Time Travelling

This week I was scheduled to give two talks on the same day. Not, fortunately, at the same time – sadly I have not quite yet perfected the art of being in two places at once. One was a virtual webinar for Ontario Genealogical Society, the other was a Mistress Agnes gig for a local women’s group. When the webinar was first booked I had worked out that it was due to begin at 3pm my time and began to prepare. Up came the little notice ‘this webinar has not yet started’. What passes for my brain began to whirr – Canada is behind us (in the nicest possible way) not ahead, a quick recalculation. I was due to start presenting at midnight! Midnight! In case you don’t know I just don’t do midnight, not ever, not even on New Year’s Eve; 10pm is a late night for me. Getting up at 5am, no problem at all but midnight! Had I not had the evening booking as Mistress Agnes I could have gone to sleep first but this was not going to be an option.

First then extolling the delights of seventeenth century living at a venue in a small village near me. I have to say the roads en route were realistically seventeenth century like but we made it there and back. Some of my incredulous friends had been made aware of my webinar time slot, ‘Are you really presenting at midnight?’ Well it looks like I am now. The one good thing about this sort of webinar is that it is audio only, so I only had to sound as if I was awake and it didn’t matter what I looked like. I was also competing against Rootstech sessions – the largest genealogical event in the world. Maybe I would be talking to myself anyway. It turned out that 174 people had applied for the 100 places participating in this webinar in real time and I think I manage to sound as if I was vaguely alert. The topic was ‘A to Z of less well known British sources’ and at the end my addled brain fielded diverse questions on such topics as Scottish cab drivers, non-conformists and Buckinghamshire quarter sessions records. It was fun in the end and I get to do it all again with another virtual webinar in December!

Of Poetry, Pustules and Publicity

Well, now I have been reminded what going out to full-time work feels like. Phew – no housework has been done for a week and I was in a state of collapse most evenings (the ones when I wasn’t working that is). To be fair, that was partly due to the after effects of the accident. I am clearly not as recovered as I thought I was. It helped that we were working in a really lovely school with a staff who got involved to the extent of painting plague pustules on themselves, which got worse as the day wore on. Who else in their working day hears surreal comments such as, ‘how do my pustules look?’?

Car magnetA curious incident on our way to the school: we have to pick up a colleague in the van. Said colleague lives in a road where parking is at a premium so Chris parks the van a hundred yards up the road, where he is blocking someone’s drive and walks back to collect our colleague. I am skulking in the van, trying to keep a low profile but am being eyed very suspiciously by a couple who have just emerged from a house over the road. I am wondering if I can reach for a sword before they remonstrate with me for illegal parking and obstructing their neighbours’ drive. Chris returns and they are still staring. I had forgotten that we have our super advertising magnets affixed to the vehicle. It turns out that the people viewing our car with suspicion are Medieval re-enactors. We have a nice chat and exchange contact details before running the gauntlet of rush hour traffic.

Reviews for Remember Then are starting  to appear and we were featured in The National Archives’ newsletter, raising us in the Amazon cultural books list to number 187 at one point. I am stupidly excited by this. Sales this week have necessitated my going to the town Post Office in seventeenth century clothing after our time in school. This is always fun, as reactions vary from politely ignoring the fact that I am strangely attired, to curiosity, to barely disguised mirth.

A very interesting members’ evening at Buckland Brewer History Group as usual with several members contributing short items of an historical nature. Local author Liz Shakespeare outlined some of the research she has been doing for her forthcoming book about the postman poet Edward Capern. He was known to compose poetry in a Buckland Brewer cottage whilst waiting to continue his round. Liz has done some painstaking research to try to identify this cottage, using clues from the poetry and it turns out that it was mine!


More about Books

Well, Happy New Year to the three people who are reading this. Actually, there may be a few more than three as I have just had two of my busiest days on this site, with over 500 visitors. This is probably because my lovely volunteers who helped me to compile my latest book of memories of the 1950s and 1960s  Remember Then have been busy advertising it. Sales are going very well and I have sustained a book related injury as a result so my back is now suffering. The good news is that those who have received their copies have said some lovely things about it. There are still quite a number of books in the spare bedroom – I have visitors in March. There is no room for them and the books! For this reason, I have been encouraging people to buy directly from me rather than via Amazon or the publisher. Despite this I did, one morning, rank in the top 300 on the cultural history books sales list on Amazon. If you have Christmas money to spend …….. Another book buying opportunity – if you have been saving up for Unlock the Past publications (including mine) My History are offering a 25% discount until 15 January.

