Memories of Malta

Fort Manoel in Gżira, Malta, 1880.

This is Thursday and I still haven’t written anything and in any case, with the way I have been feeling and the things that have happened, I can’t even remember what I was supposed to write about. However, this week has seen the Queen celebrate her 80th birthday, and being a true royalist I was sitting watching the film of her life. She is a few months older than I am and was always there when I was a child. The two little princesses were my favourite pair. No television in those days, but I used to keep a scrapbook and cut out every picture I could find of them.

Sitting watching the program, Paull came and sat with me and I started telling him different things that had happened to granddad and myself over the years where our lives had touched with Elizabeth and Philip and had just been telling him about our lives in Malta when he left me to my program. No sooner had he gone than Malta appeared on the screen and I called him back. He watched the program with and said Grandma, you should write about these things. You knew all about that, didn’t you, so here you have a few memories. Just a few, I won’t bore you too much.

P.O. Stanley Edward Taylor & wife in Malta, 1949.

Stan and I met at Royal Arthur, a shore base at Butlins in Skegness. The first time I saw him he was wearing a pink tu-tu and dancing with four other PTIs to the music of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Shortly afterwards, Royal Arthur moved across country to Corsham in Wiltshire. There were three huge camps there: The first was the Ship’s Company camp for the Wrens, sailors and officers. The second was the working offices and training camps where new entries were taken in and trained, and their instructors lived on the same camp with them. I was a writer pay as it was termed and our office was very close to the gym where Stan spent his time. Up the road there was another camp, Kingsmoor where petty officers took their courses and it was there that we first made contact with Philip. We had been told that Prince Philip of Greece would be joining us and none of us had ever heard of him. We honestly thought that he was to be one of our young entrants so we were absolutely bowled over when this handsome blonde young man whizzed through the gate in an elderly open-topped sports car. The first time my friend and I saw him we were just going through the gate back to our working camp when this old black car without even slowing down shot past us taking Jean’s jacket off her arm and leaving it in the dust. Now, Jean was a Hull girl and no-one did that to her. When he didn’t stop she took her shoe off and aimed it at him together with a load of abuse. The poor old jaunty was dancing up and down waving his arms and mouthing no-no-no. That was our first meeting with Philip. We would occasionally meet him at sports events and he met with us when we played mixed hockey. Rumours started to circulate that he was getting mail from Buckingham Palace and returning from London one day he had a slight car accident. It was reported straight back to the Palace and Elizabeth dashed out and got into her car and started off for Corsham. However, word was sent that she had to be turned back and back home she was sent. Later, of course, came the Royal Wedding and ten Chiefs and Petty Officers from Kingsmoor were invited to the wedding and much to their embarrassment were known ever after that as the bridesmaids.

Philip’s ship, the Black Swan-class Magpie.

The following year Stan and I were married and Stan was posted to Malta where he was the PTI for six frigates, one of which was Philip’s Magpie. Stan was based on the Pelican which wasn’t easy for sport with six ships to look after and as we were newly-weds he pleaded his case and was allowed to stay ashore with me, except when they all went on exercises together. The little ships had never been heard of in the Med sports before but he went from one ship to the other getting his teams together by means fair and fowl. He had more AN Others on his lists than actual names, but by the time he had told each of his boxers that it didn’t really matter as so-and-so was a better boxer anyway, he ended up with his teams and that year took every cup in the Med. I can still see him and Captain Bonham Carter standing behind the goal with their faces up to the nets calling come on, hit me, hit me, and seeing their caps go flying in the air with each goal.

Stan’s ship, the Egret-class Pelican.

We went out with the footballers that night, starting out in Sliema, but the boys got restless and wanted to go down the Gutt as the red light district is known, but couldn’t because they knew Stan wouldn’t let me go. He said “As long as I am with her she can go anywhere.” and off we all went to Floriana. I was very innocent in those days and watched a matelot dancing with a large lady in a pink satin blouse. After a quick glance at this pair I remarked to Stan “What a large lady that is!”, at which all the lads curled up with laughter. We then went on to the main Gutt and after a while one of the lads came to Stan and whispered in his ear, and Stan said okay and decided that it was time we got ourselves home, and off we went. The next morning there was an SOS from Philip: “What have you done to my crew? Get yourself down to the local prison and see if you can get them out!”, and that was when I learned that Stan had been asked to remove me as there was a fight brewing between the navy and the army.

