Christmas is Coming

DSCF1180Yes, geese are signing up for Weight-watchers in flocks as I type. I kid you not, the ‘Back to School’ shelves have not yet been cleared and the Christmas cards are on sale. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, with the dark evenings on the horizon, this means our thoughts turn to digging out our virtual or literal family history files and promising ourselves that this year we really will create some order out of the chaos that is the fruits of years/decades of research. Maybe we would like to tempt our dearest and not so nearest to take an interest in our obsession with a yuletide gift of a family history, or we would like to share family stories over turkey and tinsel. Now let’s be honest here, ‘would you like to see my spreadsheet of baptisms?’ just isn’t going to cut it. I can feel the glazed over looks from 100 paces. That fascinating story of great uncle Fred’s bigamy, or auntie Alice’s spell in jail, though, that could just raise a flicker of excitement. Even if your family is devoid of all black sheep, set their lives in the local and social historical context of their time and you could be on to a winner. ‘Did you know great-granddad was the local rat-catcher?’ ‘Granny served tripe twice a week’ or ‘Great great grandma died of cholera, did you know she would have passed 20 litres of diahorrea a day?’ (good one for the gore hungry children that) – so much more engaging than a list of names and dates. If you want some motivation then can I humbly recommend that you take a look at my five week online ‘Are you Sitting Comfortably: writing and telling your family story’ course that starts on 17 October. Details are on the Pharos website – you can click on the course name on the left hand side of the menu. This time, for the really adventurous, you can submit up to 3000 words for feedback but that is strictly optional.

Yesterday I went to purchase a new pair of walking boots. The old ones, despite liberal applications of superglue, require a plastic bag to be worn between sock and boot in order to remain dry, not a good look. To be honest I’ve been putting this off. I am not a great fan of any kind of shopping (unless it is books of course – that’s not shopping that’s surviving) but shoe shopping is a particular nightmare. My feet are almost square so when asked, ‘what are you looking for madam?’ (do people still say madam?). I say ‘anything that fits’ and I mean it. I dread it when pointed toes are in fashion as then I know I have no chance. I defer the dreaded shoe shop until the previous pair (singular) has fallen to pieces. I once went to one of the largest shoe warehouses in the country and they admitted that nothing fitted me. Walking boots tend to be on the rounder toed side, so I was hopeful.

It seems that the smallest ladies’ shoes are now two sizes larger than my feet, so I turn to the children’s section. There is nothing in the boys’ range in my size so I am stuck with girls’. Does this mean that I will be forced to buy walking boots depicting Peppa Pig? At this point I should say that I despise all this ‘girls’ toys’ ‘boys’ toys’ nonsense and the bemoan the perception that every girl wants to wear pink. If you like pink, fine but don’t force me and my female descendants into some pink, fluffy, glitter laden mode. I pass by anything that looks vaguely cerise, fuschia, salmon or rose. Eureka something that at least doesn’t cut off all circulation to my toes and at best might actually fit! The magenta laces I can live with/get dirty/change. Epic win – as these are held out for sale as children’s shoes, I save 20% because there is no tax!

Stop Press – #Daisy now has a publisher – more news of that soon. This means I have a deadline. I am usually quite good at deadlines but I am going to have to up my Daisy production rate!