This year’s list of lectures has already begun, with Mistress Agnes making a visit to a local WI to instruct the ladies on how a seventeenth century housewife should behave. I have a frantically busy week coming up with all five days in schools (I think it is 35 years since I did a full working week outside the home) AND four evening functions the same week – if there are more blogs after 22nd January – I survived. Several new eBay purchases have been made ready for the school visits, as we have three slightly different presentations to give, as well as our regular repertoire. Watch the Swords and Spindles site for details. Talking of eBay, don’t you just love it when eBay makes suggestions ‘especially for you’. What on earth in my buying or watching history might suggest that I would be interested in a Batman DVD or a Happy Santa toilet seat?

Also coming soon is my webinar for Ontario Genealogical Society – kindly advertised for me by John Reid of Anglo Celtic Connections. I am busy working with Pharos Tutors on two online courses for later in the year so stand by for more news on those. Mistress Agnes is appearing in an official capacity at Who Do You Think You Are? Live this year and I shall also be involved in a seminar and conference for the Guild of One-Name Studies, so no signs of a quiet life on the horizon.

Thank you to everyone who enquired about my recovery from the car accident. I am currently car-less and it still hurts to laugh, cough, sneeze or exert myself (good excuse to postpone the New Year exercise regime) but I’m getting there thank you. Ridiculous conversations with the insurance company abound.
An excerpt regarding my injury:
Insurance clerk with no medical training to me: ‘You have refused physiotherapy. You would have recovered more quickly if you had had physiotherapy.’
Me: ‘My doctor has not suggested physiotherapy. I do not yet have a replacement car. I am a 32 mile round trip from the nearest hospital, there are two buses a week. How do you suggest I get there?’

Books, Books and More Books

DSCF2455B-day arrives. The day that 1000 copies of Remember Then are supposed to descend on my doorstep. Well not actually on my doorstep but on a driveway near me. I am not supposed to lift much following the car accident so I have enlisted help. Unfortunately the help I have enlisted isn’t supposed to lift either! Ten out of ten to the delivery driver who finds my house without being misled by his sat-nav/enquiring at the local shop/phoning me in desperation/giving up and going home all of which have been resorted to in the past. I have been asked in advance if there are any narrow lanes to negotiate. I live in the middle of nowhere, of course there are narrow lanes.

DSCF2457The delivery lorry is quite large, it is rush hour, traffic is at a standstill ok, for traffic read one car and a tractor but at a standstill nonetheless. My pallet of books is duly deposited. Said pallet is the focus of attention for my assistant – it will be firewood by tomorrow. The books are shrink wrapped in packets of 16. That means an awful lot of packets, more indeed than we anticipated as it turns out that my 1000 copies is actually 1146. Weird number I know but that is how many there are. Living as I do in a very small cottage this poses somewhat of a problem. I have persuaded my trusty assistant that he must have a bed at home that needs supporting with several hundred books underneath. That still leaves a ridiculous amount for me. Far more than my already overflowing loft can cope with. I stow a few packets in the cupboard under the stairs. A few more (far too few) fit under the spare bed. The only option is to leave a not insignificant pile in the tiny spare bedroom. By my reckoning it will be two years before I get said spare bedroom back, to say nothing of the rest of my house and as for my assistant’s ……..

DSCF2460Fortunately my lovely ladies who contributed to the book and others have been ordering copies so some are already winging their way to new homes. One lady collects eight copies, now all I need is 100 more like her ……. In order for this winging to commence, books have to be wrapped and posted. A quirk of the Post Office’s pricing structure means that, although some people have ordered several copies, it is cheaper to post these singly. So my initial tranch of orders from twenty-five people needs to be fifty parcels. An industrial scale production line is set up on the kitchen table. I have been hording bubble wrap for this for ages. Resisting the temptation to spend the morning popping bubble wrap instead, we begin signing, wrapping and addressing books. Two rolls of brown paper and one roll of brown sticky tape later we have a pile of not very elegantly wrapped books. Brown sticky tape is second only to cling-film in the non-user friendly all-time list. Now to post. The mobile post van is outside my house. There is already a queue of eight people waiting in the rain. Anyone who ends up behind me in the queue will not be thrilled that I have fifty parcels, all of which need proof of posting. Aside from which the van only has another half-hour before it departs for its next stop, so it is off to the Post Office six miles away. Two circuits of the block are required before a parking place appears. Then half an hour to get the pile of books on their way. The poor assistant had to renew his printer roll to produce all the proof of posting slips. Good job we didn’t try the post van option.

CoverSo in the interests of returning my home to some sort of normality/retaining my sanity orders are very welcome. If you remember the 1950s and 1960s you should enjoy reading it. I can say that as it isn’t really my work, although my name is on the cover, it is the work of my wonderful volunteers. Even if this period is distant history it is a fascinating insight into the recent past. If you have thoughts about writing your own memories, the book gives you guidance. Further details can be found here.

