Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

First Aid Post

Please excuse the punning title; I’m afraid I found it hard to resist! This ‘post’ is mostly about ‘First Aid’ and the Red Cross in WW2, so if you want to see what a ‘First Aid Post’ looked like then, click here.


When I saw the nurse in Alan’s photo-prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday, I knew I had just the picture. This is my Mum (back, right), aged about nineteen or twenty, in 1939/40 when she was in the Red Cross detachment of Boots Co.Ltd, Nottingham. She volunteered with some of her friends from the office and they would work at the local Nottingham hospitals on weekend mornings; the Children’s on Saturday and the General on Sunday.


This is one of Mum’s many certificates, all beautifully engraved in exactly the same way. She first passed the course in 1939 and then, as the certificate states, was re-examined a year later to make sure that she was still proficient. Apparently she practised her bandaging techniques on my grandmother! She also had a Home Nursing certificate, and one for Anti-Gas Training. The latter was deemed necessary as throughout the 1930s the Red Cross was gearing up for war. Mum also attended courses, lectures and demonstrations and then had to show that she had absorbed all the knowledge and techniques. The lectures were given by Dr.Swann and apparently all the girls were half in love with him, as he was so handsome and distinguished looking. Mum obviously didn’t let it distract her too much; I hope the good doctor was able to concentrate with several pairs of adoring eyes watching his demonstrations!

In this picture Mum is the middle, and she’s not paying attention to the cameraman, but is chatting to her friend Sybil instead, probably about the many charms of Dr Swann.This link will take you to the Flickr gallery where you can see some of the Red Cross volunteers in action during the war. This link will take you to a short clip on British Pathe, from 1939, about the same time as Mum’s photo was taken. The clip is accompanied by a jaunty commentary and equally jolly music which seemed to jar somewhat when the voiceover warned that  ‘many thousands would go through much physical suffering’ in the months or years ahead.

Mum’s shirt was pale blue and she also recalls that the headress was very difficult to keep in place without hairgrips (visible in the photo). When I was a little girl, she made me an outfit just like the one in the picture, sewing a red ribbon cross onto a white handkerchief for the bib of the apron. I remember I had a case with toy medical instruments in it. 

There’s no picture of me putting it to use, but I did find one of my daughter, carrying on the family tradition. Here she is around 1982. Note the grey socks and gold slippers, which I don’t think were regulation in 1982.

Join me on my Ward Rounds to see what other Sepia Saturday  participants have come up with from the prompt below. “Nurse! The Screens!”






Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A Moving Experience

Alan’s prompt picture for this week’s Sepia Saturday features a roadside stall in in 1930s Alabama. Fish and fruit are offered for sale, but there is also a large sign above the doorway advertising a reliable house mover. This took me on a quest for examples of removals captured by photographers of the past. I am no stranger to moving house myself, and whilst my husband was serving with the RAF we moved several times. I therefore feel qualified to say that it is one of the most stressful experiences we have to deal with. However, it pales into insignificance compared with the trials of the people in my story this week: ‘The Great Timberyard Fire, Hartlepool 1922’.


Beginning at about 1.00 pm on 4th January, the fire was, apart from bombardment, suffered by the North East of England in 1914, the greatest disaster in Hartlepool’s history. Over one million pounds worth of damage was caused and, although no-one died, many people were left homeless, having lost all their possessions.


Those who could salvage some property and furniture, had to find whatever means they could to move it either to a relative’s house or to a storage warehouse.


The photographs taken after the disaster have been made available by Hartlepool Cultural Services on Flickr Commons, with no known copyright restrictions. There can be seen many more poignant scenes like this one, labelled ‘Remaining Belongings’.


Those without access to any means of transport, just had to brace themselves and carry what they could to safety.


A hand cart made the job easier for some.


Larger pieces of furniture required everyone to rally round and lend a hand.


In this photograph, labelled ‘Family Evacuating’, the horse stands patiently whilst the family’s possessions, which have been stacked against the wall, are loaded. First on is the precious mangle.


A collection of chairs on a cart and a single chair which is the repository for this woman’s prized collection of pots.


A warehouseman labels a chair so that the owners can collect it if they ever find somewhere to live.

The cause of the fire was never established; it could have a been a spark from a locomotive shunting in the area earlier in the day. What is certain is that the disaster was prevented from becoming a larger tragedy, (the nearby gasworks are visible in some of the pictures) by the teams of firemen from several surrounding fire services, who worked tirelessly to get the fire under control, and are depicted in this remarkable series of photographs.

