Of Beer, Birds, Besoms and Backache

Out with friends in the evening and ‘Bob’ makes a reappearance. He has managed to find some more trousers to wear (fortunate) but the waitress deposits a quantity of beer in his lap. We refrain from asking if he wants beer with his curry.

We are parked in a pretty corner of the caravan site, under a tree. The tree was a mistake. Chris is waging war on wood pigeons with incontinence problems. On another avian note, a baby sparrow has made a home under the wheel arch of our waste water container – hope it finds its way back to mum.

As my back is pretty uncomfortable whatever I do, we decide to make the most of weather that is far better than any we have seen at home and begin our four corners walk. We had previously tackled the round the coast of the island walk, now we are going for north to south and east to west. We successfully complete the ‘find somewhere free to park in Cowes’ challenge – though we probably lose points for not actually still being in Cowes. The first part of the walk, at a very slow pace, is pretty uninspiring, then we are on the pleasant course of the old railway along the western bank of the River Medina. Plenty of birds and wild flowers to observe, amidst the game of dodge the cyclist. I can look the unidentified ones up in my handy bird and flower books; well I could if I hadn’t left them at home. Someone coming in the opposite direction remarks to Chris, ‘Pro beard dude’. I am not sure Chris quite speaks that language. We pass the point where Chris’ ancestor, William Pengilly from Clovelly, fell through the viaduct on a walk from Newport to Dodnor after a drunken night out. Although we are great believers in walking in the shoes of our ancestors, we refrain from plunging to our deaths.

Viaduct near Dodnor where William Pengilly fell

Viaduct where William Pengilly of Clovelly fell to his Death

Unidentified flower

Suggestions as to what this is welcome

I had decided that my back could cope with this walk on the ground of gradient. What I hadn’t factored in was the complete lack of places at which to give up and get the bus back to the car. Once on track it was pretty much finish the five miles or nothing. This was not one of my better ideas and by the end I have slowed to a stagger. I elect to find a seat, attempt to lower myself on to it and wait for Chris to return with the car. This means I am spared the jolting around that is the experience of travelling on a Southern Vectis bus. It also means that we don’t have to part with any cash for my fare; Chris being able to utilise his free bus pass. I was fairly pleased to see the caravan and relaxed in the afternoon, putting the finishing  touched to the next issue of the Braund Society journal.

Even if I, a participant in the event, say so myself, the Isle of Wight Family History Society One Day Conference was a very good day. The venue was the hottest in the world but apart from that it was lovely to see old friends. Really interesting to hear my fellow presenters, Dr Colin Chapman and Richard Smout on things C17th. Our three presentations dovetailed together very well. First Colin on C17th sources and what a wealth of these there is. Next my turn, or rather the turn of my alter ego Mistress Agnes. Today we were talking C17th housewifery and Mistress A gave recipes for face cream and lip balm as well as her signature dish – roast cow’s udder. She spoke of Besoms (brooms), Battledores (or laundry bats), Bedsteads (well not actually sure she mentioned these but hey it begins with B) and bum rolls. Richard Smout then gives an insight into life in C17th Newport. Apparently the local fire fighting equipment was stored in the church. Makes sense as a building that was easily accessible and also I guess it was less flammable than many structures. I do have an interesting struggle with the PA system. First I try the ‘hair band’ style microphone. Not only do I feel like I ought to be reading football results, it isn’t really compatible with the coif. I exchange this for the lollipop style mike mid-presentation and attempt to unthread the wire of the other mike from my bodice whilst still talking. I tend to wave my hands about a lot when I’m talking, so keeping my mouth within microphone range is a tad tricky. Despite this and my difficulties with standing up, my audience was appreciative.

Manage to get a replacement TV aerial for the caravan TV on the way home. We get it all set up only to find that the night’s schedule features such ‘delights’ as The Eurovision Song Contest – why did we bother to reinstate access to TV?


