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."

Friday, 9 October 2015

Frightened Faces and Fearless Actions

The two little girls in this photograph look frightened of the camera and very unsure of themselves. Their parents also look unhappy, but the wife is staring stoically ahead and the husband fixes the lens with a grim, but determined, look. Examine this photograph a little a closer and you will see the row of medals displayed on the soldier’s chest This is Corporal John Ross V.C., of the Royal Engineers. John Ross was anything but a frightened man; just over a hundred and sixty years ago (21st July 1865), during the Crimean War, he was awarded the highest honour for valour, for his fearless actions on three separate occasions. First for linking trenches with a large working party, secondly for repeating this action under heavy fire, and thirdly, creeping up to the Redan, and on finding it had been evacuated, returned to report this, but discovered a wounded man whom he then rescued.

Ross lived a further twenty years, dying aged 57 on 23rd October 1879, having achieved the rank of sergeant, and is buried in an unmarked, but consecrated, grave in Islington Cemetery London. However, he is named in the family memorial headstone and on the ‘For Valour’ board at the museum. On the headstone we can read that Ann Jane Ross, daughter of John and Lydia. departed this life in her hundredth year in 1957. She must be one of the frightened little girls above. Clearly, she overcame her fear and went on to live to a ripe old age. I wonder what became of her sister.

I apologise for the quality of the image as I took the photo through the glass of a display cabinet at the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent, last week. It was my son’s idea that we go, as it is near his home and it would be an interesting day out for the children (our 7.5 year old twin grandchildren) when we paid a flying visit to England from our home in Lanzarote. It was a good choice; the museum was fascinating and we adults could happily have spent all day and still returned on further occasions, as there was so much to see. The twins loved the hands-on experiences and dressing-up in the soldiers’ uniforms. Of course they were too young too fully understand the stories behind some of the  photographs. Naturally, I was in Sepia Heaven and stories like those of John Ross, completely absorbed me.

This week Sepia Saturday celebrated its 300th edition with a photo a family who appear both frightened and frightening at the same time. There is a view that one or two of them may be deceased and that this is a Victorian post-mortem photograph. This could account for the frightened look on the face of the child - or is he/she also a dead and merely being propped up by the dead grandfather. Don’t dwell on it too much; it may give you nightmares - save those for Hallowe’en in a couple of weeks time. Ponder instead on the valour of Corporal John Ross V.C. I’d never heard of him before, but now I hope I’ve done my bit to make this unknown face more widely seen and his bravery appreciated. Why not join us to see what other Sepians made of the prompt

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Two Girls, Two Dogs

It’s 1962 and I am walking with my friend Linda, in Partridge Woods, close to where we live. We were just two girls who were dog mad and would have loved to own these poodles, Tina and Sherry; instead we dog-walked for their real owners. My father, who took this picture, would have driven us all to the woods where the dogs could be let off the lead and get their noses into all those woody scents.

Here we are again in my family’s back garden, and the dogs are being very well-behaved, posing perfectly for their picture. My recollection is that Tina was Sherry’s Mum but I may be wrong. Their owners were always happy for us to exercise the dogs and we would walk for miles in the fields near our homes. Those fields are all gone now; filled with modern houses.

Eventually, when I was eleven years old, I became a dog owner myself, and what did I choose? A poodle of course. My mother, who had recently been very seriously ill was relieved that the dog was small, and didn’t shed hairs. it wasn’t long before he became a part of the family.
here I am with Kim and my (now) Sister-in-Law, and her dog, Heidi, a daschund.

Two girls, two dogs, just like our Sepia Saturday prompt picture this week. Why not join us there at the weekend to see what other contributors have come up with.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Hanging on the Line

If there’s something vaguely familiar about the above picture, let me refer you to ‘A Boyhood Backyard’ which featured my father’s painting of this scene and the story of how it came to be the subject of his picture. At the time of posting, in March last year, I only had the painting; the photograph subsequently came to light whilst scanning my parents’ albums. Please do take a look back at that updated post to learn more.

The Sepia Saturday prompt this week is washing on the line and the only image I can find in my own albums is this one of my children playing in our pocket-hanky sized back garden in our RAF Married Quarters in High Wycombe.  We had just moved in and hadn’t even managed to do anything with the ‘borders’, but with two young children there was always laundry to be done. My son looks grumpily from his playpen whilst my daughter takes the opportunity to jump in the empty laundry basket.

Join us for more images and words inspired by the prompt below.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Renewed Lustre

Mateus Rosé was the iconic drink of the 1970s. I don’t remember it tasting particularly good, but the bottles were a pleasing shape with attractive labels. It was probably quite cheap to buy and was within our student budgets. After we had polished off the wine we would use the bottle as a candle holder, allowing the drips of successive coloured candles to form a rainbow-coloured carapace. This image comes from my souvenir programme from the Lords Taverners charity cricket match at RAF Cranwell, and the advert is alluding to the charity’s 21st birthday in 1971. The complete programme can be viewed on my Flickr album.

