On friendship, being ‘suspended’ from school and the wearing of red leather gloves rather than Peruvian alpaca ones to peel a pear!

Yesterday Emily, a  close friend of my daughter Fran, a ‘Business Woman of the
Year’,  who runs  her own Edinburgh based award winning media design website company (ew multimedia), and who created  the website of my daughter Rachel (Rachel Fairley and Associates) came to help me with linking this blog to twitter and to my website, bringing with her a beautiful huge, bluey-white hydrangea (am effecting these media links now!)

Which got me thinking about how some of the friends of my children are my
friends too, and I  (believe!) I can chat to them as openly as I would my own mates. Of course bringing up three children ‘on my own’ (well their father
was up the road and available most  alternate weekends, holidays and
other days of the week so it was not entirely a solo job, yet it often
felt like one,  and it certainly did feel lonely pursuit at times): anyway it did mean I got to know their friends well (pancakes in the morning on the way to school were popular with Guffie- where are you now then?).  I think  I offered a ‘haven’ of sorts  when there were school challenges especially  for  my son Tom and co  in their mid-teens to save them from  being caught smoking  or drinking, by letting  them smoke in the garden in school uniform if smoking in the
park meant that they would get detentions or worse,  like being  thrown
out of school altoegther, which was mooted  once. (Watson’s had  a strict code of behaviour for pupils which I think was not that bad in the long run. The school
knew all about the back garden which once at least  had fifteen smoking
pupils  in it. The headmaster, who heard about everything – they had a pile of ‘detectives’ – once told me my tolerance of pupil’s anti- social behaviour was ‘unhelpful’ but there was little  he could do).  Once or twice I  covered up for  those  those who were ‘sick’ for too much drink early on before a party, and did not want their parents to know, helped by generally remembering my own misdemeanours.

These came when I was at university and later,  not when I was at school – although I did get suspended at school when I was fifteen for allowing a boy called  John Wilday, my second ‘love’ (there have been various nice  Johns in my life actually),  to hand me an unlit  cigarette to ‘hold for him’  on a school trip to
Stratford Upon Avon for a Shakespeare play. This caused a huge furore
as I was seen by a teacher and although she knew I was not smoking,  nor he for that matter, I was ‘consorting with a potential  smoker’ (flirting more like it) and suspended  by my own school.

The trouble was I had the main role of Yum Yum in the  Boy’s School production of  the Mikado, and the Girl’s School Headmistress
Miss Sharples awarded me the punishment of  standing  outside her
room at lunchtime for ten days for bringing the school into
disrepute.  I got sent home for a day or so in the initial stages of the furore and my parents were livid (‘wait until your father gets home’ said my mother when i pitched up unexpectedely) .   The whole thing rather messed up lunch time Mikado rehearsals until the Headmaster of the Boy’s School, Mr Hedge,s  made
an appeal for the boy to own up which he did.  I was  ‘forgiven’ as my
story was ‘true’ and rehearsals got back on schedule.   I got to go
out with the handsome  John after all (for a time, but it never worked
out – a lot of pursed kisses, rolling around the floor  hot steam I
remember! And a lovely locket. But my Dad never approved of him. he was not upwardly-mobile  enough for Dad… nice but far too ‘ordinary’ for his Jan, ‘wi
thout prospects’ ).

The thing was that Ellesmere Port Grammar School, part of the huge 1960s expanse in secondary education,  had begun as co-educational as part of a  separate gender education plan, so when the Girls School was built next door we switched  from being co-educational to separate schools,   joined by a low wall across the playgrounds. Our headmistress, Miss Sharples, who was a Durham-Oxbridge type of head, a huge battle axe of a woman  who  strode around in massive  tweed skirts wearing flat lace-up shoes,  was determined to ‘wean’ the girls off the boys and vice versa, and although operas and plays were shared she did her damndest to dis-encourage even thwart them. I starred in all the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas the boys’s school did (thank you Mr Davies!) and sang soprano solos as part of the school choir which kind of set me up for life. I  adored singing and still do,  having been singing solos since around 4  and with groups since was about 7 when my sister Mary and i did a family  duo of ‘Seven little girl’s sitting in the backseat’ !  I sang in the church choir from my early teens or earlier.  I was  also a member of the  Cheshire Youth Choir  for my last two years at school (not particularly distinguished within it though – I was one among lot more good singers there). I sang juvenile leads for the local amateur dramatic society and  was always being asked to sing solo with many professionals advising me to take it up seriously. I  probably could have   followed the professional singer path save that I had no other formal music training and no other instrument. I’ve sing with choirs and acapella groups wherever I have worked and lived, including Chile, where i sang with the choir of the Universidad Tecnica del Estado.   And I  still do so, being a member of Gold Award Winning  84+ strong barber-shop Forth Valley Chorus (although as I am ill i have to let that lapse as it is costly per month to be a member and even if you are ill you have to pay…).  

