More Isolation Reflections – Day 120

I had intended to post some reflections on isolation when we reached day 100. That has long since gone. Here we are, day 120 and I have now broken cover and left home for the first time, in order to visit half my family in a socially distancedish manner. Perhaps this means I shouldn’t call it isolation anymore but I am now home and have returned to hiding myself away.

What have I learned in 120 days? I have learned that going out is not essential to my wellbeing. I desperately miss my family and it would be lovely to see the sea but apart from that, I am relatively content in my own little world. I have learned that I probably would not be able to cope so well if I did not have a garden and the flowers and birds have been a joy. I was also fortunate that I was not locking down alone, although I am now officially a bubble instead. I have learned to use Zoom and Facebook Live. I have begun to find ways round the dismantling of my employment and book selling opportunities. I have learned that I can play a recognisable tune on the piano, albeit very slowly. I have not learned Cornish though – still on the to do list. Nor have I found time for all the cleaning and sorting I might have done.

I am still keen to stay at home, especially as our little area of Devon, which has the lowest COVID rate in the country, has just seen some new virus cases after a five week gap. I have zero desire to visit the hairdressers, the pub, a café or a shop. I do know I should be supporting the economy but these are not things I need to do and I don’t feel ready for this yet. I am probably up for a few walks in the country, if I can make time in the hectic online schedule I seem to have created for myself. This week is particularly ridiculous with wall to wall Zooming.


On the subject of Zoom, yesterday I gave a talk for Devon Family History Society. Devon FHS have gradually been building up these meetings over the past months but this was the first that one had been advertised to the whole membership. The room capacity was 100. We had, after much debate, decided not to increase the capacity, as doing so would mean we would need to change the link we had circulated and folk are easily confused. People had been asked to log in 5-15 minutes before the start time. Half an hour before and there were already 30 people waiting. Ten minutes to go and we had hit 100 attendees. I had already promised to repeat the talk back to back for any who were waiting. My voice just about held out for the second session. Round two saw another 47 people in the room. Wow. They came from New Zealand, from Canada, the USA,  from France and from Malta. There were attendees from Scotland, from Wales and many English counties. Understandably, those who could not get in were disappointed and frustrated but there were so many lovely comments afterwards, it was worth the hard work. Several said that meeting in this way made them feel that they belonged to the group for the first time. The Devon FHS room capacity has been increased for future meetings and we look forward to bringing members together in this way on a regular basis.

Demolishing those Family History Brick Walls – some advice

I belong to many family history forums and most days I receive several emails with family/local history enquiries. I am afraid this isn’t an invitation for you to send me your queries – I am already at capacity! Nor is it meant to be a complaint about those who do ask questions. There are no silly questions and we should all be trying to increase our knowledge. This is meant to help people to frame those questions in a way that is more likely to get a satisfactory response.

It is highly likely that you can answer many questions yourself and if you can’t, there are steps you can take before you ask your question. Often, I am asked ‘where can I find such and such a record?’ or ‘are there any records for …..?’ type questions. Sometimes I know the answer straight away. If I don’t, I type the question into my search engine of choice and guess what, there, in a matter of moments is the answer. The questioner could have done the same.

Show me a family historian and I will show you someone who has a brick wall ancestor, those folk who appear to have been beamed down from outer space, or who disappear without trace. I often offer to help with a bit of demolition. Frequently, the enquirer hasn’t exhausted all the possibilities themselves, or there is a more productive way that they could set out their question. By reassessing the problem, they might be able to move that brick wall back a generation without any suggestions from me.

So, before you ask for help with your brick wall, here are some simple steps to follow.