The victims, mostly from the surrounding tenements of Union Street,  quickly gained sympathy and the Mayor’s Disaster Fund even received contributions from the Royal Family. Within a year the fund had swollen to over £11,000, which was used to compensate local businesses and households. Sadly, many would never be able to reclaim what was rightfully theirs, as so much was lost or abandoned in the ensuing rush and panic to escape the fierce heat.

When you’ve viewed the fifty photos in this set, an read an expanded version of the background to the fire, why not gather some more sepia stories on your handcart over at Sepia Saturday.


Monday, 21 November 2011

The Right Train - with apologies to W.H. Auden


I was very pleased  to have a poem accepted for publication on Poetry 24 last week. Here it is in full.It helps if you have some knowledge of the original Auden poem: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/night-mail-2/

This is my fantasy take on what could have happened to shorten the border control queues, but of course, it didn't. I had a mental picture of Theresa May piling the queues of immigrants onto trains to ship them off to dig turnips in the Lincolnshire fields for a pittance. Madness! 



The Right Train

These are the passengers crossing the border,
Waiting to check that all is in order,
Passports from the rich, passports from the poor,
They queue round the corner and out of the door.
It’s a hell of a task, a mountain to climb:
Calling them forward one a time.
Then here comes one who’s somewhat bolder
To see for herself what Brodie told her,
Snorting sniffily as she passes,
The grumbling miles of weary masses,
They all turn their heads as she approaches,
And herds them into the waiting coaches.
It’s a pilot scheme and it’s set on course;
To bolster the local labour force
Whilst shortening the queues at the lowest cost,
For the minimum wage, all paperwork lost.
Theresa smiles. Her work is done.
Down towards Parliament she descends
Towards politicians at Question Time,
Towards journalists and assembled media
Waiting to hear her proclamation.
The United Kingdom waits for her:
Huddled round TV screens, computers, iPhones
Men long for news.
She’s made up her mind to close her ears,
To her loyal employee who’s served 40 years.
Denies all knowledge of collusion.
No, this is his own final solution.
He takes the hint with resignation, 
Then states his case to the waiting nation.
But Theresa’s reputation’s intact,
And Brodies’s statement can’t detract,
From her kitten heels and perfect bob,
Come what May; He’ll lose his job.
And he will wake soon and long for letters,
And will not hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
Marilyn Brindley

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Communicating the Message

The subtle colouring and lettering of the Chevrolet advert Alan has given us for this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt reminded me of a postcard I had from a visit to Cornwall. We went to the Telegraph Museum at Porthcurno when we holidayed with the family some years ago.


My picture shows a 1946 advertisement from the archives of Cable and Wireless, and quotes Puck’s lines from Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’:“I’ll put a girdle about the earth in forty minutes.” It’s also the title of a book by Hugh Barty-King, written in 1979 to mark the group’s jubilee: “Girdle About the Earth: a History of Cable and Wireless’, but I couldn’t find anymore about it from the Amazon listing.

The museum itself is fascinating and they have a wonderful website where it would be easy to lose yourself for a couple of hours. It’s another of those living museums with demonstrations of real equipment every day, and interactive science activities. Set in a beautiful Cornish valley close to Porthcurno, one of the very best beaches in Britain, and not far from Land’s End, it also offers visits to WW2 secret tunnels, dug by Cornish tin miners, to house an underground building and the entire telegraph operations. The site was the hub for international cable communications from 1870-1970 and a training college for the communications industry until 1993. I commend the website to you if you want to know more about the history of telegraph. This after all was the precursor of the internet. On 28th January 2012 The Times newspaper carried a snippet of good news. £1.5 million in lottery funding together with the Wolfson Fund, has been awarded to the museum and it will now undergo a huge makeover. Very well-deserved.

The museum is housed in an imposing Grade II listed building.
Porthcurno Telegraph Hut
Undersea telegraph cables from all over the world, came up onto Porthcurno beach and were terminated here in this little hut. The signal was then routed outwards via the landline network.

This is exactly as it would have looked then
The above three images are courtesy of Tony Atkin [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 

Co-incidentally, we also holidayed in County Kerry, Ireland in 1997. Here we visited the beautiful Valentia Island, one of the loveliest and wildest places I know. 

Valentia Lighthouse 1997

The Heritage Centre there has displays documenting the part played by the area as the base of the very first attempts at laying the Atlantic cable in 1857 and 1858 and the successful expedition of 1866. It’s the location of the oldest Atlantic cable stations in the world. 

Andy Stephenson [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], from Wikimedia Commons 

Before the internet a telegram was the quickest and cheapest way to send a message. Until relatively recent times this is how people would have received important news or notifications, messages of celebrations, commiseration or cheer. A code was even developed to shorten the message, much like text-speak today. Let’s finish with an uplifting message of congratulation sent in a telegram 69 years ago, to my parents on their wedding day, 11th July 1942. 