Being a Guest and other Randomness

It has been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately – places to go, people to see, sunshine to enjoy. I have been being visiting the descendents. That’s always a joy, even if the travelling can be tricky. There was an incident that illustrates the stresses of such journeys and perhaps has something to do with the effects of spending ten days in the company of the under 4s. Travelling from the World Athletics to Lincoln we passed though the Dartford Tunnel. For those who have not had this dubious ‘pleasure’, the toll charge for the tunnel has to be paid online by midnight the following day. Great, we think, we will pay that when we get to Martha’s. Our homeward journey is via Hounslow, to allow me to talk to West Middlesex Family History Society about the impact of non-conformity, as you do – well as I do anyway. On the way through some horrendous traffic back to the caravan I muse, ‘I wonder if we will go back through the Dartford Tunnel.’ DARTFORD TUNNEL!!! We didn’t pay the toll charge when we went through ten days earlier. How could we have forgotten? We grumble about the fine, which is in the region of £80. There are better things we could have spent £80 on. There will no doubt be a letter waiting when we get home. Next day, back home, the letter has not yet arrived. I am bemoaning to Martha that we forgot to pay the fine. ‘No you didn’t,’ she says, ‘you paid it while you were here’. This would have involved me on the computer and the fisherman of my acquaintance handing me his credit card with which to pay. Neither of us have the slightest recollection of so doing. Perhaps Martha is wrong (err, no, actually Martha is never wrong). Said fisherman checks his online banking and sure enough a £2.50 deduction for the Dartford Tunnel. STILL neither of us can remember paying! Should we be worried about this?

Not only have I had a wonderful time as a guest of the grandchildren but while I was away I was a virtual guest too. I had the honour of being interviewed for Wendy Percival’s blog. Wendy writes mystery stories with an historical and genealogical flavour, highly recommended, especially for my family history friends. Wendy was in one of my blog advent boxes last year and I am reliably informed that there will be a new Esme Quentin adventure soon – hurrah!

England has been enjoying what actually passes for some sort of a summer; I am endeavouring not to blink. In between bouts of attacking the still half-remodelled garden, I have been lounging in my amazing new garden swing chair. I have been trying to read books that might pass for ‘research’ but who am I kidding. I even managed to assemble this wonder single-handed, despite what purports to be the instructions indicating that it was not a one-man job. There was only one slight ‘mistake’. Let’s just say I now know how to disassemble the chair as well. It is super relaxing, to the extent that, after an hour in the chair, I still feel as if I am rocking when I am in bed at night. Now just to work out if I can use the laptop in the chair and I am well away!

There has been a surge of interest in the Braund DNA project that I administer, with several new results and more in the pipeline. Inevitably the results are not all as predicted but it has been fascinating as well as throwing up a few dilemmas. One of my DNA related posts has just appeared on the blog of the In-depth Genealogist, so another guest appearance. A webinar, about Following a Surname Around the World, that I gave earlier in the year for The Surname Society is also now available on the Legacy platform, so you can’t get away from me.

My ‘In Sickness and in Death’ online course for Pharos Teaching and Tutoring is going really well, with a very active bunch of students, all keen to research the history of medicine and its relevance to their family history. I have just found some wonderful new ‘cures’ involving boiled frogs, goose dung and trouts – great stuff! Next on the timetable is another presentation of ‘Are you Sitting Comfortably: writing and telling your family’s story’. This starts on 17 October and runs for five weeks, a must-do project in the run up to Christmas. Sign up, you know you’ve been meaning to organise your family history for eons.

Daisy and Hollyhocks#Daisy has been making progress and is currently requiring me to research the poetry of World War I and the Bideford shops of the 1890s. I have just realised that #Daisy is about anorexia, shell shock, death, menopausal women, depression and war – just wondering if that might be a tad dark! Still it is enlivened by depictions of the beautiful Devon landscape.

Day 3 Our Final Athletic Adventures

At last, a chance not to be out and about at very silly o’clock and we spend time generally relaxing and catching up with ourselves before leaving mid-afternoon for the Olympic Stadium. We seem to have worked out an even cheaper method of travelling. Ticket to Woolwich Arsenal (dearer than yesterday perhaps because it is a weekday) and then using our contactless cards, rather than the ticket machine, on the DLR. It is a learning curve all this and now we have got the hang of it we won’t be doing this again. Today our seats are high above the back straight and inevitably, we are in good time to see all the pre-event preparations. My partner in crime falls asleep whilst waiting for the event to start. Yes, he can even fall asleep sitting on very uncomfortable plastic seats, which, depending on what you are wearing, can very quickly make you feel like you have had an unfortunate accident. Take a coat to sit on folks, or maybe a cushion, if you can fit it in the smallish bag allowed. I am just wondering how to respond if someone from security comes to check to see if my companion is still alive. I have opted for explaining that he is at his devotions, when I am rescued by a visit from a friend from North Devon who is working on the electrics for the event. I therefore feel a sharp elbow to the ribs of said companion is fully justified.