  1. Decide exactly what the problem (the research question) is. Just pick one specific thing, not ‘more about John Brown’. For example, ‘I want to find John Brown’s parents’ names’, or ‘I want to know where and when John Brown died’, or ‘I want to find John Brown in the 1881 census.’
  2. Next, reassess everything that you already know about John Brown. There may be a clue in some aspect of the documentation that you already have. Create a timeline of John Brown’s life using all this information. Include the sources for that information, as some sources will be more reliable than others. Please note that ‘Ancestry’ is not a source, although ‘family tree compiled by x on Ancestry’ can be. Ancestry (or FindmyPast or Family Search etc.) may be the way that you accessed the source but the source will be an original document, a transcription or an index.
  3. See if you can fill in any gaps. Do you have John Brown’s birth AND his baptism, do you have him recorded in every census? Have you looked recently to see if there is new information available online that was not there when you last searched for John Brown?
  4. Make a note of any possible further research that might be helpful but which you cannot do at the moment, perhaps because the records are not online, or you can’t visit that repository, or afford to buy copies.
  5. Make a list of where you have already looked and what you have searched for.
  6. Finally, make sure you include a place and a time frame. Those who post on international genealogy forums seems to be particularly poor at this. There seems to be an assumption that, if no place is mentioned, it must be the US. There are genealogists elsewhere! Please avoid using abbreviations; these might be meaningful to you but ambiguous to others. Is WA Washington state or Western Australia?

To give you an idea of what I mean, I have given an example below. This is a genuine example, apart from the ‘searches completed so far section’.

When and only when, you have reached the end of step 6, share your problem. Family historians love a good mystery and a fresh pair of eyes can often help. If they can’t, then at least it might be comforting to know that you have done all the right things.

An Example

Brick wall ancestor – Mary Cardell 2 x great grandmother

Research Question

I would like to find the full names of Mary’s parents.


Mary Woolgar née Cardell is my 2x great grandmother. On her marriage certificate and the birth certificates/registrations for her four children, her surname is consistently spelt CARDELL. The marriage certificate suggests that she signed her own name. Earlier generations may not have been literate, so the name might be rendered differently and my searches have included all phonetically likely variants of the name, of which there are many! It is even possible that it is a corruption of McArdle.

The evidence suggests that Mary, or at least whoever provided the information to the  census enumerators, was convinced that she was born in Highgate, Middlesex. Ignoring the 1841 census evidence, when ages were rounded down in any case, the suggested dates of birth from the other sources are consistent. If all ages are correct, then Mary was born on 4 or 5 April 1817. It seems fairly certain that she was born between 1816 and 1818.

Other clues are provided by her marriage certificate to Philip Woolgar, which I obtained from the General Registrar. As it was a handwritten copy, I also consulted an image of the original parish marriage register, to ensure there were no copying errors at any stage between the church and the certificate that I received. The information was the same and assuming it is accurate, Mary’s father was James Cardell, a gardener. There is no indication that either of the fathers were deceased at the time of the marriage. Searching surrounding entries, suggests that whoever filled in the register did not make a habit of noting if the fathers were deceased, so we cannot be sure James was still alive. The witnesses were William Groves and Catharine Cardell who has been shown to be Mary’s sister.

Timeline (working backwards)

Sources are in red, possible further research is in blue. I have omitted the full document references here to simplify matters.

  1. 18 January 1892 buried Islington. Deceased online. I need to check the original burial registers and possibly locate a gravestone, if one survives. It seems odd that she was buried the other side of the river, albeit only seven miles away. Islington is however nearer to Highgate.
  2. 13 January 1892 died 153 Rialton Road, Lambeth (the home of her daughter Caroline) death certificate age 74 – born 14 January 1817- 13 January 1818
  3. 1891 census age 74 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 6 April 1816-5 April 1817
  4. 1881 census age 63 born Middlesex – born 4 April 1817- 3 April 1818
  5. 1871 census age 53 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 3 April 1817- 2 April 1818
  6. 1861 census living Rosendale Road, Lambeth age 44 born Highgate, Middlesex – born 8 April 1816-7 April 1817
  7. 7 Sept 1855 son Philip James born Figs Marsh, Mitcham son’s birth certificate
  8. 1851 census not located
  9. 5 Mar 1848 daughter Fanny Amelia baptised Highgate, ‘of Highgate’ baptism register
  10. 5 Feb 1848 daughter Fanny Amelia born, the exact address is unclear but appears to read ‘Cookers Haven’, Finchley daughter’s birth certificate
  11. 1 Feb 1846 daughter Mary Ann baptised Highgate, ‘of Highgate’ baptism register
  12. D Q 1845 daughter Mary Ann born registered Barnet RD (as Wodgar) born Finchley GRO indexes, census returns for daughter. I could purchase this birth certificate.
  13. 27 Nov 1842 d Caroline baptised in Highgate, ‘of Highgate’ baptism register
  14. J Q 1842 daughter Caroline born registered St Luke’s district (Caroline’s census entries say born St. Lukes (1861/1871/1901) Clerkenwell (1881 NB husband b Clerkenwell) London (1911)) GRO indexes I could purchase this birth certificate.
  15. 1841 census living Turnpike road, Finchley age 25 born Middlesex – born 7 June 1811-6 June 1816
  16. 1 May 1841 marriage certificate ‘of full age’ – born before May 1820. Father, James Cardell, gardener. I have also checked the parish register entry for the marriage and the details are identical to the marriage register

