Occasionally there will be autobiographical articles here,and also childrens' stories. I am aware that my prose can be over-rich, but that is because poetry is my first love - it is the perfume of language, prose is the cologne.

Bring Back the Good Old Days


As China develops from a poor nation and aspires to a more middle-class lifestyle, China’s air, land, and water are beginning to suffer.
Already, a massive dust cloud of eroded soil from Mongolia has darkened the skies over North America, and air pollution from Beijing and Shanghai regularly wafts as far as California.
The prospect that all Chinese will strive to live like middle-class Americans is daunting, since it has been calculated that if all the world’s people had an American standard of living, two more planets the size of Earth would be needed to support them.
And we only have one earth!

Half of China's plastic waste goes uncollected.

But what about US?
Do you ever wonder why we wrap everything up in plastic bags and boxes?
In Supermarkets today, so many foodstuffs are tightly wrapped in armour, in plastic preformed packages and stiff boxes.
Nothing is really fresh, very little is home-grown, nothing is loose; I have to win a minor war to get through the packaging to runner beans which came from Kenya or apples from South Africa.
They even taste of jet-lag!

We are losing our connection with nature.
I still remember standing in an orchard and picking a large apple from the outstretched bough above me.
The apple was warm (that was because of the sunshine.)
It was fresh, and tangy-sweet, and perfectly delicious.
Apples from a tight plastic supermarket bag are cold, and slightly sticky because they have been sprayed to keep them from ripening during their storage and travel.
I can remember eating a sun-warmed tomato in my Granny's garden, and hairy great gooseberries from her bushes.

Where have Levellers gone?
They were the best gooseberries ever.
They date from the 1880s, but seem to have disappeared.....
They were enormous great globes of sweetness.

I used to buy them in pounds, shovelled into brown paper bags from the big heap on the grocer's stall.

Where are Victoria plums?
When I was pregnant with my daughter (who gets her travel pass this year) they were tuppence a pound in predecimal money, and they were so good: firm and cool, large and sweet, deep golden yellow with a pink-purple blush on each cheek.
I would eat them by the pound...

During the early summer days in Romford, the fragrance of fresh ripe strawberries would fill the market air.
It was breathed in with the sunshine.
Strawberries were heaped high on the stall and sold in pounds, like the Levellers shovelled into brown paper bags which would be sticky with the juice of them.
In those days nobody ever expected strawberries in December; that was the time for roasted chestnuts and clementines, figs and dates and English Cox's apples, the best in the whole world.
We knew then what seasons were.
Nowadays we expect strawberries in winter.
And they are hard, have white shoulders and no juice and taste of nothing in particular (except maybe plastic.)

Many modern town children have never tasted a Leveller gooseberry or a Victoria plum.


There were days, long before I was born, when poor folk trying to earn money for rent and bread would buy fruit and vegetables very early in the morning in Covent Garden Market, and go on to sell them in the streets.
They would call out to attract their customers.
Their produce was not a day old.


During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries this was a trade dominated by women, and pretty girls in particular, who spent a great deal of time making 'pottles', the early version of a punnet: thin wicker cones with a loop handle, into which they packed their wares.
They would sing out in the street:
"Rare ripe strawberries and Hautboys (a small, wild strawberry), twopence a pottle. Full to the bottom, hautboys."


A favourite Victorian street seller was the pieman, of 'Simple Simon' fame.
The pieman would bake his own pies and carry them hot in a metal box hung round his neck.
The Penny Pieman is a London legend.
During the Victorian period, the City pie trade was reckoned in hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.
London's favourite pies were beef, eel, or kidney.

The pieman was able to sell hot pies because he had a base, with an oven, from which he sallied forth with his pies (also meat puddings in suet crusts) in a tin box with a fall front (which had been heated in the oven as well), encased in a leather harness, making him look like an ice-cream seller at the cinema.

After making your choice, the pie came in a piece of newspaper.
In those days, if you wanted gravy, you made a hole in the top with your finger and the pieman administered gravy or liquor from the bottles he carried with him (which you then devoured with the spoon you carried in your pocket).

When his stock or gravies began to cool, the good pieman returned to base for more pies, or more heat.
He would sing his song:
"Penny pies all hot hot hot!"

Believe me, no such pies exist today.
Machines have replaced people, and that delicate handmade pastry and rich, warm meat gravy has vanished.


I have many pleasant memories of the truly delicious meat pies it was possible to buy even in the twentieth century, in the thirties and forties.
When I was a teenager in Brighton, Miller's pies were absolutely the best.
My sister and I still talk about them.
Their pie shop was at the bottom of my road, and for a great treat I would sometimes buy one and eat it hot in the street.
My sister would buy a Miller's pie for our mother for a treat.
The pastry was crisp and hot, and the steam rising from the rich gravy was so tempting!
Inside the meat was soft and succulent....

