Faint Passports Never Won – well, anything really – Isolation Day 65

One of the downsides of lockdown for me has been that I am unable to get out and about to share my love of all things historical with many wonderful people. It has been inevitable but sad, to watch one speaking engagement after another tumble like a domino rally. Fortunately, I am starting to replace some of these talks with online versions. A consequence of not meeting audiences in person is that I have lost one of my main book-selling opportunities. This is not just financially significant. In a couple of months, a pallet containing a very large number of boxes of novel number two will hopefully be landing on my driveway. I need to shift existing stock to make space. Oh, you want another clue? Happy to oblige, novel two includes little known facts about what is a fairly well-known local incident. Very soon there will be a title/cover reveal. The cover is amazing – thank you Robin of The Branch Line.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, selling books, or in this case, not selling as many books as I need to in the next three months in order to have any room whatsoever in my tiny cottage. In the past, I have added myself as a potential book seller on Amazon. I stopped doing this because it was a pain removing myself again on the many occasions when I was away from home. You can’t just leave the items up for sale as you have to be able to send out purchases within 48 hours. As it doesn’t look as if I will be going anywhere anytime soon, I thought I’d reactive my Amazon seller status. Well dear reader, how long have you got?

I suspect because the dreaded GDPR has loomed its ugly head since I was last a seller, I am required to jump through the hoop of proving I am a person and that I am actually me. I assure you I am me, although when I look in the mirror, I do wonder why I am my mother. ‘Send a copy of your passport’. Thankfully, I do have one. I photograph my passport. Maybe I didn’t get its best side or something but back comes the message ‘your details do not match, change your surname to FEWB’. Well the whole deed poll thing seems a bit unnecessary, especially as FEWB is not my name. Was three letters too short or something? My passport didn’t have a superfluous B on it. I heave myself off the chair and go to scan the passport instead, on the highest possible resolution. It takes ages, whirring merrily away. I now have a jpg (acceptable format) of two pages of passport when I require only one. It is also 11MB and the maximum I can upload is 10MB. Fine, I will edit it. I edit jpgs all the time. For some reason, which ever programme I choose, it will not let me edit the file. Eventually, I use my snipping tool to take a screen shot. Ok so the instructions do say ‘we cannot accept a screen shot’ but how will they know? I send it off. Back comes the message ‘your passport is too faint’. Too faint? Well that’s hardly my fault. I haven’t irresponsibly been leaving it to fade in high sunlight or anything. I click on the link for ‘if you are having trouble’ and compose a message expressing my frustration and seeking advice.

Time passes. The process has already been spread over two days and taken me a couple of hours to not sort. An email arrives. It sets out a carbon copy of what to do, exactly as it appears on the webpage where you upload faint passports. ‘Does this answer your question?’ they jovially ask. Well, errr, no. Then it occurs to a fisherman of my acquaintance that, although passports are mentioned, my driving licence contains similar information. Worth a shot. By this time, I really can’t face another journey upstairs to the scanner. In my defence, this is not the height of lockdown laziness (well not entirely) but my back does still prefer it if I don’t move from sitting to standing too often. No immediate rejection message. I cross my fingers. No ‘this has worked’ email either though. I wait. Finally, when lamenting my plight to a friend, she checks and discovers that there my books are there, happily listed, so it must have worked! Now all I need is people to buy them in droves and if that happens, people to donate recycled bubble wrap! Actually, if you are reading this, please don’t buy my books on Amazon at all, just contact me. It will cost you the same but it saves me a few pennies (actually quite a lot of pennies). A thousand sales before the end of July isn’t too much to hope for is it? Ok, so it is but I can dream.

What with this and the shopping order that mysteriously disappeared (long and really not very interesting story – even less interesting than the one you’ve just read), I am reluctant to face the next learning curve, which is finally giving in to entreaties to do my tax return online. I have no problem at all with completing it on paper and it would normally be done by now. This year however I have had a letter saying they are not going to send me a paper form. I do know, that if I ring up and wait on hold for a couple of hours (because my call is important to them), they will send a form but I am fairly proficient with online, I should be able to do it. Shouldn’t I?


More Lockdown Ramblings – Isolation day 62

I am trying not to dwell on the fact that, right now, you should be reading day 4 of a month’s worth of daily holiday posts from Ireland. It is a bit difficult to make much newsworthy from life chez-moi. As mentioned in my previous post, I chose to honour my World War 2 ancestors on VE Day. As a family historian I was excited that my children and grandchildren did the same. All that indoctrination gentle persuasion must have worked. They had the advantage of places to display pictures and bunting that are visible from the road. Still, we did our best. Here are our collective family efforts.

