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, 31 January 2014

In Case of Need

The statue on the left stands outside the museum in Cangas de Onis, the capital of Asturias, Spain. We visited the town in October last year as part of our tour of the North of the country. The beautiful region is steeped in history, but where does the young man on the left fit in, striding purposefully forward, suitcase in hand, full of good intentions and bright hopes for the future?

The label at his feet tells us that he is ‘The Migrant'. He certainly catches the eye as he gazes out towards the old Roman bridge in the town. From his dress we can guess that he is probably from the early to mid-twentieth century, but he clearly stands for all emigrants from the region, over hundreds of years, who set off with dreams of a better life. Most Asturians made for the Americas, taking with them the skills they had practised in their local industries of agriculture, coal mining, shipbuilding and metal working. Many suffered hardships and returned, but others settled and made a living, establishing businesses and schools.

I am indebted to fellow blogger Rob, who found that the sculpture was made by Ricardo Motilla as part of a twinning initiative with the town of Leon in Mexico in 2003.

Thanks to a detailed paper written in 1910(1) by Laura Martinez Martin a great deal is known about the life of one particular emigrant, José Moldes (c. 1860-1921) who was a prolific letter writer. Martin's study can be read on line courtesy of The University of Helsinki, where the Conference on European Ideas was held in 2008.

Here is José writing his first letter home at the age of just fourteen. He wrote 121 of them over a fifty year period. His legacy allowed Martin to reconstruct the experiences of just one of millions of emigrants.

Castropol, 8 April 1874
Dear mama: I take up my pen to show you my route from here to Coruña; so far thanks be to God I have lacked for nothing here, we are intending to make the trip on Friday; we will rent a carriage in Castropol, we are all well. I send greetings to everyone who asks after me and a kiss for my brothers and sisters and especially Florentino and finally to you with all my heart from a dear son W(ho) K(isses) Y(our) H(and).
José Moldes.

There are similar statues and memorials all over Spain. In neighbouring Galicia this moving portrayal of a family saying farewell to the emigrant, stands outside the Maritime Station in Vigo.(2)

There he goes suitcase in hand again, and with the same determined  stride, never risking a backward glance lest he should falter in his resolve.

This family of emigrants (3) have as much as they can carry in those suitcases and parcels, but what did they have to leave behind?

Here in Lanzarote we know that many people emigrated to South America, but what is not generally known is that just sixteen families from here founded San Antonio in Texas. Caminante (better known to me as my husband) has written about this on his blog The Lanzarote They Left Behind in a post title ‘The Rôle of Water in the Decision to Emigrate from Lanzarote to San Antonio’. The title doesn’t say it all and it’s worth a read as it highlights the harsh conditions faced by the native Lanzaroteans back then.

At the Museum of Emigration in Teguise we were able to view many humble artefacts belonging to the early settlers; simple stoves, sewing machines and basic furniture. Their suitcases were there too, but most moving of all were the letters written to loved ones back home accompanied by sepia photographs of individuals and families by which to remember them.  My impression was not one of cheerful hope for the future but of grim acceptance of their destiny.

This week’s Sepia Saturday gave a suitcase picture prompt. Alan suggested that suitcases mean holidays, but they have also been the means for people to carry their few possessions when moving away from the place they call home and in search of a better life, prompted by necessity. how do they choose what to take and what to leave behind?  See what others have made of the prompt below. You’ll be surprised how much they can pack in.

The Correspondence of Asturian Emigrants at the end of the 19th and beginning of the twentieth centuries; the case of José Moldes
2 La Familia del Emigrante, designed by Ramón Conde and courtesy of Contando Estrelas through Flickr Creative Commons
3 from Museo de Arte Contemoráneo de Barcelona by Xavier Miserachs through Wikimedia Creative Commons 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Your Loving Brother, Sam

This young man is my grandfather (b.12th March 1892), my dad’s dad, always known to me as Granddad Sam. I wasn’t as close to him as my other grandddad, Sid, who has often appeared in my blogposts, and he was always a bit distant with me on the few occasions I can remember seeing him. I have no recollections of fun or storytelling, as I do with Sid, so I was surprised to read a postcard, signed from ‘your loving brother Sam’ and with fifteen kisses added around the edge.