Three medal ceremonies to start the evening. The one for the women’s pole vault has been won by Greece, so is an excuse for plenty of Greek dancing. Incidentally I must pay tribute to the antics of Hero the Hedgehog, the games mascot, who is very athletic and highly entertaining. I also think Iwan Thomas has done an excellent job of compering. The downside and something that has really spoiled our enjoyment, is the inability of our fellow spectators to stay in their seats. I am going to recommend that future events have a special area for members of the audience who guarantee to leave their seats no more than once during the session. Today our row have been fairly restrained, nobody got out more than once an hour but this has been made up for by those in front of us. These include a man standing up, using his phone, waving his hat, presumably to try and attract the attention of someone elsewhere in the crowd, for a full two minutes during an event. Sadly, he was just too far in front for me to remonstrate. I did feel that Karma had struck when the chips of what turned out to be the worst offenders got cold during the national anthems and the minute’s silence for a former Australian sprinter, Betty Cuthbert. Even the jumping pit rakers stand to attention for the anthems with their rakes at an angle that can only be describes as, well, rakish. In the absence of anyone British on the podium, the crowd acts like some of the winners are almost British. This seems to include anyone from Jamaica, The Netherlands or New Zealand. I must say that the medal ceremony flags are, to put it politely, a bit understated, merely a standard sized flag on a flag pole. In the absence of much wind in the stadium you can’t even see which flag is which. Surely we could have done a bit better than this?

DSCF3862.JPGField finals are heralded by random trumpet fanfares but we are spared this for the track finals. We get three GB athletes into the men’s 200 metres finals: Danny Talbot, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Zharnel Hughes as a fastest loser. Sophie Hitchon can only manage 7th place in the hammer but we have two women through to the semi-finals of the 400 metres hurdles, Elidih Doyle and Meghan Beasely. We are amazed that a noticeable number of spectators can spend a not inconsiderable sum on tickets only to arrive half way through the proceedings. Even if you are just there to support a particular person, why would you not arrive until after 8.00pm? Two in our row arrived at 9.00pm! The women’s triple jump final, just below us, is an exciting tussle between the Columbian Olympic champion and the Venezualan, who triumphs in the end. My new favourite volunteer job is plasticine smoother on the jumping strips. It seems that Chris is unlikely to get his own remote controlled javelin retrieving car as they cost £4500 each. We are told that they travel at 40mph, faster than Usain Bolt. Laura Muir fought hard in the 1500 metres final but was just driven in to 4th place on the back straight by Caster Semenya.

The day ends with us weaving and diving through the homeward wending crowds with the skill of distance runners attempting not to get boxed in. A relatively smooth journey home, despite leaving with the majority of spectators and having to descend from the gods first. I wonder if I will have the stamina to attend another event such as this, should Britain be fortunate enough to host one whilst I am still vaguely upright.

Day 2 More Athletics Adventure

The helpful man at the ticket office at Abbey Wood assured us yesterday that he would be open ‘first thing’ this morning. Now, to my mind, ‘first thing’ is in time for the first train. We arrive an hour after the first train to find the ticket office closed. We accept the challenge of the self-service ticket machine. It turns out that a ticket that cost £10 yesterday from the ticket office is £17.90 by this method. This is made worse by having engaged fellow campers/athletics goers in conversation and discovering that their Oyster card tickets were only £1.90! I even have an Oyster card at home – odd I know but I really do – somewhere. For those who don’t know me very well, I should perhaps explain all these issues with public transport. Despite growing up in what is now outer London, I currently live somewhere with two buses a week and I am 16 miles from the nearest station. I would scarcely recognise public transport if it came up and bit me, so it always engenders a certain degree of panic when I encounter it. I refuse on principle to pay nearly twice what I paid yesterday, so we get tickets to Woolwich Arsenal and then DLR ticket from there onwards – total cost £7.60 – result!