Searches completed so far (not a genuine example)

I have searched the indexes at Ancestry, Family Search and FindmyPast for James Cardell (and variants) between 1750-1805 in London and Middlesex.

If you want to know more about my actual long and inconclusive search for Mary’s parents, there have been several posts about it on this website, including the sorry tale how I nearly adopted a very exciting (but sadly wrong) set of ancestors for Mary. Of course, if you can find Mary’s parents for me, even better.

Ch 12 Puzzled Writer

Drawing by Artie Race


Preserving our History – a reflection on recent events

I have hesitated before posting anything on the events surrounding the protests following the murder of George Floyd, not least because I have been trying to process it all and indeed I still am. I wanted to make a considered comment and not something that was the result of gut-reaction inspired anger. If I am honest, my hesitation also sprung from a lack of courage. I am concerned about saying something that will cause offence. I am still not sure that I have the emotional reserves to combat the inevitable backlash from people whose views differ from my own. I know many people have been severing social media connections with those who express extreme views that they do not share. I have deliberately not done that, although I do admit to hitting the ‘snooze’ button on Facebook occasionally. I think it is important that I am aware of a range of opinions, even if it means seeing comments that make me horrified, angry, confused and deeply saddened. I know that we are all a product of our upbringing and our past experiences and that some of these opinions are very firmly entrenched but I am still struggling to understand the views expressed by some. So, this is my stance. It is still a little unformed but as an historian, I cannot delay any longer.

I am not a person of colour. I am fortunate to have grown up in a multi-racial area and to have had non-white close friends. I have the advantage that I am just young enough to have escaped the jingoistic, empire adulating, ‘everything Britain ever did was right’ version of school history. I have also spent more than forty-five adult years studying history. I am aware of the appalling atrocities that peoples of the past have committed but I know that nothing I can do will make me truly understand what it is like to be black in today’s white dominated world. My background means that I am aware of the European arrogance of the past, the notion that we have a right to colonise the rest of the world; the Americas, Australasia, Africa, the Indian sub-continent have all suffered at the hands of white European invaders, often acting in the name of religion. I know too about other invasions but I am trying not to turn this into a three volume history text book.

So, what do I feel about the perceived ‘erosion of history’, the spate of tearing down statutes? Firstly, who is committing these acts of criminal damage? In many cases these are not the acts of those with a genuine grievance, they are a mindless mob, who are copying the herd. Like those who are using violence to defend those same statues, most have very little knowledge of the person that the statue adulates. It is hard to empathise with those who are defacing, or indeed protecting, statutes without knowing about who they represent. I do understand however that people are, justifiably, angry. Whilst I think illegally removing or defacing statues is counterproductive, I do have sympathy for those who actually understand the full (and I do mean full) history behind the statue and exactly what that person did and are offended by aspects of that person’s life.

Let’s consider Edward Colston. I am probably one of the few people outside Bristol who had heard of Edward Colston before his statue was forcibly removed. Slavery is appalling. There is no other way to view it. I would like to think that no rightminded person now believes otherwise but sadly I am still hearing views that attempt to justify it – ‘but they treated them well when they got there’. What!? Where on earth does that travesty of the truth come from? This is the level of misinformation that has to be overcome. Yes, Colston was acting perfectly legally at the time, yes, he also acted philanthropically, establishing many institutions in Bristol and yes this was partly funded by the profits of slavery. These are facts. Slavery was an atrocity and nothing can dilute that. So, should his image have been removed in the way that it was?