I am indebted to my brother for the information on how Sam spent the war. He did the research and helped to give me and our families a picture of how Sam spent WW1.

As far as I know we only have one photo of Sam as a lad, seated, with his sister and his dog, in a family group in which the head of one of the sitters has been removed!

Sam joined the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1914, probably with a pal, as his two brothers and his Brother-in-law all joined the Royal Engineers. He mentions Ted Hicks in the postcard, related in some way to his brother-in-law Jim, so perhaps he was the friend who joined him at the recruiting station. Sam's army record was lost, with so many others, in the Blitz of 1941. However, we can be sure that he served in the 10th or 11th Battalion, 68th Brigade, of the 23rd Division of the British Army. The Brigade spent the early part of the war training and some of the infantry, building up defences of South London.

Between 21-26 August 1915 the Division landed at Boulogne and thereafter served on the Western Front until late 1917, when it moved to Italy. The picture below, of Sam’s platoon, was probably taken before they left for France as there is no evidence of long service chevrons or wound stripes

The Northumberland Fusiliers. Sam is second left, bottom row.
On arrival in France the Division took responsibility for the front line sector at Bois Grenier where they spent the next five months, until relieved the following February. During the rest of 1916 Sam saw action at various locations on the front at the Battle of The Somme, and at the end of the year the Ypres Salient, where in 1917 he saw further action at the Menin Road and Passchendaele.

In October 1917 the Division undertook the long journey to Italy to support the Italian army. They were placed in a front line section at Montello, facing the Austrian Army, where they stayed until March 1918. There were no major incidents, but there was heavy shellfire to endure as they worked to strengthen the position. The next move was to the Asiago Plateau, where the Battles of Asiago and Vittorio Veneto are recorded in the War Diaries of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

After the Armistice the Division moved to a billeting area west of Treviso and the troops were gradually returned to Blighty. Sam sent this card to Cis (Sarah, his sister) in February 1919, just before he was sent home.

A man of few words was Sam, both spoken and written, but he was clearly fond of my Great-aunt Cis, his elder by seven years. When Sam’s mother, Lydia, died, he had gone to live with Cis and her husband Jim at Lammas Street. After the war, he brought his new bride to join him there for a while until my father was born, when they moved to a place of their own a few minutes away.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is a soldier of The Great War, commemorated in the Faces Project of the Imperial War Museum. He was just an ordinary soldier but, unlike Sam, he went missing in the Battle of The Somme. We were lucky that Sam, another ordinary soldier lived to found our little branch of the family tree.

To see more stories of ordinary and extraordinary men and women of the First World War, which began 100 years ago this year, visit other participants in this week’s Sepia Saturday.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Between the Pages

"How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none ... And no one has a right to say that no water babies exist till they have seen no water babies existing, which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water babies.

The illustration comes from a copy of a book called The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. The original owner of the book was my mother, Mary (well-known by now to regular readers), who won it as a Sunday School Prize at the age of nine. My mother was, and still is, a lover of books and reading, and this book was treasured and handed down, first to me, and then to my daughter.

When I visited my daughter at Christmas I took the familiar volume down from the shelf and many happy memories were revived. The story itself was rather more shadowy, except that I remember reading and re-reading the book, just as I imagine my mother must have done.

 The book possibly fell out of favour largely due to its prejudices, common at the time; however, it seems Kingsley had set out to write it as part satire and part tract against child labour and ill-treatment of the poor, as well as introducing lessons in morality and spirituality with a theme of Christian redemption. I’m sure as child readers we weren’t aware of these underlying themes, just as the book didn’t turn my mother, my daughter or me, into intolerant and racial bigots. We enjoyed the story and the beautiful pictures; in my mother’s case, in an age when reading was the pastime of choice for nine or ten year-olds, and in mine and my daughter’s, long before iPads and Kindles had been invented.
Mum, top right, c1930

This isn’t the place to debate the influence of childen’s literature but as a parent and a teacher I know that many stories, shared with children in the right way, can be used for good. I don’t believe we should shelter children from the real world and a healthy discussion with a caring adult can be part of a chid’s education. I’d like to think that my grandchildren will be able to enjoy The Water Babies too in time. I know that if they do read it and ask questions they will be met with sensible answers which will help them to realise that there is a balance to be struck in all things.