The Curious Incident of the Curry Sauce in the Night Time

I struggled through three sessions of costume and armour in the seventeenth century with a lovely local history group and some bemused French exchange students. The struggle being occasioned by my having done something dire to my back, making movement next to impossible. Normally it is my colleagues who only make one fit person between them, whilst I am relatively in one piece but not today. Thankfully I am allowed to depart as soon as my activities are complete and then I have to drive about 7 miles to Bideford. Getting to work had been ok but I am now rendered more immobile by the armour hefting so changing gear is a near impossible exercise. I debate completing the journey in one gear but cannot decide which would be the most appropriate. In the end I go for changes of gear but the only way in which I can get my foot off the clutch is to physically lift my leg up using my left hand. Good job the road was quiet.

We are off in the caravan again to attend the One Day Conference of The Isle of Wight Family History Society, of which I am President. We go to fill up with petrol. Chris is muttering something like ‘dozy ****** ***’ with reference to the man in front, who has drawn up on the wrong side of the pump and is struggling to make the hose reach. It is our turn. We draw up at the pump with car and caravan. Hmm it seems we are on the wrong side of the pump. In Chris’ defence, he does have more than one vehicle and the petrol caps are not all on the same side. As we are towing the caravan, our only option now is to leave the petrol station, drive round and approach again. We do so with more success the second time. Now we need to re-inflate the tyres. Guess what, this necessitates leaving the petrol station, driving round and approaching a third time. Whoever is monitoring the CCTV must be beginning to be suspicious.

An uneventful journey to the New Forest ensues. The ‘how to find the caravan site’ instructions are typically incomprehensible. The sat-nav begins by directing us up things that, even by our standards, are clearly not roads and then falls silent. We spot a camper van and deduce that it may be heading towards our destination. ‘Follow that van’, I suggest. Unfortunately the driver is attempting to qualify for the next F1 season and hurtles along at a great rate with us in more leisurely pursuit. Thankfully this does however enable us to reach our destination in time to secure a pitch before reception closes. By now it is past our bedtime, let alone time for food so we are pleased to see a fish and chip van on site. By the time we arrive to make a purchase we are left with one portion of fish and chips and one of chicken curry – that sounds fine. I eat the lumps from the chicken curry, which actually do resemble chicken and most of the sauce. ‘Bob’ (names have been changed for this portion to protect the reputation of those involved) leaves the remains of the curry sauce on the draining board and opens the overhead locker, out of which falls a Jamaican ginger cake. I can reliably inform you that dropping a Jamaican ginger cake from a height of three feet into curry sauce causes the curry sauce to splatter for a considerable distance. If I hadn’t been laughing so much I could be more precise and may well have had photographic evidence to prove it. ‘Bob’ is covered from head to foot and is wondering how to remove his curry covered jumper without getting sauce in his facial hair. There is curry sauce on the walls, on the bedding, on the floor. It seems that ‘Bob’ is wearing not just a considerable amount of curry sauce but also the only respectable outfit he has with him. I foresee a trip to A*** for something other than jogging bottoms. It is my left over curry sauce so clearly this whole incident is my fault.

Next day, we have arranged to collect some Braund memorabilia from a Braund Society member for preservation – what a wonderful treasure trove. By this time I am feeling rather peculiar, what in my teenage years may have been described as ‘spaced out man’. Perhaps this is a result of the super-strength pain killers that I have taken. I make the most of the opportunity to have a quiet lie down in the caravan (the advantage of our snail like existence) whilst we wait for the Red Funnel ferry. I should place on record that I hate the Red Funnel ferry. Not only does it take twice as long as the other routes but they make you get out of the car and the cold plastic seats are uncomfortable at the best of times. It has been chosen on the basis that it was considerably cheaper (in the context of Isle of Wight ferries ‘cheaper’ is a relative term) than other options. We get on the Red Funnel ferry. I discover that there is free wi-fi on Red Funnel. I would like to place on record that I love Red Funnel ferries.

