A World of Missing Things – or the latest episode in the diary of a scatty historian

Today a fisherman of my acquaintance requested help with collecting his car from the garage. Today was also the first frost of the year, that would be a very hard frost. I donned as many layers as possible, allowing for the fact that I had to be able to move my arms. I broke the ice on the muddy puddle that passes for a pond in case the resident frogs, Fred and Freda, were struggling to breathe. F & F were sensibly conspicuous by their absence.

074 23 January 2013 Me at Samiland 2

Not Actually Today But You Get The Idea

Inevitably, the car windscreen was iced up, although bizarrely this was on the inside not the outside. De-icer. De-icer, hmmm. I was car-less last winter. I haven’t needed de-icer for more than a year. It must be in the boot. Can I remember how to open the boot of this car? This is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Oh, ok, it is ridiculous but here is my excuse. I have to park with the back of my car hard up to a wall so there is no room open the boot. The back seat is my boot. The boot however does have things in – like de-icer. I debate prizing the parcel shelf off to gain access to the boot from inside, then opt for moving the car forward (despite not being able to see where I am going) in order to open the boot, which, it turns out, is accomplished by the conventional method of turning the key. No de-icer. Then it dawns on me that my de-icer is in a car graveyard somewhere on the south coast. I take out a second mortgage and burn up half a tank of petrol so I can leave the engine running while the windscreen gradually defrosts, aided by some judicious rubbing on my part. This leaves delightful smears through which I peer as I negotiate ice and blinding sunshine on my journey, the sun also creates migrane inducing flickering as I travel between the trees.

Other adventures today include becoming an Amazon seller. I have been heavily publicising my books in the hope that they will make suitable items for Santa to slip in stockings, not just of friends of friends but folk in the world beyond. I am therefore keen that my magnum opii should be available on the site of a well known online bookseller near you at the proper prices, not three figure sums. If you want a thing doing …….. so following a suggestion from a friend, I began the process of setting myself up as a seller. Step 451 ‘enter your passport number’. Sets off to get passport. No passport in the place where passports live in my house. Minor panic ensues. This rapidly develops into a major panic as I rifle through every folder in the box of official papers, tossing bills, bank statements and guarantees around with frenetic abandon. Stop to think – you know, that ‘When did you last have it?’ thing. Light-bulb moment, when I nearly used it to renew my driving licence online (gory details of this saga are available in an earlier post). This means my passport has not yet reached the top of the ‘to be filed’ pile upon which it was tossed after this abortive mission. Passport duly retrieved.

Several steps further on and an automated telephone call requires me to put the number I can see on my screen into my phone. I kid you not, this number begins 999 (quick translation for US readers – this is the equivalent of 911). Are they having a laugh? I do this and ‘verification has failed’. I am to try again or speak the number. There do not seem to be any blue flashing lights at my door but I opt for the latter and there I am, an Amazon seller. So you can now buy my books on Amazon at the prices that they are meant to be. Sales direct from me are still preferable but all sales are welcome. Did I mention that it is only 25 days to Christmas?

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And in my Life this Week…… history and other weirdness

This week I had an early doctor’s appointment. Early is easy, I can do early, especially now I have rediscovered my lost-for-months pocket alarm clock that has been sneakily hiding in a rarely used bag. Appointment was 7.40am. Doctors is a 20 minute drive away. I wake up before 6am as usual and turn off the alarm (set for 6.15am – who needs it). I start my day (aka check emails and social media). There’s a handy little clock in the corner of my computer screen. I really should learn to look at it more often. Suddenly it is 7.06am. I am still in bed – arrrrrggh. Undaunted, I am out of the house by 7.15am. Then I realise that although I know where I live (fortunately) and where the doctors is, I go so rarely that there is a piece missing in the map in my head that should tell me how to get from one to the other. Luckily automatic pilot works and I arrive in time.

‘Early appointments’, I’ve been warned, mean that the doors are locked and I have to be ‘buzzed in’. I fail to grasp the logic of this. Are mad receptionist threatening maniacs only abroad before the hour of 8am (after which time the doors are unlocked)? And if I were said mad receptionist threatening manic would I announce myself as such on the intercom? And another of life’s mysteries, how can the doctor be running twenty five minutes late when I can be no more than appointment three?