Still I got into music in other ways becoming eventually a music writer,
reviewer and critic having somehow wangled doing
a PhD in Ethnomusicology
specialising in world and Latin American musics, which was no easy
business when I did it in the 70s!

I see a fair amount of my children’s friends. My son’s friend Merlin will come
and cut wood for me today with his chain-saw (the Rowan tree by the
gate fell down in the snow in November). Tom’s  amazingly talented  carpenter
friend  Andrew Crawford  with his plumber friend  James have put a
stunning bathroom into my ground floor bedroom so I can live all on
one floor very near a bathroom if need be (which I needed to
following  my operation which meant I had to be on the basement floor and face the stairs to get to the kitchen which was tricky at first). Andrew and James came within a
week of Tom asking them if they could do a ‘speedy job’,  after  bumping into Andrew at the fish shop. Luckily something they were intending to do was put off.

The bathroom is stunning: its’ walls are adorned with a huge photograph  of a
pearly white blossom tree against blue, blue sky  that I took while walking to Santiago de Compostela in 2007, which was the idea of Tom’s partner Beatrice, an artist who works as an independent interior designer. For a time her company has designed the Big Brother Houses for TV  and Bea had this great idea of creating mural wallpaper out of a photo to make the bathroom look less ‘boxey’. Must post a picture. Elliot my daughter Fran’s friend, who is an electrician,  comes and does the electric jobs of which there have been a few. These friends of my children  are all skilled work people in their 30s – and lovely to boot. I am a lucky woman.

My own friends are amazing. My upstairs neighbour Sue who is  a gardener
extraordinaire, has weeded my garden and plants things in it all the time which she grows from seed (true she hated my weeds and I had a lot of them so I am kind of doing her favour letting her look after my garden… only joking Sue!)   Sue  has planted my new raised bed in my front garden and I have potatoes, beetroot, peas, spinach, lettuce and cabbage growing.  The only thing Sue has  not gone along with my desire to have chickens,  which I still feel I
passionately want to have –  but I’m working on it – Sue fears vermin
in the garden, rats from over the railway line and more visits from
the fox… and true i would need back up and am probably too busy with treatment at the moment and would need back up. Still i do not wish to be looking down from heaven  – of course I’ll get there, who doubts it?! – thinking, wish I had chickens when i was down earth ‘cos they aren’t allowed here…)

Judith who lives across the road, the first person who asked me into her home and welcomed me with Rachel when we first came to Edinburgh in 1977, is
always popping in with flowers and ringing up to see if she can do
shopping; as is her close friend Christine the 2nd person
I ever met here!  Jan up the road is always taking me places and on
call all the time for advice and more. She is such a great listener which is good as i am a right bletherer! And the other  Jan who looked  after
the children when they were little and was here when Fran was born in
the bedroom downstairs, rings and pops round.

Lucy (who has hens and grows wonderful veggies and plants in her garden)
has brought spare plants round for my  my garden and  brings fresh flowers always. Thérese brings round meals and is doing things all the time. People pop in with soup and puddings and presents and I have had an avalanche of cards and letters which continue to arrive, as do flowers by post and delivery, and little presents of soap and books. All this  ever since I was taken ill. People text me and email me and ring me which is veryt heartening.

My family – Mary especially,  and my  children keep in touch almost
daily too,  which makes we weep sometimes. It may be cliché but
the  love of family and friends really helps when one
is ill and facing mortality! ! I consider myself a very very lucky

As for the red leather  gloves, this first week after the life infusion
when I am taking heavy pills every 12 hours sees me have pins and
needles in my hands and feet when I touch anything cold or cool,  and
so I wear gloves,  and so this morning at 6 am (the drugs make me wake
early) I was peeling a pear and chopping strawberries (probably
verboten on my diet,  let’s wait and see) into my fine oatmeal, in
very stylish mode! The alternative are my Peruvian alpaca gloves but
they make everything hairy!


About Jan Fairley

I am an experienced and passionate ethnomusicologist working as an arts and music journalist and broadcaster, writer and editor as well as researcher, lecturer, radio presenter and producer. I have a breadth of organising experience at home and abroad. I am a fluent Spanish speaker. I love travelling and have worked abroad (notably Chile 1971-3 and again in 1994) and researched in Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Finland.
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3 Responses to On friendship, being ‘suspended’ from school and the wearing of red leather gloves rather than Peruvian alpaca ones to peel a pear!

  1. Jan Fairley says:

    yes as my son says these need to be edited down and typos corrected – 5/10 Jan to continue the school theme! also copying across changes the layout which can get fudsy- why is ther no spell check for a blog?

  2. Jan Fairley says:

    Enjoyed the heartwarming stories Jan! You are very inspiring xx

  3. Alex Baker says:

    Wonderful! I remember singing “7 little girls sitting in the back seat” over and over when I was a child along with “kisses sweater than wine” and “lollipop”. Sweet reminiscence 🙂 Alex

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