Lt. Mountbatten with the Princess Elizabeth, 1947.

Elizabeth sometimes came down to Manoel Island when the boys were playing friendly matches. There would hardly be a soul watching and a matelot would walk to the side of the of the pitch with a wooden chair and a few minutes later she would appear. No sign of her detective though, he was always around watching from a distance, and in no time a little group of sailors would be standing around her chair watching the match. She always looked so happy in Malta. They were very happy days for all of us.

Must go, it’s bedtime.

Written 27th April 2006
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)
 
UPDATE (12th April)
The Lord Judge, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, referenced his own Maltese memories in a parliamentary speech earlier today.

Pauline on Pooches

Pauline (88) grooms Monty (8), 26th April 2015

Great sadness can be experienced from quite an early age when small things are so important to us. The loss of a toy, the death of an animal in our lives. Most of us have buried our pets in the garden, I certainly remember burying a canary in a cocoa tin and putting flowers on its grave, soon to be not forgotten, but put to the back of our minds as a new pet takes its place.

Heartbreak (circa 2002)

Little old ladies are often stereotyped as surrounded by cats, and indeed my grandmother had many. She loved dogs too, however, and made many references to them in her writings. I present a compilation of them now, to commemorate those who could not write for themselves.

The passages are ordered by date of writing rather than by date of events described. Contextual notes are inserted where appropriate to avoid reproducing excessive prose unrelated to the topic. Occasionally I have corrected typos.

The dog was sitting all of a quiver, tail swishing slowly and tongue hanging from one side of his mouth. His eyes never left the two cats he had chased up the tree as he willed them to come down for another chase. But the cats stayed on their wide branches with eyes half closed and a smirk on their faces. They were content to stay up there all day if necessary, and would enjoy doing it.

The dog came dashing back having had great sport chasing the cat under the caravan and he took up his place under the tree. He was to have a long wait, the other cat was older and wiser and loved sitting up in the tree. He wasn’t coming down to be chased by a silly old dog – not for a long time anyway.

A Summer’s Day in the Jungle (Fiction) (17/04/2002)

I tried making the area smaller by laying the odd paving slab between the bushes but eventually had to admit defeat, and but for a small circle with a weeping willow where our first dog is buried, I gave the rest over to the couch grass.

The Garden (??/??/2003)

There’s the man who brings his very large fluffy white dog and grooms it in one of the lay-byes. There is white wool everywhere and once it blows into the trees it stays there for days. Couldn’t he bring a plastic bag with him?

The Dumpers (03/05/2003)

On Saturday once everyone had eaten, off they went well booted, scarved, hooded and gloved. Looking out of the window at the comings and goings you could well imagine you were in Eskimo land. Wherever they went they were followed by a sad looking dog with a football in its mouth longing for someone to kick it for him.

I went [shopping] via Clough Road and saw a flag flying saying Courts closing down sale. Well I couldn’t resist that and duly crossed the road and drove ‘round the back to Courts parking lot. Oh! Thinks Pauline, they must be going to have a caravan sale as there were about 20 lovely caravans set out around the car park. To my dismay there were 2 shaggy little dogs/pups with short logs shagging away in the middle of the park. Poor little strays I thought, must call into the dogs’ home as I am in Clough Road. Driving towards the main doors I parked my car, got out with a lot of difficulty only to find myself surrounded by a pack of yapping Jack Russells which should have been white but were actually a dark grey. They followed me to the main door still barking and there was a notice saying Store closed, nearest store Grimsby. To say the least I was miffed, Courts could have taken their flags down. I turned and made my way back to my car accompanied by the yapping dogs and noticed that each caravan had a kennel at the side of it and children and men were appearing on their doorsteps. That was when it dawned that I was in the middle of a gypsy camp.

Home – I was so pleased to see it as I always am. I was greeted by the dog with his football and pleading eyes, but my buckling legs hadn’t a kick left in them. Sank into my armchair, coat and all and as usual it wasn’t long before Simon arrived with a cup of tea. “Had a good day?” says he and when I told him of my day, his eyes rolled up and he remakred “Mother, only you could end up in the middle of the diddy camp surrounded by a pack of dogs. I bet you patted them all.”.

