Facebook and Me


Facebook and me, it’s an uneasy relationship.  Well, it’s uneasy for me. How can one tell what Facebook feels about anything?  I think ‘social media’ is a meaningless phrase: my children and grandchildren tell me otherwise, but being social with a keyboard and screen has limitations. I write ‘stuff’ and my late husband, Alan, he also wrote ‘stuff’. How clumsy is that sentence! Communication has changed so much.  ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is no way to start a modern letter. I’m old-fashioned; I respect apostrophes.  As a ‘ten-pound Pom’ I have affection for W. S. Gilbert (please note that I’ve included the full stops).  His ‘little list’ of pet aversions in ‘The Mikado’ is a favourite and can always be adapted by those of us having a hangover or a bad hair day.

Let me dispense with Instagram and Twitter first.  If I want to send pictures to my nearest and dearest I’ll attach them to an email; I really don’t need yet another ‘account’ on account of my absolute aversion to signing up for any kind of account.  As for Twitter – let’s just leave that for the birds, they do it so much better.

I’m not a complete Luddite.  Email entrances me because if offers the opportunity of a ‘long form’ letter with news, pictures, meditation, reflection, argument – and kindness.  It’s sad to receive a one-word response from a child or grandchild to some well-crafted email that I’ve sweated over for hours: ‘right’, ‘ok’, ‘good, Mum’, ‘will do’ etc. are simply signs of our times – but depressing.

Now to Facebook. So many academics are examining this juggernaut and its effects on our minds, souls, brains, emotional states – there’s no need in the world for me to add to it.  Better we smile.

Gilbert writes scathingly of the ‘lady novelist’ and of course he’s being a man of his times and very sexist.  But oh how I cringe at our current writers who gush so fulsomely about their gratitude to editors, booksellers, publishers, et al.  True enough, I’ve thanked a few people for being kind about my memoir Solly’s Girl but how many backs can be mutually scratched?  Where’s the dignity?

The passionate political posts for the most part leave me unmoved.  The ones I seem to see are either about corruption, the most recent terrorist attacks and which country’s turn it is to have a coup.  Why unmoved?  Well, there’s not much I can do.  The time when I was young enough to carry a banner for my union or march in protest against an unjust war are long gone.  For most of the writers (not all) the matters they raise seem to them like new injustices to be righted, new problems to be solved, new disasters to be prevented. But I am older and in one guise or another these issues have all arisen before and before and before.  Once in a while a charismatic figure emerges in our society, someone to galvanize a government to act but for the most part I am deaf to these passionate posters. Of course I do preserve the other posters –  Che Guervara (‘Revolucion’) and Lord Kitchener (‘Your country needs YOU’) – some political history will always stir my emotions.

The causes, the cries for justice, justice, justice.  It’s rather like the welter of requests for donations that come by old-fashioned mail.  The pitiful stories, the desperate need, the terrible government inaction over this or that injustice.  Giving is good, I know, but I can’t see the value in promoting guilt.  I have a (sometimes leaky) roof over my head and so far I can pay my way at the grocer. In order that others may have help without humiliation I’d willingly pay the tax to support a more equal society.  I always thought that my greatest contribution is my vote.  Is Facebook any kind of help?

The substitute postcards!  Who can blame the ‘friends’ that post all those pictures ‘by the beach’, ‘having breakfast’, or ‘on top of the mountain’.  Postage rates world-wide are horrendous and the savings are considerable.  But they are indeed impersonal; no-one really sat down at some rickety table in a square in Uzbekistan to write to me – yes, me – to tell me that the coffee is terrible but the sights are wonderful.  The real postcard arrives weeks after my real friends have returned home, but I keep it; the Facebook pictures are long gone.

The grandchildren! Ah, here I am certainly on very shaky ground.  I look at very old photograph albums, pictures taken on film, processed in some laboratory, stuck onto the cardboard page and kept in place with those little corner triangles and with a caption in ink underneath, ‘Merimbula, 1960’ or, in the case of our family archives, ‘Regent’s Park, 1924’.  I could have all thirty-three albums digitised, even on a DVD that we might play through the television; how would it compare?  My father, Solly (of Solly’s Girl) actually posed Sadie (my mother) and me for the Box Brownie, handled those old prints, wrote the captions.  It’s a hard call, history versus hard disc.

