My way of letting off steam!

Archive for October, 2014

Life etc 1

The Search for Meaning

Today I was reading an excerpt from Viktor Frankl’s wonderful book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.

I first read the book in the early 60s as the result of a recommendation by a psychiatrist friend of mine John Roberts (see ‘Disordered Lives’ John Roberts and Douglas Hooper 1967) and it had a profound effect on me.

As I remember it, Frankl is relating his experience of being in a Nazi concentration camp and reflects, quite naturally, on finding meaning. All around him people were dying as a result of Nazi atrocities but, he observed, some just simply turned over and died. So why did he survive that terrible experience and those others, not killed by the Nazis, didn’t survive? He concludes that it was because he had found meaning and, in his case, the meaning was by thinking about his family, and his loved ones, as they might be, in the present. He didn’t know if they were living or dead, but it was important to his thinking that they were living now. In other words, in spite of his miserable existence, he had meaning. Those who turned over and died he suggests did not have that meaning.

Immediately of course many people would want to use the examples of religious belief or some philosophy as their answer to finding meaning and, yes, I have met the isolated, the chronically ill, and the dying who have been buoyed up by such beliefs but there are other factors involved too.

Having meaning can arise however from all kinds of activities but there are different levels, A hobby, doing some sort of administration, writing a blog (!) gives a level of meaning to life, but it is really only when human interpersonal relationship becomes involved that meaning carries with that important element of depth.

The club, the organisation, group activity, yes and even sometimes daily work takes the person up to a new level. Connecting with people on a face to face level leading to things like congratulation, appreciation, thanks, engagement, questioning, evaluation, all giving that sense of purpose and meaning. Even a measured amount of stress is beneficial so long as the other positive elements are not lost in the process. So those who are unemployed, shut in, aged, geographically isolated have less of a chance to know this element of meaning – they might be Frankl’s ‘turn over and die’ people but they are likely also to be the depressed, and the regular attenders at medical centres. The Marmot Report ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’ (2010) highlighted how social interaction was crucial to good health and the work of the Campaign to End Loneliness has shown that loneliness and isolation have the same physical dangers as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Since the elderly are more likely to experience this isolation and loss of meaning it could be argued that organised social interaction of some form is not just a useful form of leisure activity for people who like that sort of thing but should be seen as an essential prerequisite to accompany the many benefits society provides for them, and thus enable them to be more healthy at the same time.

Viktor Frankl’s experience, however, points to something more fundamental, namely that it was the experience of love within the family which gave him ultimate meaning. I hope that he would be willing to define ‘family’ in wider terms today, but to concentrate on the essence of what he was saying is to focus on how love and commitment enable us to be truly human and give us that meaning which we all need. Of course being human is also a problem for us, it is a flawed humanity which can create just as much problems within relationships as it solves. However not to take the risk of creating such relationships deprives us of that deeply satisfying feeling of meaning.

Our problem in todays world is that we don’t have the time or , perhaps  it is the desire, to take that risk,  but not to do so has repercussions on our feeling of personal meaning and therefore our well being too. This must have relevance just as much to those who are elderly as it does to the young. Giving up on creating deep relationships is, to put it plainly, nothing short of death!

So there is a clear need here for counselling but the role of voluntary organisations is crucial here too in being enabled to provide opportunities and occasions for deep meaningful social contacts. The end result will therefore be better health and also that sense of meaning which we all crave.

Memories of Luton 3

Memories of Luton 3

The Shops of Wellington Street

In his fascinating book ‘Strawopolis. Luton Transformed 1840-1876’ Stephen Bunker says that the Marquess of Bute planned and laid out Wellington Street sometime between 1821 and 1824. Later on in the book Stephen Bunker refers to a number of buildings erected in the Street in the mid 19th century, such as schools, chapels and, of course, pubs too. Perhaps the most notorious of the latter being The Wrestlers which he says was little more than a brothel. Now you wouldn’t expect that in Wellington Street these days, would you! The site of most of these places is now difficult to identify but the Street became, perhaps, the chief shopping thoroughfare of the town.

As a young teenager in the 1950s  it became my chief shopping thoroughfare too. Apologies for forgetting names, or getting them wrong, but here goes.