Once on the DLR, there is an unusual fellow train passenger who is singing loudly. I am not the only person who is surreptitiously looking for what used to be called the communication cord. Having treated us to a loud rendition of ‘Penny Lane’ in honour of us reaching Abbey Road station (no one dares point out that he has the wrong road) the gentleman alights and our fellow travellers heave a collective sigh of relief.

Today, we have timed our arrival better and join the short queue just as the gates are opening. We are a little further round the course today on the back straight again and slightly nearer the front. First up is the heptathlon long jump in which Katarina Johnson-Thompson acquits herself much better. We are sat in an ideal position for this, right by the run up. This is followed by the men’s steeplechase heats and pole vault qualifying. We also see heats of the men’s 400 metre and 110 metre hurdles and women’s 400 metres. Although we aren’t told this at the time, GB’s Jack Green qualifies for the semis as a fastest loser in the 400 metres hurdles. The heptathlon javelin is also completed, with a season’s best by Katarina. The men’s marathon is being shown on the big screen at intervals. Exciting to see Britain’s Callum Hawkins in the lead on a couple of occasions. Bizarrely the crowd in the stadium clap and cheer at this, even though they can’t hear us! Slightly less getting up and down to free people to purchase beer this morning but we do suffer from someone behind us knocking coffee over, which trickles down under seats for several rows soaking the bags of the unwary.

We spend the afternoon in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I have passed on the opportunity of bringing a pasty with me, in the hope of acquiring something at the stadium. After all I have seen the full range of what is on offer as people squeezed past me yesterday with their various purchases. After the event finishes however, all the food outlets in the stadium are closed. I can’t help feeling that they are missing a trick here. Clearly it is the done thing to stuff yourself silly during the performances, annoying your neighbours by forcing them to continually bob up and down. I leave my companion with the heavy bag and venture in to the town in search of sustenance. I am so out of touch with crowds and city life. Most food outlets have forty strong queues. In desperation I settle for a slightly weird ham and cheese ciabatta, which is heated for me. I am a good ten minute walk back to where I have secreted my possessions and partner in crime. I do manage not to get lost but by the time we are reunited, the roll has cooled considerably and I have worked up an appetite for additional food.

We attempt to time our walk back to the stadium but it seems spectators are more on the ball for evening sessions and the queues are already forming in strength. Although this is our cheapest band ticket, this is probably our best view yet. Oxygen is required to reach our seats but we are high up above the big screen in clear sight of the finishing line. Next to us are seats reserved for the athletes but as so few events have finished there are not many taken. Only the Japanese and Australians are out in force. We don’t recognise any of them and it seems rude to stare too hard at their chests to read their security passes. We enjoy watching the pre-event preparations and picking our favourite volunteer job. This morning there was long jump pit digging over and watering. Tonight there is shot put ball polishing. Chris fancies driving the remote controlled cars that retrieve the javelins. An officious looking volunteer ‘Runner’ is supervising synchronised hurdle laying and lane marker/block siting. We could hear her un-amplified voice from the top of the stadium. I know the acoustics are good but….. I wouldn’t like to be the person responsible for lane 7, who was late on parade.

In this seat we are relatively free from having to get up and down for fellow spectators as the row behind us is empty and most people are climbing over and exiting via this. Instead, there is the need to rise for numerous medal ceremony anthems. This is more noticeable than usual as ceremonies are also being held for several medals from previous championships that have been reallocated following the discovery of drugs cheats. Host Iwan Thomas is giving a speech about how important it is for the clean athletes to be rewarded. Tonight’s re-awards include one for Jessica Ennis-Hill who is now the 2011 World Championship gold medallist. The irony of immediately following this with the medal ceremony for yesterday’s men’s 100 metres, won by the twice banned Justin Gatlin, is not lost on the audience and there are audible boos. In contrast, there is an uproarious reception and standing ovation for Usain Bolt, who is receiving his bronze medal.