Christmas preparations, missing decorations, typos and a little about research

It was the end of November. I had been away for seven weeks but I had cleaned my many inherited brass ornaments, made my Christmas cake and pudding, written my Christmas cards and made chutney. How can this be? Do I never sleep? The truth is that I was without a functioning laptop for a week; hence the paucity of blog posts lately. The old one died of overheating, Basically, if it was turned on for more than ten minutes it turned itself off in order to cool down. I became adept at judging the crucial ‘save’ point before it died but any attempt at proper work was thwarted. I have been provided with an early Christmas present in the form of a new ‘industrial strength’ laptop. I did ask if I was required to save it for 25th. Strangely, the generous donor did not relish another month of associating with me whilst I was computerless.

Either I am turning into a grumpy old woman (I can hear my descendants muttering ‘turning?’) or I have been surrounded by an unusual level of incompetence lately. Firstly I was totally confused for a day and a half (easily done) by the fact that the new computer’s date was set for 24 hours ahead of real time. I couldn’t understand how I was receiving emails marked Yesterday that had clearly been sent today. Next I attended a local planning meeting where two architects, who looked about twelve, were defending the indefensible. They lost all credibility when I discovered three errors on their presentation boards within five seconds. I know it isn’t necessarily a word in everyday use but surely an architect, or at least their spell checker, should be able to spell vernacular? Then FindmyPast announce their latest indexes and appear to think that the 1600s are the fifteenth century. Not sure that inspires faith in the accuracy of their transcriptions.

Whilst on the subject of FindmyPast, I returned to the 1939 Register to try again to find my grandparents’ home at 159 Davidson Road. This time, I ploughed through all 600 properties in Davidson Road, arranged in random chunks of odds and evens but about 30 numbers were missing and somebody-or-other’s law dictated that this included number 159. After some very imaginative searching I discover that these properties had been listed with the address  ‘Davidson’ instead of ‘Davidson Road’. Why had I not been able to find my grandparents by name you ask? Well I had identified a possibility for granny – the middle initial had been wrongly transcribed, either by the enumerator or by FindmyPast (I still haven’t succumbed and parted with money) but I had dismissed this entry as she was not accompanied by Grandpa. Mystery solved – Grandpa’s birth year was incorrect by twenty years – sigh.

There have been various social events in the locality in the run up to the festive season, including a village quiz. I was enlisted on to a team who were, we later found out, identified as the pre-quiz favourites – we did in fact win but mainly due to a very lucky choice of round on which to play our joker. The trouble with being recruited on the history platform is that one is expected to know everything about the history of the whole world from yesterday back to the dawn of time – no chance. I failed spectacularly on UK Prime Ministers and the Wall Street Crash but my moment of glory came when required to name the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles!

DSCF2453Then there was the saga of the decorations. Two years ago I blogged about my treasured historic Christmas decorations. Suitably large tree purchased I ventured up in the loft and brought down the decorations. Lights affixed I went to hang the most precious decorations first. Exasperated, I realised that I hadn‘t got that box, so I waited for assistance and returned to the loft again. They weren’t there! They had to be there. I knew exactly where they should be and in what box – a red and white box that had contained a turkey in the 1960s. With a sense of rising panic I ransacked all the boxes in loft. This is harder than it sounds as the height in my loft means you can’t stand upright and I am still recovering from the car accident so heaving a very large number of heavy boxes in a manner that would alarm ‘lifting and handling’ trainers was not desirable. Boxes heaved not once but twice and I am in despair/in tears/beginning to think I am losing the plot. Martha contemplates a 600 mile journey to help me look. I was disproportionately upset about what are after all just ‘things’ but I haven’t ever spent a Christmas without these decorations on my tree and they bring back many memories. I cannot understand where they can be. After all, half of my loft had been emptied and sorted this year and they should be in the other half – notwithstanding I check the other half as well. Surely they can’t possibly have been given to a charity shop during the clearing of the other half of the loft? Irrationally I search every cupboard in my house, places in which I know they cannot be. Equally, I know they are in the loft. Do I have Borrowers? Have I had burglars? I know, what self-respecting burglar is going to leave no trace and only steal a box of Christmas decorations?! I spend a sleepless night. Next morning, loft search take three. Eureka! There they are, ok the turkey box is in another box but this is a box I swear I have looked in three times already. In the same box was the stocking my mum made for me for my first Christmas and its twin that I made when I had a second child – I hadn’t realised these were also missing, so that was a trauma avoided!

If I don’t get a chance to blog again before the big day – have a lovely Christmas and I hope that 2016 will be a year of peace, tolerance and joy.

Remember Then: memories of 1946-1969 – a book for Christmas or shortly afterwards?