Like fish and chips, Miller's pies were wrapped in paper and kept your hands warm on cold winter nights.

Later, in the early fifties, George and I would often stop on our way home from my parents.
Quite late at night, after a long journey, we would buy meat pies from a particular pie van near London Bridge.
They were such a comfort....
Nearly home!
Meat pies wrapped in paper, hot and fragrant, held in your fingers and oh, so tasty!


"Hark! How the the cries in every street
Make the lanes and allies ring:
With their goods and ware, both nice and rare,
All in a pleasant lofty strain;
Come buy my gudgeons fine and new.
Old cloaths to change for earthen ware,
Come taste and try before you buy.
Here's dainty poplin pears.
Diddle diddle diddle dumplins, ho!
With walnuts nice and brown
Let none despise the merry, merry cries
Of famous London town."

Much as the modern day market trader calls out to you the price and quality of his bananas or apples, all the street traders of Victorian London had their distinctive cries.


One of the most easily recognizable was the orange-seller, made famous by the darling Nelly Gwynne.
The girls pulled their stock in little wooden carts or carried wide baskets, and the main types were Spanish and Portuguese oranges.
They called:
"Fine Sevil oranges, fine lemon, fine;
Round, sound and tender, inside and rine,
One pin's prick their virtue show;
They've liquor by their weight, you may know."

How many of us nowadays know that to find good oranges or grapefruit in the market you must hold them in your hand to feel the weight of the juice?

Never buy oranges if they are not heavy: they will be old and dry inside.

In Victorian times the vegetable man and his donkey or 'little moke', its back laden with panniers, were a common sight.
There was no fixed cry for the vegetable seller, as his shouts varied with his stock, which would include cauliflowers, asparagus, potatoes, carrots, beans, peas, parsnips, leeks, marrows and turnips, amongst other things.

"Cabbages, O! Turnips!
Two bunches a penny, turnips, ho!"

When I first came to London as a young housewife, we often bought from an enterprising man with a horse and cart who brought us all kinds of fresh locally grown fruit and vegetables.
There was a bread van, too. What a delicious smell when he opened the back doors!
Buns and crusty bloomer loaves, some still warm!


London's milkmaids were famous, and rightly so.
Most milkmaids came in to London from the West Country or Wales with the breeding cattle brought to the London markets.
Enterprising families set up 'milking parlours' throughout the city, including the famous one in the Strand where the cows were lowered into a cellar where they were kept and milked for a time, before being sent back to the pastures to the north, and the next shift of 'girls' brought in.
There were cows in St. James's Park where lucky middle-class children could drink warm milk straight from the cow.
This is a Victorian water-colour of the stall.

Milkmaids were famous for their smooth skin, and this was largely because many of them had acquired immunity to smallpox through milking duties.
Their cry was always: "Milk below!"

Our milkman, when I was a child, had a horse and cart.
We lived on a very steep hill, and the horse sometimes needed a rest.
The milkman would tie a nosebag to the head-harness, and I could stroke the soft silky pink nose of the horse, smell the sweet smell of hay and sacking and hear the contented chomping of teeth.



The Old Clothes Man was another famous London character.
Dealers in old clothes were usually Jewish, and lived in the Whitechapel area.
They offered ready money for clothing that was no longer wanted, or worn out.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge had a curious story to relate about an Old Clo' Man he met in the street, showing how those who used street cries were adopting an accepted 'patter':
"The other day I was what you call floored by a Jew.
He passed me several times calling out for old clothes in the most nasal and extraordinary tone I ever heard.
At last, I was so provoked, that I said to him, 'Pray, why can't you say "Old clothes", in as plain a way as I do now?'
The Jew stopped, and looking very gravely at me, said in a clear ?and even fine accent,
"Sir, I can say "old clothes" as well as you can; but if you had to say so ten times a minute, for an hour together, you would say Ol' Clo' as I do now;" and so he marched off.
I was so confounded with the justice of his retort, that I followed and gave him a shilling, the only one I had."

In the twentieth century the rag-and-bone man would come by my house in his cart, ringing his bell and crying "Rags and Bones."
He would give us children a goldfish for a bundle of old clothes or old saucepans ( you had to bring your own jam jar full of water for the fish.)


Other Victorian and Georgian street traders included the mouse-trap man, the water-carriers, the knife grinder, the ink seller, and of course the muffin man.
When I was a little girl I would stand at the gate and watch the muffin man making his way up our road.
He had a big covered tray on his head and rang a bell.
I so longed to try his muffins, but for some grown- up reason my mother never bought his wares....

Of all the humble, workaday images of London street-sellers available through prints and etchings, one image stands alone to represent these ordinary Londoners: Hogarth's shrimp girl.
Although unfinished, it is one of his finest works; her vitality and shining beauty are captured so much better than in a mere photograph.


Why is it that life in days gone by is remembered with such a mixture of joy and sadness?
So many sights and sounds and smells have disappeared for ever...