In other other news, I have had to temporarily (who am I kidding?) abandon joining Joe Wicks for his daily P.E. sessions. Currently, I can barely move having done something to my back, possibly not as a result of doing star jumps and Pikachus (really best not to ask).

I have spent half my life on Zoom, including 24 hours (in two 12 hour stints) over a weekend, hosting a hastily arranged worldwide Braund family reunion. This wasn’t what we planned but had the huge advantage that those who could never attend our face-to-face gatherings were able to join in. We had 53 people from five countries drop in over the weekend, ranging in age from 1 to 80 something. I’ve also taken part in virtual coffee mornings, piano lessons, family history classes and author chats. It is a whole new world but one that we are adapting to. We even managed to get 8/9 family members on screen looking almost normal, well as normal as we get anyway. The 9th family member was present but was working from home at the time.


The garden is coming on. The flower seeds seem to have been eaten but peas, beans and tomatoes have survived.  The cherry blossom and clematis have come and gone. Now we are enjoying the laburnum and guelder rose. The birds have been delightful, with Mr and Mrs Blue-tit currently feeding their brood. We also had a visit from a field mouse, who stayed around long enough to be photographed.


Cream Crackers and Sat-navs: self isolation day #9

So yesterday we decided to clean out the larder. Partly because it needed doing and partly to see what weird assortment of food we might be eating in coming weeks. Excavating the larder’s recesses is always an interesting exercise and an opportunity to jettison anything that is seriously out of date or capable of meaningful independent life. I am pleased to report that nothing older than ‘best before 2006’ was found. That was an achievement. I admit a few things like the six year old cream crackers (tasted and edible) which would normally have been fed to the birds have gone back in the cupboard, ‘We might be glad of those in a few weeks.’ For one non-drinker and one very occasional (like about once a year) drinker, there is a surprising amount of alcohol, mostly raffle prizes waiting to be recycled. We are hanging on to that in the hope that we can use it as hand sanitiser, barter it for toilet paper when ours runs out, or for potatoes and onions, both of which are unlikely to last until our supermarket delivery is due in two weeks’ time (and judging by others’ comments they may not come then).

The virtual piano lesson went well. I am currently stumbling my way through Streets of London, Hallelujah and Let it Be. Encouragingly, my playing is showing slight signs of improvement but I was starting from a very low base. Martha and I have had a Skype recital between us. My author’s group will still be meeting, via Skype but whilst attempting to establish contact with each other, some of us have been waving at a random stranger who happens to have the same name as one of our group, oops!

Today it is beautifully sunny, so we went for a car ride to see the sea. Strictly not getting out of the car and actually (and thankfully) we saw few people in cars or on foot. Mind you, I think there may be more folk out and about this afternoon. STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER OR STAY AT HOME – no compromise however young/invincible you think you are. It is not only your own health that you are risking. We went in a ‘new to Chris’ car, which has an inbuilt voice-activated Sat Nav. Well, that was a challenge. Let’s just say we were nearly forced to drive to Hartland Road in Camden, instead of Hartland. I think we’ve sussed it now and it seems it does recognise a Devonshire accent.


Self -isolation: a view from day 4

Well, it seems our decision to self-isolate was only a day in advance of the government advice. Today came the inevitable but sad news that Family Tree Live is cancelled. My ‘Forthcoming Talks’ list is diminishing by the day. I have abandoned the hope of being able to sell enough books before August, in order to make room for the new novel. Most of my copies are sold at talks. The August launch is assuming printers are still working, which they may well not be and I do still have to finish it. I am opting for a slightly alternative 2020 within its pages! Oh, you want another hint – it is about intolerance.

So, what has been going on in isolation land? No more gardening; I am a fair-weather gardener and its raining. Tip one for passing the time:- If you’ve never shopped online before, try setting up an online shopping account; that should while away an afternoon. Although we are well stocked for food, I thought I’d better schedule a delivery, ready for when things begin to run out. Normally, I have my own personal shopper, when the fisherman of my acquaintance brings things in from the town, so online shopping is a whole new learning curve. No matter how often I tried, I could not get ******’s registration system to recognise my decades old loyalty card number, so I ignored that. After much frustration, I finally cracked the system. The next available slot in my area – 6th of April, no wonder people feel obliged to stockpile. Who knows how many things will be unavailable by then? About half the things I might have ordered are currently out of stock.

I understand Amazon are limiting deliveries to essential items. I can understand why but it is the ‘non-essentials’ that are vital to the mental well-being of those in lock down. I am really hoping the printer cartridges I ordered a few days ago make it through. I am not sure how those working from home or home educating will manage without this sort of thing.