Returning from the doctors, I decided that today was the day for making the Christmas cakes; running a bit late with this this year. As regular readers (amazingly there are some) will know, cooking is not high on my list of enjoyable activities, or indeed my abilities. I do however ‘do’ Christmas cake, usually several Christmas cakes. This year I have managed to convince myself that I really don’t need four but two will be sufficient. Cakes happily in the oven I get on with my day. After the required time, I check the cakes and decide that one could do with a little longer to cook thoroughly. I leave it in the Rayburn which is on tick-over (for non Rayburn/Aga users this means it isn’t actually turned on but is still warm). I return to the fascinations of my real life. The next morning I come downstairs to get breakfast and spot a Christmas cake on the kitchen table where I had left it to cool. That’s funny, I think (turns out it is hilarious), where is the other Christmas cake? Realisation dawns. It is still in the Rayburn. The well cooked cake is quite dark and I think ‘solid’ would be a good description. Even my usual remedy (disguising the burned bits by turning it upside down) will be inadequate. Helpful Facebook friends make suggestions as to what to do with this creation, most of which involve copious amounts of alcohol – not sure if that is for me or the cake. I will be making another cake but I have found a volunteer to consume the middle if I cut the edges off.

It has been another week of dealing with incompetents. Just one of several examples:
Me to prospective venue on the telephone: ‘We would like to book your venue for 21 November 2017’
Venue: ‘We will email you’
Venue (by email): ‘Here are the dates we have available in February.’
The months have been changed to protect the guilty.

Last weekend was a rare occurrence. I went to a concert. The performers were Chris Conway and Dan Britton and I had been invited on two counts. Dan’s family were involved in the 1838 Clovelly fishing disaster, that I had researched in 2013 and some of the songs were related to the incident. I was also attending with fellow author Liz Shakespeare, in order to sell books. What a great evening.

Writing tasks this week have included finishing off lessons for my forthcoming online course about twentieth century family and local history research – don’t neglect more recent decades folks, you could even do a course ……… I have also written a guest blog, ready for my appearance on Jenny Kane’s website on 9 December, so look out for that one. Two of my blog posts (here and here) have now appeared on the In-Depth Genealogist’s website and I am writing the next in my series of articles about women’s work for their magazine. I’ve met with our lovely authors’ group again. That’s work right? Surely drinking coffee and eating cake is work.

booksNext week I am being interviewed for Tiverton Radio. So, amidst the pre-Christmas busyness and posting out books for discerning Christmas shoppers, it is all go. On the subject of books, a well known online book retailer has my books at ridiculously high prices at the moment. Don’t let this deter you. Buy from the publisher, even better buy from me but please don’t pay above the cover prices that are listed here.

Still Writing, with some Speaking and Listening too

The week began with a bang at the Society for One-Place Studies conference, which this year was held in Swindon. What an enthusiastic group; I came away really fired up to take my own one-place studies in new directions. The first part of the proceedings was a fascinating visit to the Historic England Archive, a real treasure trove this one. As the majority of their holdings are photographs they need to be kept in very cool conditions. We entered the cold storage area at six degrees, having been told to dress warmly. I’ve done the ice hotel, this was as nothing but I did wonder why the staff member who accompanied us was still in a short-sleeved dress. By way of contrast, our conference room on the Saturday began the day with additional heating and a thermostat set at 30 degrees. The temperature restored to a more acceptable level, it was fascinating to listen to our five speakers for the day talking about aspects of their one-place study. I have to say, apart from the obvious attractions of the Historic England Archive, Swindon does not rate highly on my list of must re-visit places. Just too many people, too much traffic and too few or too expensive car parks. To be fair to Swindon, they have tried to make the most of their heritage as a railway town but it is still a town and as regular readers will know I just don’t do towns.

This must be the week when programme secretaries fill their 2017 calendars; I have taken a record number of bookings and will be crossing the country as usual next year. I am relieved that the description for my Tracing your Elusive English Ancestors talk for Who Do You Think You Are? Live now matches the title. Great to see so many friends amongst my fellow speakers. Bookings are now open and early-bird offers are in place. I have also been a writer in residence in some small way. Sitting in our ‘authors in a café’ café and hoping I would not be talking to myself or the resident pigeon. As it turned out I was able to chat away for most of the morning. So thanks to John who came and stayed and others who said hello. I even succumbed to the delicious cake. I wonder if my Zumba fees are tax-deductable? After all if I wasn’t ‘forced’, purely in the line of duty, to eat all this cake……

I am the editor for the journal of our Braund Family History Society. Sometimes this writes itself, on other occasions, such as the issue for this quarter, for ‘edit’ read ‘write’. Just to prove that I am already encouraging my descendants to be creative I am reporting a conversation with Edward, aged 2¾. Conversations with Edward often have a surreal tinge but he understands that Granny does writing and I was asking what I could write to fill ten pages of a journal that was already at deadline minus a few days. “You could write a list of my vehicles, Granny.” So next time you read something from me that begins “Orange tractor, blue digger …….” you will know the source of inspiration.