My grandchildren were given two books for Christmas by us; Floella Benjamin’s My Two Grandads, and Jamila Gavin’s Blackberry Blue, a brand new collection of folk tales with black and mixed race rôle models. Yes, there will be some lessons between the pages (love, sacrifice, endurance), but also, I’m hoping they’ll be lost in the ‘spooky, engaging and refreshing’ stories and the ‘atmospheric’ illustrations; everything a good book should have for young children. Shared with a loving adult to both answer and encourage questions, the experience will, I hope, be as joyful as that of the three generations who have enjoyed The Water Babies. I’m looking forward to their response - once they’ve finished Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, which they’re sharing with Daddy. That’s another book with a lesson, but oh what fun!

The Water Babies can be read online, where many versions of the illustrations can also be seen; the ones I’ve shared with you come from that very copy, now 83 years-old and holding pride of place on my daughter’s shelf; the one between the pages of which we were able to lose ourselves in a world of make-believe and fairyland. My grandfather had written my mother’s name and address inside, so the volume has an added reason to be treasured.

Between the pages of this week’s Sepia Saturday book you’re bound to find some wonderful stories. Why not join us over there? If you have any of your own we’d love to hear them.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

If I Had a Donkey

If I had a donkey,
And he would not go,
Do you think I’d beat him?
Oh no, no, no. 
I’d put him in the stable,
And give him some corn,
The best little donkey
That ever was born.

(trad Nursery Rhyme)
These are my friends at Lanzarote a Caballo, whom we visited today at the end of a walk across the Lanzarote landscape.

I’m always delighted to see them and I think they like to see anybody who will show them a little attention.

The younger ones will bray excitedly if they think you have come to give them some treats, but today my joy was a tussle with one of them who took a fancy to my camera strap. He had it between his teeth and was enjoying a tug-o-war with me; I swear there was also a big grin! 

I once asked about these donkeys, who are well fed and looked after, to see if they were rescue animals. I was told that they were all born here, but that they came from stock which was rescued from a place in Gran Canaria, which was closing down.

Apparently they do get taken out for special occasions but there is not the manpower to use them for rides with children or similar events, in the way that donkey sanctuaries in UK seem to do.

It’s so sad; they don’t have any toys or stimulation in their corral either, but at least they have each other. Donkeys are very sociable animals and love to engage with other donkeys or humans. I have a special place in my heart for these gentle creatures. We have visited the sanctuary in Devon several times and each time we are struck by the donkeys in the barn who have been rescued and stand quietly and patiently together. It always brings a lump to my throat.

I have a recording from about 33 years ago of my son aged two and a bit reciting the above nursery rhyme - that also brings a lump to my throat!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Along For the Ride

This photograph has already played a minor rôle in a previous blogpost, 'The Black Pepper is Very Pungent’ where I wrote about the Indian troops in the First World War. I was very taken with the casual pose of the soldier with his foot on the running board, and the wounded Indian soldier leaning towards him as if to adjust his collar, brush away an imaginary crumb or hand him a tip. Perhaps he is trying to catch the soldier’s attention to make a point, but I do wonder why he is so innatentive when everybody else is clearly looking stratght at the camera! The 1915 photograph, taken by H.D Girwood (1978-1964), comes from the British Library collection via Wikimedia Commons. The charabanc would only trundle along at 12 M.P.H apparently so it would be a gentle jaunt and very appropriate for convalescents who were out for a breath of the Bournemouth sea air. Our photo prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday is a convoy of tourist vehicles of some kind from the Royal Australian Historical Society collection via Flickr, and reminded me of this charabanc used by the Mount Dore hospital.

And here is another line of vehicles preparing to set off. This is a supply column waiting to load at the railway in the same year as the above. Please click on this link to view the image through the wonderful British Library manuscript viewer which allows you to home in on the tiniest detail.

The last image, from that same British Library collection, shows a uniformed Maharajah (on 2nd August 1915) with a convoy of ambulance cars. Again, click on this link  to view the microscopic details. Not such a merry jaunt as the walking wounded at Brighton, nor the tourists in Australia but it fits the bill as far as answering the call for this week’s theme.

For more more jolly jaunts jump aboard the Sepia Saturday bus number 209, and head straight for 2014 and a full year of sepia surprises.