If you want to see what messages other participants have drawn from the prompt below, take a ride over to Sepia Saturday.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Last Hundred Days


The Hundred Days Offensive is the name given to a series of battles leading to the end of the First World War. As this is the hundredth edition of Sepia Saturday, Alan gave us the figure 100 as a prompt for this week’s post. The day after this milestone edition is Remembrance Sunday, when we vow never to forget the fallen of the Great War, and the many men and women who have died in subsequent conflicts. The significance of the timing was too strong to ignore. 
There is a wealth of information about the Hundred Days Offensive on the internet, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say that it brought to a close four years of bitter fighting and an end to human misery on a scale never before known. Families were torn apart, and my grandmother’s was no exception. I had three great uncles who died in the First World War, and in ‘Dulce et decorum est’ I told the story of  the middle one, George.
In my previous post I related how my family and I undertook something of a pilgrimage in April 1984, whilst stationed in Germany with the Royal Air Force. At the beginning of that trip we went first to Caudry British Cemetery in Nord, France where we knew my Grandmother’s older brother Edward was buried. 


Caudry British Cemetery, Nord, France

We know very little about him, except that he was adored by my Gran. He was five years old when she was born, and we can imagine that he would have been very much the big brother to her and his younger siblings. Because he was unmarried there were no children and grandchildren curious to find more about him, and so he became something of a shadowy figure. We know even less about him than George, but since my initial research it has become easier to search records and I hope that in the future I will be able to fill in some of the gaps so that the shadow begins to take a more human form.
We have only one photo of him, and written on the back is the name and address of his mother, alongside the inscription ‘Edward Brandon. Eyes brown. Hair black.’ He looks somewhat apprehensive, with huge soulful eyes  and I always thought the photo was of a sad young man. My Gran used to say he was the quiet one of the family. There is no date, but if it was taken post-1916, he would already have lost two brothers and would be wondering about his own chances of surviving the war. Enough to make anyone look solemn.
We know that Edward was a private in the Royal Army Service Corps attached to 84th Army Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. 
“The ASC was one of the Cinderella units of the Western Front and it received little in the way of commendation, or entries, in the official reports of the Great War. Although the 200,000+ officers and men of the ASC who served on the Western Front could not normally be considered to be combat soldiers, many were exposed daily to the capricious dangers of the battlefield as they moved around it performing their varied duties of supplying and transporting the fighting man.” ( Dr David Payne, The British Army Service Corps on the Western Front, in The Great War. The Western Front Association website)
Perhaps this suited the quiet, young man, who would serve his country not as a combat soldier, but as a member of a large support force which kept the army supplied with vital equipment and provisions.We don’t know where he spent the bulk of the war, but it would appear that he ended up with his unit in those closing days at Caudry, a town 10 kilometres east of Cambrai. Caudry had been in German hands for most of the war until October 1918 when it was the base for successive clearing stations. 
My Great Auntie Mary told me in a letter in 1984, that she remembers Edward coming home on leave and that when he returned to France he was ill. Perhaps it was the beginnings of Spanish Influenza, which was to have such a devastating effect on both military and civilian populations at this time. She believed that, shortly after his return to his unit, he succumbed to pneumonia and died on February 28th 1919. She also had a photograph of the original grave with this date inscribed upon it. 
Over 700 casualties are commemorated at Caudry British Cemetery, but with help from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission we were able to find Edward’s grave and pay our respects.  My mother, who never knew her great-uncle, was able to write in the Book of Remembrance on her own mother’s behalf.
In Memory of an Uncle

