Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Gas Man's Leg

I am having to wait in for the Gas Man to come and fix the boiler and therefore I occupy myself by continuing to sort through the junk in my room. This is a slow process because as soon as I pick one box up in order to file it away in some logical place, I give into temptation, open it, and browse. This morning was a box of old picture postcards and I will limit myself to the three which were at the front of the box.
The first is a cartoon card which, according to the postmark, was used in 1907. The phrase "My word if you're not off, I'll saw your leg off" is a curious one to modern ears but - according to what I found out via a quick Google search - it comes from a Music Hall song and was a popular saying in the first decade of the twentieth century. It appears to mean "I rather think it is time for you to be thinking about leaving". Alexander is due to go back to University in a few weeks time. As much as I love him I am getting tired of picking clothes off the floor and finding knives and forks pushed down the back of my armchair. I think I might send him a postcard.
The second card is a curious thing. It is a postcard made from a real photograph : again this type of thing was popular in the early twentieth century. It was sent to a distant relative of mine in either 1915 or 1919 (the postmark is unclear). On the back it says "To my dear Mum and Dad with lots of love from Joe" As far as I can make out the photograph shows four women, but who are they? At first I thought that the relative might have had a daughter called Johanna, but I have checked through the census records and that is not the case. I am almost sure they are women but perhaps I am getting too old to tell. Who are they? What is the uniform they are wearing? Who the hell is Joe? Experience has taught me that if you chuck such questions as these out into cyberspace an answer may just come back.
For the third and final postcard I am concentrating on the back rather than the picture. This one is very old : one of the early "Gruss aus" cards of the late nineteenth century. This one was sent in 1899 to Miss May Chambers. But it is the handwriting which is so spectacular : what penmanship, what care, what beauty. It makes our modern, computer-written blogs seem lifeless and dull. Fellow blogger Brian Miller recently did a hand-written post which I thought was a wonderful idea. I resolve to do the same myself : a handwritten post, a postcard from the twenty first century. Now I just need to find a decent pen.
The Gas Man has just left. The problem was that there was something wrong with the thermostat controlling the radiators upstairs. I was unable to turn them off. I was tempted to say to the man "If they're not off, I'll saw your leg off", but I didn't. Anyway, they are off now - and his leg is safe.


  1. My old man had the most beautiful copperplate writing, which he was taught when he was a bank clerk before he decided he'd prefer going to sea.

    I used to do caligraphy, but the opportunities to write anything other than notes are few and far between these days.

    I wonder if the art of handwiting will vanish in this digital age.

  2. What a great collection of postcards. Now I want to know who Joe is too, and why he sent a photo of four women dressed up in uniform to his Mum and Dad. Seems a bit odd.
    I used to do calligraphy - nothing like the beautiful copperplate on this postcard. I would spend ages diligently writing out a poem for display, then discover I had missed out a couple of letters. Long live the Back Space key...

  3. Anonymous3:06 PM

    Alan, thank goodness that's all it was, wot? The gasman lives for another day-heh...

    Not sure on the second one here. Could the relative's name have been "Josephine", perhaps? Just a guess here...

    Too, the third card was sent in the late summer( 28 August, by the date )and from Magdeburg (haven't googled it, as yet ). But who was this Miss May Chambers? Another relative?

  4. Great old postcards--something I like very well myself. Perhaps Joe just liked those four gals?

  5. Bill : There is this thing going around the blogs at the moment to do at least one post in handwriting (everyone seems to want to deny starting it). I am determined to send a postcard to the blog. Watch this space.
    Kabbalah : Yes I agree about the back space key. If I am going to do a handwritten post I will need some Liquid Paper.
    Subby : I checked out the Josephine idea but although the woman concerned did have a daughter she was called Ada and was only about 12 years old.
    John : The best explanation yet.

  6. Jane (mad thing, at least in this respect) always does the "Listener" crossword and sends her answers in - and often gets the solution right. Twice, over the years, she has thereby been picked to win the actual prize - at the times, gold-plated Parker pens of absurdly high value.

    Sadly, by those times, neither of us could, frankly, operate a fountain pen remotely legibly - we both find 10p Bic biros about the best if we MUST use hand-writing (or pencil.) That's if not, of course, tapping away at the computer....

    Luckily, each time, Jane was able to find a friend who delighted in having a "real pen" again at last...

    And I remember being so proud (so long ago) to "graduate" to using a fountain pen. But biro's were so much less splodgy for complex mathematical symbols (as required for my physics and maths and statistics for my degree), it was a no-brainer. Had to be right kind of biro mind you (some, especially, splodge like mad if you start using them for diagrams) - 10p Bic as good as any, I found. Well, I suppose they weren't priced decimally when I first started using them(!)

    I'm sure there's some incredibly trite Latin phrase about morals changing with time (I mean, I know there is but I can't remember it exactly) - but, curiously, I agree, not to write in fine handwriting does somehow seem immoral - perhaps for being "lazy"? But I don't know really why. Perhaps because when I was at primary school the teacher was extremely cross I refused to "learn handwriting" and said my joined-up script was so much easier to read.... and just as quick to write - it was joined up, after all! Although why "joined up" was deemed essential I never fathomed when if you typed it wasn't. Only with the advent of word-processing did you type "joined up" lettering. And enormously false it looks.

    I wasn't a cheeky lad. I just told the truth as I detected it. Curiously enough, much later on, I found that most Oxford physicists of note used... nearly exactly my joined-up script as their handwriting. Did they ALSO refuse to learn copperplate or italic or any of the other fine handwritings people insisted you should try to learn in primary school?

    Jane, as authoress, by the way, prefers to really think with paper and pencil when writing before or in between using latest technology word-processing....

    I find, myself, that doing mathematical computations or calculations ON a computer is hopeless - it's quite impossible (I find) to keep mental track of what you're trying to "show" or calculate unless you are actually writing.

  7. Your postcards are really interesting. In cleaning up my parents home I am finding so many things hand written by my country boy dad that were done in fountain pen. He never finished high school but still wrote fancy. When he was in the War number 2, he would send home while in Belgium and Germany,photos with script writing on the back in fountain pen.

  8. Very funny story!

    That gorgeous old style handwriting is definitely a lost art. I can't imagine doing it today even having mastered calligraphy a few decades ago. (nothing compared to this, though!)


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...