Business is business.  Selling one’s product on Facebook is probably a great idea.  As an old advertising hand, married to Alan who also made a living in this dubious area, I can see how potent a medium this can be.  It’s a challenge though to grab my interest.  In a perverse sort of way Facebook has promoted discrimination. The ads are simply everywhere so I’ve learned to ignore the lot.

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I’m glad that’s off my chest!  Now I must really come to grips with this mystery of modern times, the fantasy-land of Facebook.  What do I want from this – if anything?

I like to write.  Solly’s Girl: a memoir was an important event for me and I am happy that readers are responsive.  There have been some particularly pleasing occasions and comments.  My favourite has to be the woman who came to my door bearing a thank you card, a jar of home-made liqueured cumquats and another of plum sauce: I’d never met her but she wanted me to know how much she liked my book.  Of course, I could have made a great Facebook post out of that but the idea appalled me.

Facebook can be a pointer for me – a yellow brick road to something much more important than pictures of my garden (which is pretty) or my grandchildren (who are adorable as are all grandchildren) or my breakfast (which is nothing startling).  This blog is where my reflections will appear and Facebook can provide a guide.  Follow the arrow and enjoy!


Ikea for Avians


My mother Sadie had only two coats, the black everyday one and her ‘best’ blue coat with the fur collar. My father, Solly, being a tailor, made all our clothes. I must have been almost twenty before I felt brave enough to buy ‘ready-made’ and take it home for him to make a critical assessment.

We weren’t well off. Sadie’s fur collar was very small but it had once been a real little fox: his tiny face sat on her shoulder and his soft tail swept across her neck. She was a very shy modest woman and didn’t put on airs and graces but in the 1930s her best coat meant a lot to her in the icy British winters.

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By the 1950s I was working. I had my own money and could choose my clothes. Solly was probably hurt by my rejection. Jaeger in Regent Street was the right place to make a stand, and a bright orange coat with a long sweeping skirt – Dior’s ‘New Look’ – announced my independence.   It went so well with Black Sobranie cigarettes too.

I wasn’t hankering for fur and my rabbit skin gloves were just a practical purchase against the cold. Once up in the ‘gods’ at Covent Garden, weeping over ‘Rigoletto’ I had a fright when a live rat ran along the velvet balustrade in front of me and I mistook it for my gloves.

After rabbit I moved up in the fashion stakes, although it was no doubt just a coincidence that the soft black wool jersey dress I wore to a party had real mink trim around the sleeves and neckline. It was an elegant ‘little black dress’ just right for the occasion; a gathering of ex-pat students and one wanderer, all Australians. As the quintessential British ‘Miss’ it was easy to scoop up the wanderer and decide to marry him. The dress is gone but I’ve kept the little pieces of mink. I’m nostalgic about the occasion but shamed to remember how unthinking we were about fur.

Sheepskin was used to line the leather jackets used by airmen and in an army surplus shop I found something to keep me warm as I explored Devon and Somerset on a Lambretta motor scooter clinging to the wanderer. ‘Come to Australia with me’, he said and so I ended up in the strange land of the ‘jolly jumbuck’. In our Elwood ‘studio’ flat – one room with kitchen alcove – we turned again to the sheep and spent our evenings sewing Ugg boots, those fur lined slippers peculiar to Australia. We thought we might make enough money to save for a house deposit but the work made our fingers so sore we had to give up.

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I admire vegans and vegetarians but cannot reconcile all the many issues: eating meat, wearing leather shoes and jackets, pinching eggs from chickens. Fur however is very straightforward; it’s no.

For many years now corgis have been the family’s choice and their coats are thick and double layered. There’s a lot of brushing involved and I roll the handfuls of fur into little balls and put them on the garden shrubs. The birds collect them for soft furnishing – Ikea for avians.