His great-great niece, my six-year old daughter, spontaneously laid some daisies she had picked, in front of the headstone. Even my four-year old son stood quietly and reverently by, as if aware of the emotional impact of the moment. 
Edward’s grave shows the badge of the RASC
The picture shows Edward’s grave at the time of our visit. The date is different to that given by my aunt. The mystery deepens when we find that according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission he died on 21st October 1919. The Ministry of Defence helpfully carried out an extensive search but told me that they lost many records in enemy air action in 1940. They did find Edward on the Medal Rolls however, where the date of February 21st was given but this time two years earlier in 1917. I do hope that this was a typing error as it confuses matters even more. I’m inclined to go with his sister’s date, as it would have been etched on the collective memory of his immediate family. I’m assuming they would have received the standard telegram informing them of his death and on each anniversary he would have been remembered by his parents and siblings. The Historical Secretary at the Royal Artillery Institution agreed with me that October 1919 was unlikely as there were so few troops remaining in France at that time.
The Regimental Headquarters in Aldershot told me that Edward’s name did not appear in their lists of members of the Royal Army Service Corps who had died in the First World War and the Imperial War Museum said that in the Official publication ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War', Edward is not listed. This would support the fact that he died after the armistice. 
In that final hundred days Edward was no doubt carrying out his duties in France and would have been anticipating a return to Blighty as soon as the army allowed. Edward may be an enigma now, but back in 1919 he was a much loved son and brother. As the oldest boy he would have been the one his father  would have shared a pint with at the pub when he was home on leave, putting the world to rights, or discussing a game of football. His mother would have relied on him to help keep his nine siblings in check. The six girls would all have looked up to him, and the one remaining son, little Charlie who was only eight years old, would have turned to him for brotherly advice. On the hundredth day, the armistice was signed. At 11.00. o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the thundering roar of the big guns ceased, the last shot was fired, and Edward’s family would have breathed a sigh of relief to think that having lost two sons, their eldest had been spared. Instead we can only imagine the heartbreak that telegram must have brought. So many false hopes raised, so many dreams for the future lost. It is my privilege to honour his memory, and ensure that he is never forgotten.





Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A Good Reason to Toast

A choice of wines from local vineyards
Carmi over at Writteninc. has given us the enjoyable subject of ‘Drink Up’ for his Thematic Photographic challenge this week.  Of course we don’t have to be urged twice! I managed to resist the temptation to post pictures of family and friends raising a glass or two to the camera. Instead, I offer you a pictorial souvenir of a visit last month to the Monumento al Campesino, here in Lanzarote (Monument to the Farmer). The brainchild of visionary César Manrique, it’s a celebration of the resilience of the local farmers and the significance of agricultural life on the island. It’s situated in the geographical centre of the island in the heart of the beautiful landscape of La Geria, famous for wine-making. The vines are grown in the harsh volcanic landscape, protected from the elements by zocos, pits dug into the ground and surrounded by stone walls; a method unique to Lanzarote.

Examples of zocos
There’s very little rainfall in Lanzarote, and historically the islanders relied on rainwater or from supplies imported by boat from other islands. Until the sea-water desalination system was set up in the 1960s, farmers had to be very canny about their system for harvesting the little rain which did fall.

The ‘living’ museum has artisans practising their crafts, and examples of wine-presses and other agricultural and domestic implements. There was a wonderful restaurant, where we had a couple of courses. We couldn’t eat any more because, as you can see, they were very filling!  This was my starter, which at home would have been enough to keep me going all day. Patatas Arrugadas (sometimes called ‘wrinkly potatoes’ because cooking method, using a lot of salt, makes the skins crinkle), served with the traditional red and green garlic sauces (Mojo Sauce), dried dates, and slices of Canarian ‘Curado and Semi-Curado’ goats cheeses. The surprise was the dark slices in the centre of the dish. made with gofio flour. These were quite sweet and reminded me of a cross between a marzipan or truffle sweetmeat. I tried them to be polite, but they would have been just too much. The chickpea and fish stew which followed, was delicious, but again, very filling, and had I known the portion size, I would definitely nott have ordered the starter. It always seems impolite to leave food, but I really couldn’t have eaten another mouthful.

Starter: Canarian cheese, gofio, dates and Canarian  Potatoes with Mojo Sauces
The restaurant served a selection of local wines and of course, there was the  opportunity to purchase them in the shop. They were beautifully displayed, with information on each wine and the different vineyards and growers. It was difficult to resist and here’s one we managed to save from suffering the fate of the other bottle, which went very well with supper that night. Click on the link in the caption to learn more.

Malvaisia wine from El Grifo
Examples of the old wine barrels, housed in the converted farm. 
 In this poster diplayed there can be seen a typical Canarian farmer.  
The poster bears the following the legend:

"Francisco has been fighting for his land for over 50 years. It is to his endeavours and the warmth of our land that we owe the excellence of our wines.”

The headings says:

“Wines with the denomination of origin Lanzarote. A good reason to toast”

So “Cheers everybody!” and when you’ve drained your glass, totter over to Writteninc. to see what other TP participants have come up with.

I’m also linking this post to Weekend Cooking, which is Beth Fish’s weekly meme for all things food-related: book, movie reviews, recipes, anecdotes, quotations and photographs are all welcome. I’ve learned a lot from my visits there. Go on have a go!