Farmer’s music shop at the start of the street was nirvana for me. The shop fronted both the Street and Upper George Street too and seemed to sell a thousand different kinds of musical instrument. It was the obvious place to buy a Spanish guitar, which my grandmother gave me the money for, which I still have, and which, I can no more play than I could the day I bought it (sorry gran!). However it was the record section which mostly drew me. 78s at first, but when I was eventually given a state of the art Dansette, it was 45s, 45EPs and then 33 1/3LPs. The latter seemed to cost a fortune and heaven knows how long it took to save up enough to buy my first LP, Dvorak’s New World Symphony. It was played and played again (I didn’t have any other’s at the time) and I bought the score, and conducted the whole orchestra, all of whom were neatly jammed into our front room! Sometimes I just hung around the shop listening to the assistant talking intellectually about the latest releases (I wanted to be like that). Other times I plucked up courage; asked to hear one of the LPs on sale; went into the sound proofed cubicle; listened; and then beat it!

Further up on the opposite side was an art shop. Again I fancied myself as a budding old master and so used my pocket money to buy one of a set of painting by numbers. If, feeling extra lazy, I bought just an A4 template sheet with an attached sheet of figures and shapes, which you could cut out and stick on the sheet.

Right next door, I think, was Stalkers, the book shop. Perhaps it was the only bookshop in the centre of town but it was an Aladdin’s cave of knowledge and I just used to go in and browse. A couple of times I won a school prize and could use the money at Stalkers. There was never enough prize money to buy more than the cheapest book and, one time, I ended up with one which I didn’t want and never actually read. So then you chose the book and it was delivered to the school for presentation on speech day.

So up the street and cross over Stuart Street and on the right was a fish shop which doubled up as a fish and chip shop in the late afternoon and evenings. This was a great place to earn money because you could take your old newspapers, used for wrapping the food, and get a few pence in payment. That might be enough to buy a small amount of ‘scrumps’ (bits of batter from the fried fish) or even a small packet of chips.

Later, nearby, a Chinese restaurant and takeaway was opened, and in the late 1950s I remember sitting in there, with a friend, eating god knows what. I tried to encourage mum and dad to go there too but they said they wouldn’t touch the muck. Who knows what might be in it.

Also on that side was an extraordinary pork butcher. His shop steamed with cooked pigs trotters, freshly made pease pudding, faggots, chitterlings (cooked small pigs intestines), and roast pork.

Next, for me, was a newsagent which sometimes stocked the latest copy of the Eagle comic before Mr. Noun’s (?) shop in Dumfries Street had it, and next to that was a very nice greengrocers.  One of the assistants working there was the wonderful Edie. She was an expert at flower arranging and regularly did the display for the communion table at Ceylon Baptist opposite. Edie’s other claim to fame was that she had a singing voice which could easily shatter glass and which could also determine the pace of singing for the rest of the congregation (much to the annoyance of the organist).

In this sector of the Street and on the same side of the Church was a sink of iniquity called the Wellington Cinema. My mum told me not to go there and I didn’t need much persuading. The films were always very old; the projectionist kept his bike in the back row (always a tell tale sign of something) and each showing began with the ritual spraying of everyone with DDT (?). Not for nothing did we call it the ‘bug hole’.

So on from Adelaide Street to Dumfries Street and to the bakery run by the Cripps sisters and their brother. This was a very sedate shop and not used by us very much. We went there more because I was ‘chosen’ to go weakly (sic) to Miss Cripps for piano lessons. I didn’t make much progress and one week when, with my mum collecting the bread, I was asked by Miss Cripps if I had been practising, I assured her that I had been. Disastrously, she then said she was surprised because I had left my music there the previous week. I didn’t go back, and we got our bread elsewhere.

On the corner of Dumfries and Wellington Streets was the Fountain Public House. Mum and Dad seemed to make a pilgrimage every Saturday night around the pubs in the area and I was deposited in each garden with a glass of lemonade and a packet of crisps. The Fountain had the worst garden and I hated it. It also clearly had an effect on my grandparents because I saw them emerge one Saturday afternoon and while climbing the hill my grandma clouted my granddad around the head with her handbag. Beware the effects of drink!!!