Another colourful label is this one, spotted on at the ‘Whirrs, Cogs and Thingamabobs’ exhibition at the Naval Dockyards, Chatham in 2012. Again, you can see some of the oddities on display in my Flickr album of the exhibition. This label is for a chemically treated dust puff from the 1950s.

I can almost forgive the incorrect use of it’s for its, because I was amused by the description of the ‘patented kinky construction’. Even though it was ‘soft and fluffy’ it promised to ‘renew lustre’ - very similar to the Mateus Rose in fact.

This week’s Sepia Saturday calls for adverts, wine and old labels, so I’ve ticked all the boxes. Why not join us and see some more polished posts.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

High Fortress Above the Sea

High Fortress above the sea - the world drives
Its carriages across it;
And you, all you ships of the sea,
Pass beneath its chains.
David Owen (1784-1841)
Translated from the Welsh englyn poetic form.

The year was 1959 and we were on holiday in Llandudno, Wales, during the last week in August. My brother and I are posing on the Menai Suspension Bridge. Designed by Thomas Telford to carry traffic between the mainland of Wales and Anglesey, it was completed in 1826. Before its completion the only way to cross the dangerous waters of the Menai Strait was by ferry.
“I heard him then for I had just
 completed my design,
To keep the Menai bridge from rust
By boiling it in wine.”
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

The towers on either side of the Strait are constructed from Penmon limestone. The sixteen huge chain cables, each made of 935 iron bars, support the 176 metre span, and between manufacture and use were soaked in warm linseed oil (not boiled in wine as the White Knight in Lewis Carroll’s poem, above, suggests).

And here are our parents snapped at what was then a T-junction. The breeze has caught the skirt of Mum’s dress, making her appear much larger than she was, so it’s possibly not one of her favourite photographs.

Incredibly, Mum and Dad are standing just across the road from where this weeks’ Sepia Saturday prompt photo below, was taken. It comes from the National Library of Wales, and  shows the bridge in the Winter of the previous year, in thick fog which appears to cut it in half.

Help bridge the gap by joining other contributors to this week’s Sepia Saturday.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

To Dorothy, with love from Maude

The message was inscribed on this photograph. Also written on the back is “16th August 1915”, tomorrow’s date, exactly one hundred years ago. 

The photo is tiny and cut from a postcard, which probably had several more of the same image to give to friends and family as mementos. It’s my Great-aunt Maud, who would have been almost twenty-two when this official studio portrait was taken, and working as a Lace Hand. Two years later, In 1917, the Labour Corps Offices opened in Nottingham and Maud became one of 1,400 clerks dealing with army records. I told this part of Maud’s story in Another Day at The Office.

I can just make out the words, written on the back, very faintly in pencil, and this time she had added the final ‘e’. We have both ‘Maud’ and ‘Maude’ on various documents in the family. The 16th August 1915 was a Monday, so it was probably exchanged with her friend when she arrived for work that morning. How it came back into our possession we can only guess. There is no Dorothy in the family.

This is the only photograph we have of Maud at this age and I like to think she would also have given a copy to each of her brothers. Maud was the only girl of three children born to my great grandfather, William, and his wife Mary, and she was just nine years old when their mother died, leaving Maud, Sydney, my grandfather, who was four, and their brother, Albert, aged seven. They were brought up by their father and his sister, their beloved Aunt Lizzie, until their father re-married in 1912.

Great-uncle Albert 
The boys had both joined the army at the beginning of the War when my grandfather was only sixteen, and Albert just a couple of years older. Maud must have been very worried about them. Great-uncle Albert joined the South Notts Hussars and later the Royal Flying Corps and his story was told in The Two Alberts Memorial.

Sydney, my grandfather, had joined the Robin Hoods Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters and earlier that year they had transferred to Luton, and then Dunstable, for further training.  In August of 1915, my grandfather and his pals undertook a two-day march to Watford and the final preparation with 178 Brigade for front line duties. In fact his first experience of fighting did not come until a few months later, just after his eighteenth birthday, when in 1916 the battalion was dispatched to Dublin to suppress the Easter Rebellion.

The photographs below, which have recently come into my possession, show Syd, probably in his new uniform, issued in August 1915, just a few months past his 17th birthday, when he thought he was off to the Front Line. He looks so young, and very different from his portrait at the end of the War, after his experiences in Dublin and France. 

The Robin Hoods were still in Dunstable the weekend before Maud signed her photo, and the Nottingham Evening Post for Saturday 14th August shows a picture on its front page of  “The Men Who Help to Feed the Robin Hoods - a photograph of the men who do the work of cooks for our men in Dunstable”.

The newspaper clippings can be viewed in my Flickr Album

So, now that I have a few facts, photos and newspaper clippings, I can let my imagination have free rein. It’s exactly one hundred years ago, and my Great-grandfather was going home from his job as a lathe turner that Saturday, with a copy of the Evening Post, and pointing out to his wife Gertie, and to Maud, the picture of the Dunstable cooks. Perhaps there were a few words about Syd at least being well-fed. He would certainly have been very much in their thoughts. They probably wondered how Albert was getting on as well - wherever he was.