Half Term (16/02/2005)

From the docks we would drive home and dad would open his kit bag and spread the contents on the floor. Huge blocks of Cadbury’s chocolate, boxes of chocolates, boxes of lovely perfumes, and always from his cook a sweet bottle full of King prawns, and who got the first choice, why Twister of course – our dog. On his second night home, Dad was allowed to go ‘round the corner to the Fountain Villa Club, where lots of elderly ex-seamen gathered. He would take Twister with him, buy a box of chocolates and give it to the dog to bring home for us, and one again he got the first chocolate.

I am six years younger than my next sister and therefore was almost like an only child until I was 5 and started school at St. Mary’s, and spent my time with Twister our wire-haired terrier, and Billy our large black Persian cat. I must have been a pain in the neck to them as they were my only companions most of the time and I spent my time dressing them in baby clothes, sitting them on chairs to play schools and taking them for walks in my large dolls pram. That bit they quite enjoyed.

Early Childhood (29/09/2005)

I had Patch in my car who thought it was great but the heat was unbearable. There was plenty of shade for him under the trees and everyone took him for walks.

A young boy on the next stall decided to play with his football and Patch was there in a flash. Then the lad realised that if he threw the ball at Patch instead of past him, he would throw it back, they played for ages and gathered quite an audience. All I could think of was either patch would end up without his front teeth or with a flat nose like a peke.

Vintage Weekend (??/06/2006)

[Seals] still appear quite regularly and at the moment are regular visitors. There’s usually just the one who loves to tease the dog*. Patch swims out to him and when they are face to face the seal dives under him and comes up again behind his back. Patch gets tired long before the seal and has to give up and I really don’t think he has any ill intentions, he just wants to play with it as he does with all the dogs who come for their walkies. Most of the dogs’ owners soon get to know Patch and quite happily take him for a walk with them. Young Paull came in at the weekend and said “Grandma, you should have been up the end. There are two seals in the Creek and they are sitting playing on a piece of wood which looks like a tree trunk. They keep pushing each other off and as the log floats towards the mouth of the creek they push it back in again and start all over again.” Patch has been sitting on the edge all of a quiver but didn’t go in further than his knees. Probably thought two were too much for him.

Simon and Paull can’t resist buying ancient machinery… [the truck] was navy blue with a large RN and Royal Navy on its side, only does about 10 miles (or they are just telling ME that) an hour and the dog is delighted as he now has a vehicle he can ride on instead of being scrunched between Paull’s legs on the grass cutter.

Wildlife at Stone Creek (24/10/2006)

The fire brigade were here for 5 days slowly pumping water from the drains into the Creek. Simon, Paull and Monty joined them, taking cups of tea etc. and Monty left home completely, after all he lived on Battenburg cake with the firemen and not dog-biscuits.

Summer 2007 (27/09/2007)

I remember last year’s winter… there are bags of compost all over the place unused, one sack and loads of packets of seeds and bulbs lying around that never did get planted. Monty had a wonderful time as the plants in pots got dryer and he could just pull and the whole plant and bag of soil came out of its pot, and if they didn’t it didn’t matter, he just ate the pot as well.

Looking back at 2007 (17/01/2008)

A few days before Betty and Stan’s wedding, I was cuddled up in a big bed with Betty and another sister Dolly. Stan crept up the stairs and threw a little bundle on our bed and shot off before Mum caught him. That little bundle was Twister, a tiny wire haired terrier pup for Betty. He never did leave us as by the time the wedding and honeymoon had taken place when they tried to take him to their flat he cried so much that they had to bring him back.

I decided it was time to let [a beaver lamb] go as it was getting a bit rough down the front edges. My new neighbour begged it and was seen later that day parading down the street with her fur coat in hot sun and her pet Peke on a lead. It was obvious she felt the bees’ knees.

Last but not least is the beauty of the lot. My sister Ethel’s brown mink which was given to me when she died… The family came home for our first Christmas together in the UK and whilst we were busy getting the house we rented in Hornsea dried out, Peter, my eldest arrived with Sandra, his girlfriend, to give us a hand. Out of the blue Ethel arrived wearing the said mink coat and sitting on her knee was her beloved little brow spaniel. Sandra in all her innocence asked me who is that lady with the dog that matches her coat, you can’t see where the dog ends and the coat starts. Forever more to Sandra Aunty Ethel was the lady with the dog that matches her coat.

