Relaxing, Reunions and other Adventures with Sticky Tape

Whisper it quietly – the patio is nearly done. A slight grout non-delivery issue means I will have the pleasure of Greg’s Garden Services one more time to finally finish off but I am really pleased with it. I hasten to add that the lack of grout is not Greg’s fault. Now comes the task of creating a lawn and planting some flowers but I’ll get there. I even did the laundry today on the reinstated washing line.

DSCF3752.JPGDespite Braund reunion attendees beginning to flock (well maybe ‘flock’ is a bit of a strong word – trickle perhaps) Devonwards I even sneaked a quick sit on the new patio. Actually, I may be reduced to living on the patio as my lounge is crammed with reunion paraphernalia. I have spent the past few days struggling to stick numerous twenty foot family trees together, to create name badges and stuff reunion bags. Sticky tape and I are now sworn enemies and I have humanely disposed of a printer cartridge in the process. Actually there’s a lie there, the reunion bags are as yet unstuffed, awaiting the collection of the reunion booklets from the printers. This has been left to the last minute so the attendees list is as up-to-date as possible. I am now waiting for the last minute bookings and cancellations. These occasions (and this is the 35th one) are always great fun and this year, in honour of the Coral Anniversary, we have a week and a bit of reuniting.

Blogging, if any, may need to be done at 3am and there may be a struggle to move when it is all over, judging by the number of meals out that are involved but hey, the diet starts in June (not committing to which June). The waistline is not helped by the temptation to sit in the glorious sunshine and eat ice cream on the patio


Mud and General Mayhem

May 2017 2We have returned to what passes for normality, whatever that is, after more days with family and friends on the Isle of Wight. Our stay co-incided with ‘Walk the Wight’ when large numbers of people circumnavigate the island on foot in aid of charity. They assemble in a field about 5.00am, make a great deal of noise and finally set off when a very loud claxon sounds at 6.00am. This is all very laudable, except that the assembly point was in a field directly behind our caravan. We did our own portion of Wight walking up and down Culver Cliff without the benefit of a claxon or the need to scream and shout vociferously as we set off.

Whilst I have been away gardeners have been at work, finally installing the patio that I have been planning since my conservatory was built three years ago. Why is it that projects such as this are always accompanied by heavy rain? I now have a swath of mud in lieu of a garden and it seems mud pretty much everywhere else too. I am trying to console myself with the theory that things have to get worse before they get better. They are certainly currently at the ‘worse’ stage. Some plants I hoped to retain are no more. I just hope the gardeners didn’t encounter the cats’ last resting place.

The dust, mud and gardeners mean that I have no way of drying any laundry. My clothes line has gone the way of other things in the garden. I plan to take the wet washing to a clothes line belonging to a fisherman of my acquaintance. I peg my underwear to one of those multiple peggy things that mean you only have to grap one item instead of several in case of rain. Next, to put the washing in the car. I have forgotten that a cement mixer now resides where my car should be. My car is a considerable way up the road. I treat the neighbours to a sight of my ’smalls’ to start their day.

In other events this week, I have listed to an excellent talk by Pamela Vass about the Lynmouth floods and whether cloud seeding experiments played a part. If you’ve not heard of this, look it up. Pam seemed to have read every flight log at The National Archives in pursuit of her research. Her book Seeds of Doubt is a fictionalised account.

Most of my time has been spent finishing my In Sickness and In Death: researching the ill-health and deaths of your ancestors course. Yesterday I was completing the section on tracing medical personnel. The online course starts in August if you want to join the fun. Great to hear yesterday that a former student on my Writing and Telling Your Family Story course has completed a family history; you can join that particular party too but you have to wait until October for that one. Now it is a mad rush to get through the to do list, which is still longer than my prospective novel (well almost) before the job we must not mention hit’s the fan. Oh and a nine day family reunion to host in the meantime. Life is never dull.

Of Talks and Technology

Today was the annual conference of the Isle of Wight Family History Society of which I have the honour to be a vice-president. I got the day off this time and could listen to others speak. I did have my turn at the front earlier in the week, addressing my local WI who were hosting their group meeting. I was regaling them with memories of 1946-1969 an activity that was not without attendant problems. It is very rare that I use notes for my talks but this one involves reading passages from Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own, so I have the relevant passages ready typed in one hand. I have my remote control for moving on my slides in the other hand and in my other hand I have my X-factor style mic. The observant amongst you will have spotted the first problem here. The theme of the afternoon was the 1960s, complete with appropriate dress. Having found a 1990s outfit that paid homage to the 1960s, I then stupidly decided to wear hand-me-up high heeled boots that originated with Martha. My strange shaped feet rarely fit in to normal shaped footwear and this was no exception. Having successfully cut off all circulation to my toes I hobbled away from my audience smiling bravely.