Also in that edition of the Evening Post was a notice about the first National Register, due to take place next day. Unlike the census this was the responsibility of every member of the household between the ages of 15 and 65 years to complete individually. Gertie and Maud would have had white forms and William a blue form. Perhaps those forms were sitting next to the clock on the mantelpiece, as a reminder of the job to be done next day. I wonder if Maud filled hers in before church in the morning, or before Sunday School, where she taught in the afternoon, or when she came home on her one ‘day of rest’. William would take the dog for his weekly bath in the River Trent in the morning and then have a pint in the local pub, whilst Gertie got the Sunday dinner ready. Perhaps they all sat round the dining table after dinner and filled the forms in together.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom; in those days Nottingham had several cinemas and then, as now, was famous for its theatres. Perhaps Maude and Dorothy went that Saturday, with other work friends, to the Royal Hippodrome to see, ‘A Daylight Robbery’ or to the Empire, where for as little as 3d they could watch a variety show. A Charlie Chaplin film was showing at the Picture Palace, Goldsmith Street, with five performances that Saturday. Nearer to home, at the Pavilion Gardens,Trent Bridge, the Pastoral Players were giving their last two performances.The Tea Balcony was open from 4.30 to 7 which may have made that the more appealing option. Perhaps William, Gertie and Maud went there together as a reward for working hard all week, to lift their spirits and to take their minds off the boys for a while.

On their return Maud may have written to her brothers and enclosed one of the small photos she had collected that day, probably from Gales on Clumber Street. My Great-grandfather, who loved to read, would have been quite happy with his pipe and a good book, after he’d finished the crossword in the Evening Post. He may have taken the dog for a last stroll. Tomorrow was another day and there were those forms to fill in. My grandfather would have wound up the Mantel clock and checked it against his pocket watch before retiring. 

Good Night everyone.

For more imaginative tales and sepia photographs, join us at Sepia Saturday.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Box Clever

This photo of my grandparents 'watching the Box' (TV) at our house, was taken by my father, somewhere around 1962 I think. Dad liked to take unusual pictures and he clearly had crept up on his parents whilst they were engrossed in this TV programme. I think I can identify the comedian Ted Ray, who was better known for his radio shows.  Long before colour had arrived, this small TV set was rented from Rediffusion , because that’s what you did in those days.

Years later we had graduated to a better model, although still renting from Rediffusion, as can be seen in the picture of our daughter aged four months. I can pinpoint the date with some confidence to Sunday 5th March as those are Mothering Sunday (as it was still known in those days) cards on top of the TV.  I know, because I made the one on the right.  We would have been visiting Mum and Dad in Nottingham from our home in Lincoln, a few miles away.

My daughter is watching the World Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa, Canada, which were held from 1-6 March 1978, and that’s probably Robin Cousins skating for UK. He went on to gain the Bronze medal and I think we were all as transfixed as she was.

I used the term ‘watching the Box’ at the beginning of this post and I think it’s probably a peculiarly English term. We still ask ‘What’s on the Box tonight?’ and I know it’s not very correct but it’s a way of acknowledging that this clever box is held with some affection. We use it not just to entertain and pass the time, but sometimes as a way of diverting attention. My grandparents weren’t great conversationalists and the TV would have been a boon to my parents whilst they got on with other chores.

Like many other mothers, then and now, I’m guilty of sitting my children in front of the Box whilst I too grab a few minutes to myself. In this case I had obviously left our young son, aged eight months, in the care of his grandparents. This is another of my Dad’s photos and my Mum has carefully written the date on the back; 14th March 1980. I love this photo for two reasons; one because it shows the back of my son’s ‘baby-neck’ - not a view most doting parents would choose to take. You know what I mean by ‘baby-neck’ don’t you? There he is all ready for bed, having been fed and bathed and smelling of baby powder. Even now I can remember the sensation of nuzzling there and my feeling of maternal love rises to the surface.

I’m also fond of this snapshot because my son is watching Michael Wood, the TV historian, on whom I had a quite a crush, especially when he spoke in old Anglo Saxon. His skinny blue jeans had nothing to do with it - it was his mind that made my heart flutter. Remember, I was still in my twenties. When I see him on the Box these days, it’s definitely the history that has me enthralled; a man who is as clever as the box from which he reaches to his audience.

My final photograph is, no surprise, another of my Dad’s. It’s that little girl in the baby seat all grown up. She’s killing a few moments as she waits for us all to come to the table for Christmas Dinner. She doesn’t need to sit that close, but at a guess, she’s watching the Christmas Day edition of ‘Top of the Pops’; it certainly wouldn’t be The Queen’s Speech!  This time the TV is housed in a cabinet, a box within a box, and it had a door which you could close when you weren’t viewing, to make it look part of the furniture - now that IS clever. This is 1996 in our old house in Salisbury. and once again I’m filled with happy memories when I look at this photograph.

Why not join us for this week’s Sepia Saturday, for more happy memories. Some contributors may even be thinking outside the box. Happy viewing!