Coats in the Attic (24/01/2008)

*This particular seal is presumably the inspiration for Sammy.

The Little Boat

The little boat was bobbing in the Creek. It was a very sad little boat, its paintwork was dirty, covered in mud from the winter. Its red sail had not been unfurled since its last trip out in the Autumn and no-one had set foot on its deck since that day. It felt dirty, forgotten and unloved. It longed for a sunny day to warm its decks again, it had been such a proud little boat once.

Then one day as it sat on the mud waiting for the tide to be deep enough to re-float it, the incoming tide brought with it a young seal. “Hello little boat” he said, “can I sit on your deck for a while, I have been swimming for a long time and need a rest”. The little boat felt a quiver of excitement as the first of the tide reached her hull and lifted her gently, and not waiting for an answer the seal jumped aboard. “Why are you so sad little boat?”, and the little boat told him how no-one loved her and how lonely she was without any friends. “I’ll be your friend little boat, what is your name”? “I haven’t got one really, they just call me the boat”. “My name is Sammy and I shall call you Fair Lady, though you don’t look very fair at the moment. You’ll soon look beautiful again, the spring is here and everything gets spring-cleaned. Cheer up little boat, I will come and see every day until your family comes back”, and the little boat felt so much better. A weak ray of sun hit her porthole and started to warm her cabin and Fair Lady began to feel alive again for the first time in ages. The seal lay on her deck and told of his travels up and down the river chasing the fish and how he liked to visit the quiet creek.

The next day was Saturday and Fair Lady was hoping Sammy would visit her when the tide came in. The sun was shining much brighter that morning and she started to shiver as in the distance she recognised a voice calling – “I can see the boat – oh doesn’t she look dirty and miserable, not like our boat at all. Can we take her home and wash her daddy?” asked one of the children and her little heart started to thump as she felt feet on her deck again. How lovely the thought, perhaps she would get a wash and her sails set and maybe even a sail down river. After looking her over, she suddenly felt herself moving as she was pulled out of the water and onto her trailer. The children were as excited as she was as finally she was attached to the Land Rover and started to slowly move from the boatyard. The ride was very bumpy over rough land, but that didn’t matter, she was being taken home and her family hadn’t forgotten her. She felt a thrill run from her keel to the top of her mast as her trailer turned onto the bridge and there was the house which called out, “Hello little boat, nice to see you again”, and the little rowing boats wagged their oars at her. She was towed into the field and parked by the tap. She was stripped down, her mast removed and then came that lovely feeling of clean water on her deck and a soft brush making her tingle, soap suds were everywhere and made her sneeze, but oh how she loved it. She had her keel painted with anti-fouling and was polished from head to mast top. Her brasses shone in the spring sun and her mast and sails which had been washed, were put back. That night she was taken back to the creek and launched on the incoming tide. With her family all aboard she sailed out of the creek into the Humber. She felt fantastic and only one thing was missing – her friend Sammy, But suddenly from her port side a voice called “Ahoy there Fair Lady, don’t you look great, I think I gave you the right name”. And side by side the two of them sped up the Humber and her heart swelled with pride and happiness.

Written 25th March 2007
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)

A Temp’s Lament

An old woman with thick white hair sits in a sunny garden with a cup of tea.
I am a temp,
I’ve no desk of my own.
When you’re on holiday
I answer your phone.
If I am lucky
You’ve left me your key,
But many a time
You couldn’t forsee
You wouldn’t be there
And they’d phone to Charlotte;
Help! we need a temp,
Please you have you got?
I’m having a bath
Or cleaning a floor,
But I drop everything
And I dash out the door.
I arrive at your desk
But can’t open the drawers.
With what do they think
I can do all my chores?
But I am a temp
And I have a large bag.
Its certainly heavy
And that is the snag
But in it I keep
All the tools of my trade,
Pens, pencils and rulers,
No typewriter I’m afraid.
For that is one thing
I’d love of my own.
Two months on a QWERTY
Now AZERTY – don’t moan.
For I am a temp
With you only a while
And whatever the problem
It’s done with a smile.
Written 15th June 1982
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)