French Mimosa


My eldest son stands in the hallway with a bunch of yellow wattle. Flowers and shrubs that hang over fences or alongside the creek are fair game, and he brings me many such gifts. He enjoys making me happy and together we search for an appropriate vase. My middle son doesn’t think in floral terms but gives me pottery and glass and the wattle looks perfect in a 1950s brown and cream pot made somewhere in Israel. The youngest son is colour blind and once presented me with a bunch of quite unusual dyed chrysanthemum.

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I’m interested in genetic inheritance and can see a clear horticultural link between my eldest son and his grandmother. Sadie, my mother, loved to walk through municipal parks. Her own small house in outer suburban London was part of a terrace row and the back gardens I remember were all the same: long strips of grass surrounded by indifferent flower beds; the coal shed and mangle in one corner; a cement slab outside the French windows and a rope washing line with a wooden pole.

I missed out on the natural history gene. A ‘ten pound Pom’, I have always found the Australian landscape far too challenging. The flora confuse me and the fauna are alarming. Bush walking, camping, caravanning – they’re not for me and I belong in a concrete jungle.

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golden wedding -001

As we arrange the sunshine of the yellow balls I flash back to 1957, to a young man throwing his hat into the crowd outside a suburban synagogue. He came out from the dreary little building with his new wife, his ‘Pommie’ girl. It’s the bride who usually throws her bouquet, but from the start this marriage was different. The mandatory male head covering was the first and only hat the young man was ever to own and discarding it was a statement of some kind – a gesture of defiance? Against all odds the wedding had taken place. He was penniless, working with a West Indian crew shifting mailbags at a London terminus: almost suicidal at one point because he’d spent his return fare money to Melbourne on a Lambretta motor scooter in Milan and felt stranded in bleak London, unemployable, hungry, homesick.

The bride, let’s face it, at twenty-six was just about ‘on the shelf’. She was the family’s ‘black sheep’ rebellious, unorthodox, didn’t mix well with the Jewish community (‘stuffy’, ‘conservative’, ‘boring’ she called them). Even worse, she’d left home unmarried and was living in what was at the time ‘bohemian’ Hampstead. She might even be having affairs! Nothing about her was quite right. Marrying this nobody from Australia; an only child leaving her parents to go and live twelve thousand miles away; the indecent haste of the wedding (‘Was she pregnant? Oh the shame!’). It was touch and go whether a cable would arrive from Australia in time to confirm the groom’s Jewish credentials. The suburban rabbi barely knew where the Great Synagogue in Sydney was and probably took an altogether dim view of Jewish life in the ‘colonies’.

Outside the synagogue the people watching were all from her side. The groom had only a small bunch of ex-pat Aussie students to support him. They reported afterwards that getting him to the ceremony had involved many stops for ‘heart-starters’. The bride was in what their grandsons now call a ‘different zone’. She didn’t know of, or care much, about Australia; she was making her escape. If you’d asked her what she was escaping from she might not have been able to articulate it but freedom is somewhere in the mix. She and he had been living together for a few months but neither had any real knowledge of the other. They just fantasised about riding the Lambretta to exotic places and maybe one day having four children.

There had been barely three weeks to prepare for the wedding. He had a proper job back in Melbourne – advertising manager for Rockmans Stores – and if he didn’t get back soon his employers would find someone else. The bride’s parents were hard-pressed to organise a decent send-off, and they weren’t affluent.   It was also the time of the Suez crisis: no petrol for cars although the scooter, running on a teaspoon of fuel, looked smug as the bride and groom rode away from the reception into the icy night.

The bride had thought it might be ok to be married in a National Trust type mansion by candlelight, wearing red velvet. Her family said that it wasn’t remotely ok and the boring synagogue ceremony was totally unmemorable. She wouldn’t countenance a dress with lace or frills but chose a Pierre Balmain copy in plain white grosgrain, calf-length with a little jacket that had a stand-up collar.

The groom was consulted about flowers. It was probably the only item on which he was asked his opinion. In England freesia bloom in February and now they are in my Melbourne garden in his honour – of course at the other end of the year. The boy from Bondi wanted wattle too, the only link with his home. The local florist had never even heard of it; so he settled for French Mimosa flown in from the south of France.

‘Settling’ is a pretty accurate description of the marriage. She kept everything more or less on track; he decided whether the Australian government would raise taxes or go to war.

c Ros Collins 2015