: "Let them eat deformed mush-muscled factory chicken."

Oh, I didn't ask my son if he was going to vote. I doubt it, as he didn't in the last election. Of course, he's on the list in our Quebec riding, a long time bloc stronghold, so we're essentially disenfranchised, so I can't blame my son: I know just how young people feel. The power brokers know it too and they are counting on our apathy. Apathy and 'managed' selective anger driving a democracy. How lovely.

And all my very selfish genes do is make me worry about an impending war (if history repeats itself and it always does )and what if my son had to go.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How Green was my Life

My mother's family in around 1929 or 30.

I am reading a book about the 30's in my kindle. The Thirties: an intimate history by Juliet Gardner. Reading on a Kindle, of course, is a very different kind of experience.

First I had to look up the name of the author. Unlike a hard copy book, the author's name isn't staring you in the face each time you pick up a book. A very different experience. I have only read 3 percent it says. What is 3 percent? In the past, when reading a book I like, I spend a great deal of time weighing it in my hands, back and forth and flipping through the pages.

When reading a book I REALLY like, it's almost a religious act, this weighing of the book. Imagine, all this wisdom here in my hands. And you always have a sense of where you are in a book with a hard cover or paper back copy. I must admit, this feeling of awe occurred more frequently in my childhood and youth.

Indeed, last night, I thought I should re-read How Green Was my Valley. I was reading a chapter on unemployment in the 30's, and (what is her name, again) Juliet Gardner mentioned that the Welsh coal miners had unions. That's what How Green was my Valley is about, if I recall. Reading that novel was one of the great experiences of my childhood/youth. I've re-read it once since, but it wasn't the same. And I've seen the movie.

I had trouble reading the names back then. That's how young I was. HUGH was HUG to me. Bronwyn was the woman, right? She smelled nice to Hugh, that's all I remember. Of vanilla or rosemary orsomething. I was just a little girl, but I understood the power in that. Or Llewellen conveyed it to me.

When my first son was born I wanted to name him Hugh, but my husband, who has dyslexia didn't want to because he didn't know how to spell it. Then later, with the discovery of these Nicholson letters, which has led to this Flo in the City blog, where I am writing a book online, I learned that my husband's grandfather was named HUGH. If I had only known, I would have insisted.

Anyway, it's books like How Green was my Valley and Of Mice and Men that moulded my world view. This Juliet Gardner book reminds me that I have yet to read Orwell's Wiggan Pier.. or Priestley's book about his travels in England in the 1930's. I should, I guess.

I have plenty of letters from the 30's from the Nicholson collection. They touch on the Depression. I think a sister of Margaret's writes from Sarnia:"I never thought I'd see grown men begging in the street."

My family, above, was doing fine in the 30's. My grandfather had been fired from his job as Director of City Services of Montreal, by Mayor Camillien Houde, but not before he negotiated a fine pension. He was run over in 1937 by a city constable and died the next year of complications. No more pension. But that taller girl on the right: my Aunt Flo. She had been adopted, plucked from the streets of Montreal, because she spent so much time begging at my grandmother's door.

Anyway, the great thing about the Kindle is the instant gratification part of it. sent me a notice about this book, (actually and I found it and downloaded it immediately. I also downloaded a book on the Reformation. Hadn't intended too but they have ONE CLICK DOWNLOAD and I accidentally clicked on the book and so I'll be learning a bit about that.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not Happily Ever After

Mementos of the Marriage of Hugh Christian Blair and Marion Nicholson. Handmade - as their wedding was on the cheap.

Hmm. Mrs. H Blair. When a woman got married back then she not only gave up her surname, but also her first name. Officially speaking.

I have calling cards for Marion that say Mrs. H. C. Blair. These were likely used before her husband died in 1927. In her professional capacity, as a widow, she used the name Marion A. N. Blair.

Well, once again I went through the Nicholson memorabilia, looking for a certain document and found one I didn't know I had: Marion and Hugh's marriage contract. I had only guessed the date of the marriage, using an invoice for a wedding cake on October 9, 1913. Then I found these butterflies. Well, the Marriage Contract has the same date.

The contract is interesting in that it shows that Marion brought nothing to the marriage but her clothes and wedding gifts. (There's a big space in the contract to list other things.)

Then it shows that Hugh promises to give all the household furnishings purchased from now on, to Marion, "as a simple celebration of the marriage". And also to leave any insurance to her, UNLESS, there is a separation FOR ANY REASON and all this is deemed void.

I get the impression that this contract was forced on Hugh and Marion by his family, to protect them. She certainly gets nothing out of it.

As it happens, Hugh Blair died in 1927 after a lengthy illess. A liver issue. I have letters speaking of his illness. Edith writes that his eyes are as yellow as egg yolks. (I have stories told by my mother in law who was 10.) and I have documents supporting what she talked about.

Apparently, when Hugh was dying, Marion did everything to keep his family away, as she knew they would force him to sign away his share of the business. But she went out one day and they got him to do it.

I have two copies of a letter written by Hugh to Marion saying that this is only a temporary business decision and that she is still provided for.

Then I have a letter from Clayton Hill, the brother-in-a law stone mason, just before Hugh's death, relating to the potential purchase of a plot for him in St. Andrew's cemetery in Richmond. (Something made Hugh so angry he decided not to be buried with his family. Alas, he died too soon and is buried on Mount Royal.)