Have I been washing my hands with Lady Macbeth-like vigour? Well, actually not, as we haven’t been anywhere. It is very odd. I have the one small bottle of hand-sanitizer and one packet of anti-bacterial wipes that we managed to buy. They sit on the shelf like talismans, as if just having them will keep the evil at bay. I am terrified to start using them in case I can’t get any more. We have broken the duck with the anti-bacterial soap and are using that but it is disappearing frighteningly quickly.

I’ve been trying to support friends online and on the phone. It is frustrating not to be able to be of more practical assistance. I have been following the news but not obsessively. I must admit, that I found seeing the BBC breakfast news presenters sitting apart on the red sofa chilling. For me personally, my routine hasn’t changed very much, as I often have a few days when I don’t go out. I am sure that prolonged hibernation will get more difficult as days go by.

My piano teacher offered to conduct my lesson by Facetime – errr yes, well, maybe. It turns out that I don’t have the technology for this, so we are going for Facebook calling instead – I’ll let you know how it goes. With all this time to practice I will be a virtuoso by the time this is over.

024 15 May 2019 Wisteria at Falkland Palace.JPG

Self-isolation Day 1 and why you shouldn’t feel guilty

So yesterday I came out as a voluntary self-isolater, pre-empting the likely government restrictions for the over 70s and those with pre-existing conditions. It was not an easy decision. I was hesitant because I had several commitments this week and going forward. I am really not comfortable with letting people down, particularly when my absence puts additional work on others. Equally though, I was becoming very anxious about the prospect of mixing with others. After a sleepless night, anguishing over what I should do, I decided, for the sake of my mental and physical health, to self-isolate. I was prepared to do this on my own but the fisherman of my acquaintance, bless him, agreed to join me. This is particularly noble as he will find staying in very difficult. I am much more content sitting around at home. Left to his own devices, he would be rushing about doing everyone’s shopping and putting himself at risk. Mind you, I think our ideas of self-isolation do not exactly align. He’s of the ‘I’ll just pop to (insert your large supermarket of choice here) once a week’ mindset. I am more ‘I’ll just disinfect all those tins that have arrived in the online shop’.

Having begun to cancel my commitments, the sense of relief was overwhelming. I knew then that I had made the right decision. We are in this for the long haul. We know it won’t be easy but we think we can manage. So far we have twenty four hours under our belts. Yesterday we did pretty much what we would normally do on a Sunday afternoon. Today we did some gardening and the fisherman of my acquaintance power-washed the patio and the conservatory windows; we will be seeing a great deal of this area in the coming months. I would like to place on record that deciding to self-isolate is not a crafty way of getting all those ‘ten minute’ DIY jobs done!

So potential problems so far:- This is a great opportunity to tidy the garden but what will we do with the mowings and cuttings that we would normally take to be recycled? I could sign up for the paid council collection service but will this continue to run? Or we could build a compost heap that will end up being larger than my tiny garden. The jury’s out.

I have had nothing but support for my own decision. From many ‘me too’s, to kind remarks from those who I have had to let down. This is not universal however. I am hearing of more and more cases where people’s personal decisions are not being respected and they are being bullied into making social contact when they are not happy to do so. Nobody has the right to question the actions of someone else, unless their choices put other people at risk. I’d be the first to call out someone who says, ‘well I’ve been told to stay home but I think it’s an over-reaction so I’m going out anyway’. Yes, I have seen the equivalent and yes, I did comment. If people are withdrawing from events, it may be that they have a pre-existing condition, or someone in their household might be particularly vulnerable. Alternatively, they may just be s*** scared and are protecting their mental health. The reason is immaterial; it is their business and theirs alone. Let’s not make them feel guilty or, worse still, make them do things that could be harmful, or are against their better judgement.

Plague Door Jayne Poole Characters

Photograph by Jayne Poole

Another Day, Another Set of Living DNA Results

So today the second set of DNA results that I look after at Living DNA have received their update. These are Martha’s ethnicity estimate. Although I was very pleased with my own initial Living DNA results and their close resemblance to my documentary tree, Martha’s original results were, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty rubbish. Here are the comments that I made at the time. I do appreciate that our documentary trees do not always mirror our genetic trees and that ethnicity estimates are just that but Martha’s original results had us wondering if she had been swapped at birth, or, less dramatically, if she had been given someone else’s results altogether. As she matched both me and her maternal aunt, it seemed that neither scenario was the case.

Martha original Living DNA estimate

Martha expected results

It was a lovely surprise therefore to find that the updated results were much closer to what forty years worth of documentary research might have led me to expect. Previously, 45% of Martha’s DNA was designated to be Germanic or Scandinavian. Migrations from Europe to the east coast notwithstanding, this was a ridiculously high amount. This has now diminished to a much more likely 3.3%. Last time there was no trace of her paternal Scottish ancestry, a significant proportion from the Forest of Dean, her Welsh borders roots, or the small amount from the Channel Islands. Now, the Forest of Dean shows up, as does Aberdeenshire, although there is still no sign of Worcestershire, which is included in the Welsh borders region. What is notable is the complete lack of Yorkshire ancestry this time. I have 6.7% from Yorkshire in my revised estimate and I have not yet found any ancestors from Yorkshire. Martha, on the other hand, who now has zero Yorkshire DNA, has a Yorkshire great great grandparent.