TCoverhis post was going to be the sad tale of the missing Christmas decorations and other stories but you will have to wait for that. I can finally announce that we might (and I stress might) have my new book available for Santa to bring to a home near yours – if you are in the UK at least.  Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own is almost ready but although I am hopeful, I am not in a position to 100% guarantee that it will be with you for Christmas. I have been told that it will be with me by 21st December at the latest (but publishers have known to be wrong!). This is the last date for posting before Christmas but means I will have to send first class if copies are to stand any chance of reaching you in time. The book is a collection of reminiscences that 80 lovely ladies helped me to compile and should bring back memories for anyone who grew up in post-war Britain. You can find more details of the publication by following the link above. Please email me on historyinterpreter@hotmail.co.uk for details of how to obtain copies.

Home to Historical Happenings, the 1939 Register and Other Matters

It has been a sobering and thought-provoking week both internationally and personally. Not only have world events put matters into perspective but on the way home from delivering a talk to Somerset and Dorset Family History Society (always amongst my favourite audiences) we were involved in a minor car crash. It was a total accident. Chris was driving my car round a bend at about 25mph on a quiet road between Crewkerne and Taunton. A very slippery surface meant that there we were, on the wrong side of the road with an oncoming car. Result: one very squashed car, five hours in A & E, some bruising for Chris and severe seat belt related bruising for me. Ironically, I spent most of the Canadian trip being convinced that we would have a car accident. We come home to a familiar type of road, slow speeds and not a manic driver in sight and that is where it all goes wrong. The ‘what ifs’ go through your mind. ‘What if we had decided to go home via Exeter instead of Taunton?’ – we debated this and I chose Taunton. ‘What if the other car had been going faster?’ etc. etc..

Now I am supposed to rest. Although many of my days are fairly sedentary (too sedentary) I really don’t do resting, whatever that is. I joke that it was not the ideal way for Chris to get out of listening to my Leonard Cohen CD on the way home and bemoan the fact that that my favourite CD and of course my car, are now in a car graveyard somewhere near Yeovil but of course these are insignificant material possessions and the important thing, for which I am very thankful, is that we and those in the other car, are unlikely to have any lasting ill effects. As I can’t travel very far in a car until I am less bruised, or stand up much, I have had to rearrange my diary for the next week or two. This means failing to go to work due to illness for only the second time in over 30 years. Chris is currently impersonating Mistress Agnes for one of several school bookings that have come in in the last few weeks. He is not, I should make clear, wearing Mistress Agnes’ clothing, merely fulfilling her role. Seventeenth century bookings have come in thick and fast in the last few weeks and we have been in some lovely schools.

Back to my ‘normal’ life. I have spent a few mad weeks catching up since our Canadian adventure, including of course visiting the small members of the family to find that they are now less small. I have several new research clients, which is always exciting, especially as one case fits the bill as a North Devon Bible Christian emigrant to add to my collection. In my absence, my article ‘The Impact of the Bible Christians in Rural North-West Devon: a force for unity or division?’ for The Devon Historian Volume 84 (2015) has appeared in print. Shauna Hicks has also blogged her recollections of the Baltic Cruise, with some lovely comment about our presentations. These have been added to my testimonials page and that of Swords and Spindles. What an honour to have impressed one of Australia’s leading family and local historians. Thank you Shauna, we enjoyed your presentations too and are so sorry that your cruise was marred by injury.

 I can’t ignore the recent release of the 1939 Register by FindmyPast, on behalf of The National Archives. So far, I am still waiting to be impressed, although, to be fair, I haven’t ventured to the part where you actually part with money. On the subject of money, I do understand that they need to recoup their costs but I feel that subscribers could have been given a better deal. We are, they claim, paying for, amongst other things, a multitude of contextual information that is being provided. Am I alone in feeling that this expensive hand-holding is unnecessary? Those who want context (and I hope most do) are surely capable of finding it for themselves and sadly many are merely name gatherers who won’t even bother to look at this.

With one place studies in mind, I am very disappointed in the place search. As yet I have totally failed to bring up a rural area. It may well be possible but it certainly isn’t intuitive. I did find my grandparents’ road as part of an attempt to work out what they had been mis-transcribed as (surely you can’t do much wrong with Smith?). Unfortunately the road, which I did find, had over 600 houses and they were not in full numerical order. Odds and evens I could cope with but these were in chunks of random odds and evens and I lost the will to look through 25 pages to find number 159.

As for the 98.5% transcription accuracy claim, I think my family must all be in the other 1.5%. Out of ten searches only two were apparently problem free. Three were not found at all, despite imaginative searching, one of these was probably due to a recent death. One forename was mis-transcribed and the birth year was incorrect (although that may not be transcriber error), two had no middle initial but may not have provided one, one of these also had an incorrect birth year. Two are almost certainly redacted entries but both have very unusual names and died in the district in which they were born before the key year of 1991. In any case, one was born before 1915 as well. None of those who I located could be found by searching under their date of birth – I have the birth certificates – they can’t all be wrong. So, so far then, ‘could do better’. Now thoughts are turning to the Christmas, season. Do check out my friend’s wonderful cards. Some people are so creative and talented.