Then I have an obituary printed in the newspaper, that leaves out the names of Marion and family as mourners. (A letter Herb writes to Margaret asks about this.)

Then I have a letter from the Blair Bros. claiming that Hugh has exhausted all his insurance and that no money is due her.

Then I have a letter from a lawyer claiming that she has a good case against the firm but to pursue it would be too costly.

Then I have a letter from the Masons, the Melita Preceptory and Priory, saying that they are going to give her kids allowances from the Knight's Templer Orphan fund.

And, yet, apparently she never complained. She just went back to work and rose to be the President of the PAPT union. And she got hell for this too, for her job, in many people's eyes, was to get remarried and not get a job.

Had she been a man, there's no end to what she might have accomplished.

Funny, I have a letter from her brother, Herb, 1907. Marion is teaching in Sherbrooke, he's at the bank, working as a clerk. This is the year the Nicholsons are disinherited by a spinster Aunt who had a house and about 3,000 in the bank.

"And now that my house is to be given to someone else, " he writes "I will have to give up all hopes of ever being rich and look at it as a lost fortune."

He would spend the next few years getting into debt and making his family crazy with anxiety and it would be Marion on her teacher's salary, who would bail him out, no thanks from him.

(This is the story told in the Nicholson Family Saga, on another blog.)

Sometimes I wonder if she got married because of a fear that she'd forever be bailing out her family, what with her brother being so irresponsible.

Largely because of Herb, Norman would have no money to give her 'a proper wedding' - so this mean little contract, I guess.

Hugh married Marion anyway, against his parents' wishes. I also have a friendly warm letter from Hugh's father, Hugh Purvis, to Hugh in June 1913, that never mentions Marion or the upcoming wedding.

Apparently, they didn't attend the wedding. But, for the wedding, they did provide the couple with a Family Bible which I have on hand.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What's in a Swear Word?

Colin Firth in the King's Speech, looking an awful lot like my father. Oh well. I know how 'ambivalent' Queen E must feel looking at this movie.

Anyway, I spent the morning preparing a proposal for the publication of the Nicholson family letters and I was so afraid I'd get antsy and send it off before it was ready, (I can do that sometimes),I decided to go into town with my husband. He let me off at Atwater, so I went and had 'tea' in Westmount, at a place called London Bus, which had a red plastic London telephone booth in it. I thought the owner should go to Moe's Delicatessen in Pointe Claire where they have a real one.

(Speaking of delicatessens, I also bought tickets for Schwartz's, the Musical at the Centaur, for my husband's birthday, April 24. It'll probably be cheesy, but what's wrong with that.) Anyway, I went to the Pepsi Forum, such a dark place you can hardly see the statue of Maurice Richard in the penalty box, and the AMC and there was no movie playing there that I wanted to see so I saw the King's Speech again, even though it's coming out on DVD and satellite next month.

My son's girlfriend had just seen it and loved it, even thought Jeff Apatow movies are more her style.

She was moved by Colin Firth's performance and she loved the interplay between the King and Lionel Logue.

My husband heard that they are putting the King's Speech out in two versions, one with the swearing expunged. So I watched the movie with this in mind; and frankly, the swearing is key to the movie. I don't understand.

And being a Montrealer, I understand even less.

On the weekend my husband and I had seen PAUL, a silly good natured movie about an alien, featuring the guy who played Scotty in Star Trek. Well, it was the middle of Saturday afternoon and the audience consisted of a few older couples, and a number of younger people and many parents and kids. In front of us was a row of 8 to 12 year olds, there alone. And then the movie started and my husband and I turned to each other and smiled. The movie is all swearing! And

I don't just mean the F word, which is the 'worst' swear word in the King's Speech. And a lot of TALK of sexual things, a la adolescent humour.

A couple of years ago my husband I went to see Tropic Thunder, with the theatre packed, a much funnier and edgier movie than Paul, and during a particularly amusing scene featuring Jack Black, withdrawing from cocaine, my husband turned to me and through his tears said, "There's a 7 year old sitting beside me."

Ratings make no sense. I recorded the French Lieutenant's Woman the other day and watched it and the rating on movie was R 18+. Last night, I watched some silly 70's movie, the Last of Sheila, because I had to stay away to pick up my husband at midnight from work, and that show had an 8+ rating, despite having some graphic murders and Raquel Welch and Dyan Cannon.

NO SENSE. What are they going to have The King saying in these two longish scenes where he swears. DARN DARN. Gosh Darn. Golly Gosh Darn darn. You cannot take the scenes out, they are pivotal. They speak to his letting go...remember, swearing in those days was a very low class thing. My parents never swore,(except my dad in the car.)(And it's a fact that we store 'swear words' in a different part of the brain than regular speech and these scenes speak to that phenomenon.

Anyway, speaking of handsome, broad-shouldered men, driving into town, on Greene Avenue in Westmount, as I was pointing out the place where Edith's Westmount Methodiste stood in 1910, I saw a Mountie walking on the street. A tall good looking Paul Gross style Mountie. And I didn't have my camera! I turned to my husband and said, I hope there are some American tourists around. They'll get their money's worth.

In all my years, I've never seen a Mountie (in those dress reds) walking on the street in Montreal.