Martha Feb 2020 Living DNA estimate

So then how close is Martha’s new estimate to what I might expect? As I did for my results yesterday, let’s look at this one region at a time.

Devon and Cornwall first. If Martha had inherited equally from all her 3 x great grandparents (which I know she will not have), her profile should show 9.4% each from both Devon and Cornwall. Last time, this was slightly under represented with 6.8% from Devon and 4.3% from Cornwall. The new results reveal similar amounts: 8.6% for Devon and 3.9% for Cornwall. This swing from Cornwall to Devon, small in Martha’s case, is more marked in my revised estimate.

Northumberland was about right last time at 6%. This has increased to 9.4%. Scotland now appears with 3.4%, as opposed to an anticipated 6.3%. Taken together, these regions are as expected.

The south and south-east of the country is where the highest percentages lie, according to the documentary evidence, with 53% having origins in these regions. Last time, only 30% showed up but now it is a much more realistic 68%. It is difficult to comment on the distribution between the south, south-central, south-eastern and east Anglia regions, partly because Living DNA include Essex in both the south-east and East Anglia.

So the verdict so far, with two out of three updates in, mine has gone from good to still good and  Martha’s, has gone from poor to good. Overall, I am very satisfied. Let us see what the third update will bring.

Christmas Memories

Until recently, I was a columnist for the In-depth Genealogist Magazine and also wrote for their blog. Now the magazine is sadly no more, contributors have been invited to re-post their blog material elsewhere, so that it is preserved. This is another post that I wrote for the magazine, which I have edited to bring it up to date.

This four years ago I was taking delivery of my latest creation; a whole pallet full of poorly wrapped books were deposited near my driveway in the rain. I say my creation but that wasn’t really true. Eighty ladies had spent the preceding eighteen months writing their memories of various aspects of their lives in the decades following the second world war. I then wove these together into what was to become the book Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own. These ladies wanted copies of the book to give as seasonal gifts and I had very few days in which to package and post numerous copies. So that is a memory of 2015 but what about earlier December memories?

The previous year, my ladies had been writing the section of the book that related to celebrations. We wrote about food, gifts, gatherings, religious ceremonies, decorations and family rituals and traditions. Along with them, I too recorded what I remembered of this special time of year. These memories appeared on a blog post at the time. Many of the traditions of my childhood have been perpetuated by my descendants, other have been lost over the decades, making it important for me to preserve them for posterity. Are your descendants aware of how the holiday season was spent in your youth? Do you have older relatives who you could question about the customs of past decades? These memories are part of your family’s history and should be recorded.

Remember Then cover

To give you a flavour, what follows are just a few of the memories that my ladies shared. I would encourage you to preserve similar recollections for your own family.

“There was one year when the roast potatoes found themselves on the floor. I don’t think the five second rule had been heard of then but the potatoes were eaten, we survived and none the wiser. Then there was catering for Uncle Percy, who emphatically didn’t eat turkey – except of course when we convinced him that it was chicken! Christmas mornings meant cheeselets and ginger ale, later replaced by Benedictine or Southern Comfort.”

“When we were young, we always tried to give my parents a hand-made gift, made and wrapped in great secrecy. I remember string pot cloths, drawn-thread tray cloths, embroidered hankies, frilled aprons, home produced bath salts in decorated bottles, knitted tea cosies, gloves and ties.”

Many of our decorations were hand-made and we spent hours cutting coloured paper into strips and gluing them into chains. We also bought home Chinese paper lanterns made at school and made crepe paper streamers to decorate the ceilings. In later years, I made Christmas bells out of Teacher’s whisky bottle tops, painting them white and dipping the bottom edges in silver or gold glitter, then drilling a hole in the top to hang a bead clapper and a loop to put them on the tree.”

““We always went to the pantomime shortly after Christmas. We usually had good seats at the front on the left as you faced the stage. I have no idea how early mum had to book, or how much she had to pay, to get these premium seats. Being at the front was very important as, at some point, children would be invited to go up on stage and it was whoever could get there quickest. I don’t remember being disappointed. The lucky children would then help with the audience participation song and I think, were given a small gift.”

Glimpses then of past celebrations. Now is the time to grasp your own memories and commit them to paper before they fade into oblivion. By the way should you want a copy of the book, please contact me for details (still on a mission to reduce the book stock 🙂 )