Anyway, back to today. As always a wonderful opportunity to meet old friends. We managed to work out that some of us first met 29 years ago when they attended my family history classes. In fact still others go back 32 years to when I first joined Isle of Wight Family History Society, when I returned to live there after three years on the mainland. It was a very good day, with two interesting tales of families who left the island. These were great illustrations of how you can weave a story from your research findings. The day finished with Richard Smout’s excellent talk about early years and childhood on the Isle of Wight.

Today also a strange encounter with “an online worldwide e-commerce marketplace connecting millions of subscribers with local merchants by offering activities, travel, goods and services in more than 28 countries.” Whilst attempting a purchase I am instructed to ‘Enter your house number here’. My address is numberless. I enter my house name. ‘Your house number must not exceed 7 characters’. That’s tough it has 13. Instead, I enter the house name in the street box, along with the village name that has to be substituted for the road name I also don’t have. I now have a 29 character street name. ‘Your street name must not exceed 19 characters’. Great. Given that I have to provide a postcode, I can risk leaving out the village name and just put the house name under street. ‘You must enter a house number.’ Lacking the seemingly essential house number I try putting a full stop in this box. Eureka! Whether the parcel will arrive is another matter. I know I have an unconventional address but I can’t be the only person whose house name exceeds 7 characters. I fire off a complaining Tweet to the appropriate e-commerce marketplace, which makes me feel better.

All at Sea

We are currently on the ferry heading for ‘south island’ aka the Isle of Wight. Not so much a holiday for us having lived there for 30+ years, more a catch up with friends and family. We were fortunate to get the ferry operative with a brain cell today. On arrival, 45 minutes early for our sailing, we were not told to drive round the block for 15 minutes complete with caravan (as has happened on previous occasions) we were very sensibly invited to embark on the half empty ferry that was leaving an hour earlier than our scheduled sailing. She did then rather spoil the impression of intelligence by peering in to the car and saying, ‘are there two of you travelling?’ I resisted the temptation to say, ‘the other six are in the boot.’Good job we are used to ferry travel because we have committed to another cruise. I am now officially on the programme for the 14th Unlock the Past cruise to Alaska in September 2018, along with a really great line up, many of whom are friends. The fact that this clashes horribly with the job we must not mention is a bridge as yet to be crossed.

And in my collection of weird emails today: from a well known online retailer ‘Please rate this item – did your Elsan chemical toilet capsule meet your expectation?’ What expectations does one actually have of a chemical toilet capsule?

We had the usual problems with the non-descent of our automatic caravan legs (that’s the legs that are allegedly automatic not the caravan). With their failure, we are now having to be careful not to both stand at the rear end of the caravan at the same time.

I managed to avail myself of the facilities on site and use the swimming pool before a quick (that would be very quick) paddle. We forewent the delights of the soft play and play park, reserving those for later visit, when we will be accompanied by person of a more appropriate age.


May 1959

My first visit  to the Isle of Wight

We decided to continue our north to south transit of the Isle of Wight today. I recalled that my first visit here was 58 years ago and during numerous holidays and several decades of living here I have walked most island footpaths. Strangely though I didn’t complete a circumnavigation until after I moved away (although we did have an abortive attempt in about 1980). That done, we are now going north to south to be followed, if we survive long enough, by east to west. As we haven’t done a great deal of walking lately we restricted ourselves to a short stretch from Godshill to Whitwell. This was enough to remind me that last time I walked far I decided I needed new walking boots. Waterproof they are not. Somewhat soggy socked we trekked through a profusion of wild flowers before taking our ease.

Books, Talks and Lunatics – Family History Mayhem

It is Monday. I am dressed in my thermals with more layers on than I care to remember. The last time I’ve worn this many clothes it was minus 25 degrees and I was in Lapland. It can only be a Bank Holiday in England. It was my turn to be a ‘writer in residence’ at Bucks Mills. It was a truly lovely setting. I only knew that because I’d been numerous times before. On arrival it was difficult to see the sea through the mist (ok, let’s be accurate here – impenetrable fog). It was also bracingly cold. The day did brighten and there was a steady stream of visitors. To be fair, more were interested in the Cabin we were huddled in than our literary efforts but it was an experience.