Historic Wheelbarrow Racing, Witches, When my Bedroom was in 2 Houses and being an Auction Lot

The video taken during our time with Neolithic Houses is now on the English Heritage website. You see my feet, a bit of my body pounding chalk, my chalk sieve and bizarrely, Chris and I doing a wheelbarrow race. Great quote from Luke Winter our project leader, ‘We only get to grips with the past and the way people lived by seeing where they lived and how they did it’.

This week I have been an auction lot. I donated some research time to a charity auction and the highest bidder claimed their prize. No wonder they gave up on this research and asked me to take up the challenge because challenge it was. The family seem to have avoided every census enumeration – even searching with no surnames failed to find them. One individual deducted 10 years off his age, Edwin became Edward – well I anticipated that – but the Cutcliffes became Cutlands and there were other complications. I did make some progress but as always the answers just raised more questions.

My lovely neighbour, who used to live in my house, came in with some fascinating details of its history. It seems that part of my bedroom used to be a box room belonging to the house next door, as a sort of flying freehold. Now I can move the bed and say I am sleeping in a different house. He also had stories of fireplaces that used to be in the middle of my kitchen and staircases winding round them. The earliest documentary evidence for my house is 1750 but architectural evidence leads us to a date nearer to 1600. This style of staircase and fireplaces in the middle of rooms might be more suggestive of something even earlier – who knows. Sadly my house has been gutted of most of the original features – although my walls are gloriously uneven.

This website has now passed the milestone of 10,000 hits – in little more than a year – wow can people really be interested in my chaotic life? Mind you, these include random hits from places like Lithuania – surely those people must have arrived here by some quirk of Google. I am always amazed by the search terms that lead unsuspecting surfers to my ramblings.

More days in the seventeenth century since my last post – some lovely children to work with and we have actually succeeded in making butter on two occasions. Today my barber surgeon colleague was administering an enema. The victim patient commented ‘I saw that being done to a woman when I was at the doctors once’ – remind me to avoid his doctor. A positive meeting of Clovelly Community Archive Association and plans for a gravestones project similar to that for Buckland Brewer. In addition, the rumblings of a possible local history group here in Buckland – watch this space.

Great new historical witchcraft website including names of those involved in the trials – will definitely be incorporating this into my witchcraft talk.

C17th Cobwebs, Arctic Whalers and the Letters of a Lady

After the excitements of the Neolithic era you’d think a quiet week would be in order but no such luck. 4 days in the seventeenth century ensue. The final day in a Cornish High School with the less academically able was one of the best I’ve spent as Mistress Agnes. A room containing a fair proportion of students who do not normally engage with what goes on in a classroom, some of who have issues such as ADHD and I was bombarded with signs of real historic thinking and excellent questions. Normally my colleagues have little trouble gaining fans in this situation – after all chopping arms off and torturing people has a certain appeal in some quarters. These students however seemed equally enthralled by bum rolls and buff coats. It is great to go home and feel that you’ve really achieved something.

As if all this C17th stuff wasn’t enough I spend one evening going to speak to Weston Super Mare FHS, a regular gig for me and always a pleasure to speak to this group – this time on my Who Do You Think You Are? experiences. This late night meant that I ended up making Martha think something was awry as I sent her an email at 11.00pm – not an hour of the day that I see very often.

Back at work I am tasked with tidying our supply of C17th costume. Never one for half measures, I excavate parts of the staff room where no one has gone before. This includes unearthing some C17th cobwebs – always handy for putting on wounds.

My next job for the Marine Lives project is one where I can use my family history skills to investigate the biographies of various crew members of C17th Arctic whalers – looking forward to this.

And a favourite website of the week – the Letters of Bess of Hardwick.

So now a quiet weekend then? Not a bit of it as 50 Braunds are descending for our annual 4 day reunion.