Forget super moons, you may have observed some porcine shapes in the skies yesterday because, wait for it, I took a ‘day off’ to do some of my own family history. I discovered more about gg granny’s ner-do-well brother, who had more than one brush with the law. On this occasion he was in trouble for dumping the comatose body of his lodger on the steps of the workhouse – brilliant stuff.

CoverThe festive season must be upon us. I am surrounded by bubble wrap and brown paper, parceling up copies of my books that are to find their way in to the stockings of folk across the globe. Although Remember Then, which wasn’t even born this time last year, has sold better than I could have hoped, more copies are available – that would be quite a lot more – most of which are being carefully nurtured under the bed in the home of a fisherman of my acquaintance. Take pity on a fisherman – buy a book. Actually buy any book, not just mine, get the world reading again.

It’s Only Words – more about writing

178-9-august-2014-sunset-at-north-ledaigAs the Bee Gees’ lyric continues ‘and words are all I have’. In a week when many around the world are feeling impotent, frustrated, angry, riddled with hatred – so many emotions – I feel the need to adjust the focus. I put my faith in the ripple effect, if I can change the fragment of the universe that surrounds me perhaps it will, by osmosis, have a wider impact. In the interests of realignment, this is not going to be one of my rare political posts, I have said all there is to say before. My post that I wrote during the aftermath of the EU referendum is equally appropriate to the debacle that is the US election.

Today’s post is about progress and positivity but about conflict nonetheless. What weapons do I have to take into battle? What am I able to do and hopefully do well? I write, I stand up and talk to large audiences without a qualm. Sometimes I dress in strange outfits so to do. Mostly, I talk and write about history; how is that relevant to the present, let alone the future? How can I be a warrior for change when I am so rooted in the past? When I applied for college, part of the interview process was to write an essay entitled ‘Why Study History?’ I have largely forgotten the words I used then but they obviously struck home as I was accepted. It was the 1970s, I know that the Irish Troubles and their echoes and reflections of earlier events were part of my response; the details no longer matter. The value of history has not changed. Those who study history are not slightly strange individuals whose work is mere self-indulgence. An understanding of what has gone before is essential to our current well being. That is why those particularly personal branches of history, family and local history are so relevant. By learning where we have come from we become more firmly grounded, we have a sense of belonging, of well-being, we can better comprehend where we are going. We really do need to take heed of George Santayana’s telling statement that heads the home page of my website: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfil it”. An understanding of the past informs our actions in the future. It teaches us to analyse, to think critically, to be aware of the need for proof and to be wary of propaganda. The universal lack of these skills has been blatantly self-evident this year.

Well crafted words provoke reactions, emotions, they are powerful weapons for good or evil, they need to be well chosen. So, what have I been writing lately? Most of my output has not been of national import, although I like to think that the way in which I expressed my opinion in a letter to BBC’s Newswatch, was one of the reasons that an extract from it was read. My first two articles for The In-Depth Genealogist’s Magazine have been submitted. The column is about women’s work and will be an eclectic mix of descriptions of household tasks and paid work. So far I have written about making clothes and munutionettes; next stop laundry.

I have been encouraging others to write too. My ‘Writing and Telling your Family’s Story’ course for Pharos has come to an end and I was privileged to have an enthusiastic band of students. The course is being repeated in February; bear this in mind if your New Year’s Resolution is to finally put fingers to keyboard. I have also been writing another course for Pharos, this one is about researching families and communities in the first part of the twentieth century. It starts in January and you can sign up now. These are online courses so can be taken from any location.

Oh and words also have to be accurate. I am pleased to have been chosen as a speaker at Who Do You Think You Are? Live again in 2017. Tickets for workshops (including mine on Tracing your Elusive English Ancestors) can now be booked. Currently, the description of my session does not match the title! I am trying to work out if this is better or worse than two years ago when my ‘Creating your Family’s Story’ was billed as ‘Creating Your Family’ – it did sell out though!

What else have I let myself in for? Our little group of North Devon authors are trialing ‘writers in residence’ sessions in a local café and I’ve volunteered to be the first victim. So I will be in Latte and Lunch café on Bideford Quay on Wednesday 16 November between 10.30 and 12.00 chatting about what I have written and what I am creating now. I will also have details of the output of others from our group. I really don’t want to look like Billy no mates so, if you are local, do come and grab a coffee and make it look like a crowd. As an incentive, the cake is yummy too!

And finally….. The news has just broken that one of my all time favourite artists, Leonard Cohen, has died. There was a man who knew how to weave magic with his words. Even if his musical style is not to your taste his compelling lyrics need to be read as the poetry that they are. Halleluya may be the most well known and it one of my favourites but for today, The Guests seems appropriate.