Opposite the Fountain was a nice greengrocer owned by a couple; the man’s name was Eric. In the mid 1950s some strange looking green, bell shaped vegetables appeared and I told mum we had got to try one. Eric said they were called capsicums and you had to fry them. Well, mum fried and fried but the smell wasn’t a pleasant one. We nibbled on one and then decided the bin was the best place for them. Wonder whatever became of capsicums!

Just before the end of Wellington Street, and on the corner of one of the many alleys in the area was a small dairy shop. It was called Sheafs I think, but in the 1920’s it was Charlie and Nell’s shop (my grandparents). I don’t know what became of that project, though suffice it to say that afterwards when 3 Salisbury Road was purchased as their home, it was owned in the name of my grandmother, and that seems strange. You don’t think someone was not very dependable with money, do you?

Memories of Luton 2

3 Salisbury Road

Memories of Luton 2

3 Salisbury Road

In the 1940s we lived at 10 Stanley Street and then at 56 Dumfries Street;  my grandparents lived just up the road almost on the corner of Dumfries and Salisbury and in my eyes they had a much grander existence than us.

I never remember entering that house through the front door, it was always the back way for me, which was reached down a short alley way almost at the top of Dumfries. You walked past the back entrance of the bakery on the corner which produced the most wonderful bread and always, on a Good Friday, the unmissable hot cross buns.

Grandma’s house (it was in her name, for reasons I never discovered) was reached through a gate and up a small path lined by flowers such as her favourite ‘Lily of the Valley’. Along the wall bordering the bakery were some rabbit hutches and sometimes we used to let them out into the garden. We used to keep rabbits too and I thought they were just pets until my favourite ‘Billy’ disappeared one day and we had rabbit stew that week. “It’s Billy isn’t it!” I said. “Shut up and eat your dinner”, said my mum, and to my distress and guilt, I did.

You went up a step at the house end of the garden and to the right were steps leading down and to the left the toilet. That was a luxury to have the toilet so close to the house. In our’s it seemed like a day’s trek when you had to go.

Grandma and Grandad lived in the basement of their house. On the first floor lived Rita and John, two lodgers. On the second were my grandparent’s bedrooms and above that was an attic.

In the basement was a seemingly huge walk in pantry which was dark and always cool. It was perfect for shutting people in and after my great grandmother suffered that pleasure she told grandma never to let that ‘little sod’ to visit while she was there.

The kitchen, or scullery as we called it. Had a large table, in front of the window, for preparing food etc and then at the other end was the ‘copper’. This was essentially a brick oven with a large basin set into the top. Underneath was a space for lighting a fire and thus heating the water in the copper. Grandma washed her clothes in it but also, a few weeks before Christmas the Christmas puddings were boiled in there and stored away in preparation for the great event. Sometimes babies were bathed in the copper too – bathed, not boiled!

Along another wall was the gas cooker and along the opposite wall was the mighty mangle. It could have been a torture instrument and it could have been dangerous too. My dad used to joke ‘Dont get your tits caught in the mangle, Mum!”. However it was simply the means of crushing out the water from the sheets and clothes washed in the copper.


In the next room of that basement was the living room. I loved this room. We could sit and talk, or listen to the radio, assuming that Grandma had remembered to get her accumulator recharged. Sometimes I would be sent down to the shop with the old one and bring the new one back. I never did, and still don’t, understand the technology of that.

In the corner stood a wind up gramophone. There were only 2 records, it seemed to me but I listened to those again and again.  One was a very strange song which I could never understand but the music was catchy and it etched itself into my memory.

The other was a song called ‘Today I feel so happy’ and I would move around the room singing it out loud.

The rest of the house was nothing extraordinary but going up into the attic was what I always liked doing. I always hoped that something new would be up there each time Grandad allowed me to go, but even if not, that was there he kept all his old books and papers and I just loved mooching around and discovering all kinds of things which seemed to be worth knowing just for their own sake.

A few weeks ago I passed the house and all the stuff just flooded back. Thanks for the memory.

Tag Cloud