Thursday, 3 November 2011

Drum Roll Please

Sepia Saturday has a musical theme this week and it gives me the opportunity to show these pictures of my grandfather Syd and his brother Albert. This picture was taken c1910 when Syd was about twelve and Albert fourteen years old. I don’t know who took the picture, but it could have been the boys’ older sister Maud, who would have been about seventeen at this time. She was a keen amateur photographer all her life and even developed and hand-coloured her own prints. Perhaps it was the brothers’ father, my great-grandfather William. He would have been very proud of his two sons, who distinguished themselves as members of the Boys Brigade, with attendance and good behaviour. They had lost their mother some years earlier when the children were very small; what a pity she didn’t live to see them grow into such fine young men.

In this picture, it is Albert who was the drummer but I have a memory of my grandfather telling me he played the cornet himself. Both boys ‘rose through the ranks’ as can be seen in the next two photographs. My grandfather is on the back row, second left and Albert is standing next to him on his left. There is no date on this group photograph, but the siblings no longer look like schoolboys and would of course already have been at work; Albert as an apprentice joiner, and Syd upon leaving school at fourteen, as an apprentice engineer.




From here it would have been but a short step into the uniforms of the First World War a year or so later. Albert joined the South Notts Hussars and transferred to the Royal Flying Corps where he graduated to Rear Gunner. Syd, like so many, stretched the truth somewhat in order to join The Sherwood Foresters at just sixteen years of age. In 1915 whilst training in Bedfordshire, Syd’s battalion, The Robin Hoods (2/7th Shewood Foresters), were presented with a set of instruments,and it was Syd’s turn to become the drummer. Here he is with fellow band members, standing far right.


”During June 1915 whilst based in Dunstable and quartered in a canvas camp, the battalion had the good fortune to be presented with a set of band instruments by J D Player, Esq., JP, a most welcome addition to the equipment of the battalion, and under bandmaster Smedley a first rate band was soon trained, and it served on many a weary march to cheer the men up and help them in a way that only those who have been on long marches in ‘full marching order’, with and without a band, can appreciate. The cheers which followed the announcement of the gift were sufficient evidence of appreciation.”  (From “The Robin Hoods” 1/7th, 2/7th, & 3/7th Battns, Sherwood  Foresters 1914-1918. A collective history written by its own officers). 

Both brothers served with distinction throughout the war, after which great uncle Albert emigrated to Australia. I have no idea about his further musical abilities, but I do know that my grandfather, although unable to read music, could play anything on the piano 'by ear'. My mother, his daughter, however, was encouraged to learn, and her story is told in an earlier post of mine The Girl With the Pearl Accordion. I have just been given a previously unseen picture of her with her instrument and I have added it to that post and updated it.

Whilst talking about this post with my parents, my father reminded me that in WW2 he too played a drum. He had a some ability as, prior to enlisting in the RAF, he had sold his bicycle to buy a drum kit. Whilst at basic training in Weston-super-Mare he joined the training band and helped to keep the marching beat. The need for a bicycle at this time was greater than for a drumkit and it was sold. Sadly the bicycle was stolen and Dad was back to square one. He hasn’t lost his touch though, and here he is demonstrating on his great-grandson’s drumkit, that he’s still got rhythm. This was on the occasion of his 90th birthday in July.


I have always owned a tiny drum charm in my jewellery box and I recently showed to it the family, including my mother, to see if anyone could come up with its provenance. No-one had any idea, but I am pretty sure it was given to me as a child by my grandparents. I’d love to think it had some connection to my grandfather but I’m probably completely wrong. If anyone has a theory I’d love to hear it. Clicking on any picture will give you the Lightbox slideshow view. Meanwhile follow the marching band to Sepia Saturday and see what musical delights participants have come up with.


I am indebted to my brother for the details in this post, taken from his family history research.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Another Brick in the Wall

The Old Mill, Harnham, Salisbury
This week Carmi’s Thematic Photographic challenge was to produce photographs of bricks and mortar. I’m interpreting this loosely as 'construction material' as the example above is in fact not brick, but chequered flint and ashlar. It’s just around the corner from my old house in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and this was the view I would see as I came to the end of the Town Path from the city centre. This part of the building is from the original Early Tudor, two storey paper mill, built in about 1500, and is the earliest such example surviving. Nowadays I’m pleased to say, it’s a pub, and restaurant and a very popular place for locals and visitors.


A bit nearer to my old home now for the above brickwork driveway, leading straight to the front door and garage.



We had a conservatory built on the back of the house, and being the careful people we are we made sure we took pictures of it under construction, so, here’s the brick, the mortar and the insulation material at close quarters. So, a range of Wiltshire building materials from old to very modern. Don’t forget to visit Carmi’s site to see what other participants have been come up with.