Me at World Athletics 2017 5 August 2017Finally some athletics but a disappointing evening for Team GB. Our women’s pole vault hopeful Holly Bleasdale, comes sixth. We have no representative in the women’s javelin or men’s shot put. There are three women in the 100 metres semi-finals but it is a very strong field and none make the final. The men’s 400 metres heats follow. For GB, Dwayne Cowen qualifies as of right and Matt Hudson-Smith as a fastest loser. Not so much luck in the 110 metres hurdles semi-finals, where Andrew Pozzi, who performed very well in the heats, loses out. Katerina Johnson-Thompson ran a great 800 metres in the heptathlon but had sadly left herself too much to do and finished in fifth overall. The men’s 800 metres semis were more successful, with Kyle Langford making it to the final. The evening finished with a very close women’s 100 metres final, with surprisingly no Jamaican medallists and we were poised for a quickish get-away. Us and the majority of the remainder of the stadium. We leave from bridge 5 as instructed and find ourselves herded to Stratford station, as opposed to Stratford International. We have a perfectly rehearsed route from Stratford International. We are directed to the required platform and only miss one train in the effort to be in the right place. My concerns that the train will be full by the time it reaches us are unfounded and it takes just over an hour to get back to the site. I fear it may be somewhat longer tomorrow for our final session.

Athletic Adventures

It is time for another major athletics event, this time the IAAF World Championships. We leave the campsite for the station in good time aka ridiculously early. Just at the point where we might have got lost we encounter a games runner clad in fetching pink, which is, for some unknown reason, the colour that has been chosen for the volunteers’ uniform. The hapless chap is now saddled with us he until gets to the stadium; we are working on the assumption that he knows where he is going. I have researched possible trains. In fact I have researched them twice as the results of the first attempt were recorded in a document that got lost in the bowels of the computer, only to be rediscovered after I had redone the list. We are to change trains at Lewisham or Greenwich. Or, as it turns out, not. We change at Woolwich Arsenal and the journey is a good 20 minutes shorter than my itinerary anticipated. Then there were the tickets. Fresh from my recent visit to London and anxious not to look like a yokel, I have instructed my companion in the use of his contactless cards in order to travel round London. I attempt this. It appears not to work. We pay for tickets at the ticket office instead. I then spend the day worrying that it may have worked after all and I will be racking up a massive bill as TFL will think I am permanently lost in the depths of London underground.

I would like to place on record that arriving at the stadium at 7.15am did not make us the first spectators on the premises. There were at least two others. The day officially starts at 10am, we can take our seats at 8.30am, so, no, not early at all. The grounds of the Queen Elizabeth Stadium are looking impressive with the planting that was done for the Olympics now mature.


Arriving in Good Time

Not being able to afford premium tickets, we are sat on the far side of the stadium from the home straight but none the less we have a reasonable view and are sat on the end of row 16. This turns out to be a BAD THING. It seems that all of the eighteen people who are sat on our right, between us on the aisle and a wall, have weak bladders, incessant desires for beer and sustenance, or both. We set a record for not having to get up to let someone past. Can we beat five minutes tomorrow? Obviously there are people who might require regular visits to the faciities but surely seeming healthy adults should be able to sit still for three hours and ensure that they equip themselves with necessary refreshments before hand. One guy even apologised for his weak bladder on his second trip past then return with his second pint of beer and a large coffee (both of which were for him), Needless to say, twenty minutes later……… and kebabs at 1045am? Really? In between the incessant getting up and down, we see qualifications for several field events including men’s shot put, women’s triple jump and women’s hammer, in which GB’s Sophie Hitchon qualified in third. On the track was the women’s 100metres, with all three GB girls qualifying, and 400metres and 800metres heats for the men. Sadly Martin Rooney lost out in the 400metres. The first two events of the heptathlon, hurdles and high jump, spread across most of the morning. Katarina Johnson-Thompson under performed in the high jump but Cuba’s Rodriguez got three personal bests and the Olympic champion Thiam also did well.

Much to my companion’s ’delight’ we get to do it all again tomorrow.