DSCF3708The family were visiting so on the one day that constituted summer (Tuesday) we frolicked in gnome hats at one of my favourite local tourist destinations (really is best not to ask). Then it was time to practice what I preach and encourage my descendants to take in interest in their past. Lucy learned to arrange her first family tree. More inhabitants of its branches to add on her next visit.

Next, some time in the seventeenth century, shooting school children and the like. I was not originally supposed to be on the team for this particular school but one of my colleagues wasn’t well enough to attend so it was across the border to Cornwall for two days. A couple of gems from these sessions: Me to a group of 12-13 year olds: ‘Why do you think people had so many children in the seventeenth century?’. (I know, you’d think this would be asking for trouble but it is very rare that anyone mentions lack of contraception in graphic detail – though one girl did say ‘pleasure’ this time). Response: ‘If one child needs a kidney transplant then there are more who might be compatible.’ Oh to be inside the head of a thirteen year old. Or actually, maybe not. To make matters worse, this child had just sat through an hour on the medicine of our time! If he came away with the impression that Master Christopher is a dab hand at kidney transplants we are doing something wrong.

Part of my session involves ‘make-overs’ – giving the little darlings seventeenth century clothing to don on top of their uniforms. I hand a young lad a pair of breeches – with the usual dire warnings about fastening the waist tie with a bow so he doesn’t get irretrievably knotted in (the consequence of which is that I make him go in to lunch wearing the breeches). Helpfully, as usual, I inform him that there’s no need to remove his shoes (never a good idea to encourage thirteen year old boys to remove their shoes in public). I fail to add that bit about not needing to remove his school trousers ……….

Somewhat rashly I had also agreed to revisit the wonderful venue that is Devon Rural Archive (again to fill in for someone who was sick) on the evening of the first day in Cornwall. The journey was considerably shorter if we went straight from Cornwall to the southern edge of Dartmoor, rather than returning home first so, sat-nav at the ready, off we set. We knew from experience that we needed to consciously avoid the Tamar toll bridge so when asked by Sally sat-nav ‘Do you wish to avoid tolls?’ we naturally pressed Yes, expecting to be directed across the Tamar somewhere in its northern reaches. Not so. We had neglected to instruct the sat-nav (and indeed she had neglected to enquire) not to take us on any vessels. One crossing of the Torpoint ferry later and we were heading back in to Devon.

My talk, which was on the Civil War in the South-west, is never quite what the audience expect. They come to hear long lists of battles, the victors and the vanquished, which, quite frankly, bores even me. What they get is something very different. No spoliers, book me and find out!

Someone, who shall remain nameless but it wasn’t me, decided we’d go home via the shortest, rather than the quickest, route. Won’t be trying that again. Unfortunately the vehicle that is large enough to transport the pikes and armour that we required for the school does not have a means of charging a sat-nav. Somewhere truly in the middle of nowhere it whimpered and died. Ever the Girl Guide, I was prepared for this and we resorted to that wonderful invention, a map. We didn’t get lost but it did take an inordinately long time. We finally got home about sixteen hours (and five hours of presentations) after we left it.

Books. I promised you books. The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies have made Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors book of the month (this means it is 15% off). I always worry that this is because they’ve landed themselves with loads of copies they can’t shift but they assure me it isn’t so. Daisy is actually making progress; bet you thought I’d abandoned it. A chapter finished today. Bit of a gruelling account of an instance of diphtheria in 1914 but I don’t want to give too much away.

This week also brought the not unexpected news that Who Do You Think You Are? Live will be no more. So the last chance for me to say that you can now download the handouts from my WDYTYA?L talks. Actually you can get them on my own website but should you want those from others you will need the Society of Genealogists’ link. And lunatics? Well the above is probably enough lunacy but I have spent a fascinating time looking at the patient case books for Bethlem Hospital (from whose name we get the word Bedlam). These are available on FindmyPast. Genuki have also made a list of Exminster Asylum patients available, which includes one of my very minor Daisy characters. There are several there I need to investigate in more detail. It may even turn the minor character in to a more major one. I am fascinated by the history of mental illness and indeed illness in general. If you feel the same you might like to sign up for my online course on the history of medicine, In Sickness and in Death: researching the ill health and death of your ancestors. This starts in August.

Lots going on over the next couple of months. I will try to keep you up to date.