I think it is essential that our past atrocities are not swept under the carpet, that man’s inhumanity to man is remembered. We can only move on if we look back and learn from our mistakes. It is no coincidence that the header on the home page of this website is George Santayana’s ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfil it.’ We do need to remember Colston. Remember him as a flawed human being who did good and bad things in his life. We also need to remember him in the context of his time, when his actions were both lawful and regarded as acceptable. This is emphatically not saying that slavery was in any way acceptable but we have to acknowledge and take ownership of the fact that it was regarded as an appropriate way of conducting business by those in western Europe at the time. Remembrance is not the same as reverence. Do we need to remember Colston by having a statue in a public place? Maybe not. It is also important to remember that this particular statue was not erected until long after Colston’s death. There had been an ongoing campaign, over many years, for its removal and it was undoubtably a daily affront for black people in the neighbourhood. I think, in this case, I side with David Olusoga, who advocates having the statute in a museum where the whole story can be told.

As a family historian, I can’t help thinking what about gravestones? Will there be a call to remove these monuments to people whose past deeds were contentious? Since I drafted this post, the news has come of gravestones being hidden because they refer to the deceased’s roles as ‘minstrels’. I don’t know what terms were used on those stones; I gather the language was deemed offensive. My own father blacked his face to perform as a minstrel when he was working with ENSA after the Second World War. Does that make him a bad person? Were someone to do this now, it would unequivocally be regarded as offensive but we cannot condemn the past by viewing it from today’s perspective. This does not excuse past behaviour but we need to remember the context. They knew no better. Now, there is no excuse, we all should know better; nothing justifies this behaviour today. Should my father’s gravestone be covered? In the case of those that have been hidden, is it the language that was being obscured or the person? Who decides who is ‘good enough’ to be immortalised in stone, be it a statue or a grave marker?

Perhaps though it is time to evaluate what statues and to a lesser extent gravestones, are for. Until now they have been regarded as a memorial, an object of undiluted glorification. The problem is that no human being that ever lived is wholly worthy of unadulterated reverence. Statues are a little like the air-brushed pictures of celebrities, that give people unrealistic aspirations and expectations. Images that tell half-truths, objects of propaganda intended to portray a one-sided narrative. We need to remember these people for who they were, a complex blend of admirable and despicable qualities, just as we are. At present, we are conditioned to think that anyone worthy of a statue must be a good guy (and don’t get me started on the preponderance of men in statues). Could we change that? Could we start to think about the people we have immortalised in a rounded way and in the context of their day? Could seeing a statue lead us to question, to wonder why people at the time thought them worthy? Could we start to think whether they would still be adulated today and if not, why not? Perhaps people will learn from the debates that may ensue as there are campaigns to remove or save individual statues. This would mean that there could be a new level of engagement with the past and that I would be thankful for. Statues need to remain but they should definitely tell a whole story and I hope that, by being there, they will spark conversations. Where they need to remain is a different issue and I am still not sure where I stand on that one.

I think it is our duty to preserve the past, in all its multi-faceted complexity. We should all strive to share that past in as balanced and unbiased a way as possible, be that the history of our nation or the history of our own family. Total lack of bias is almost impossible, as we all have firmly held convictions but let us at least try to see things from more than one perspective. As a result of what is happening now, perhaps a few people will be driven to look more closely at history and by that, I mean the history of all peoples. As a white history teacher, in line with the syllabus, I taught ‘Black Peoples of America’ and ‘The America West’ to a wholly white class. As an historical interpreter, I helped to present sessions on slavery. How arrogant was that? Yet it was my white perspective or nothing. What can I do now? What can I do to atone for having said #alllivesmatter? Of course, all lives matter, few people are suggesting that they don’t, it is just that some groups in society are less equal than others at the moment and that needs to be our focus until the balance is restored. We need to rediscover our compassion. We need to stop thinking only of our own narrow little worlds.

Although race is in the headlines at present and rightly so, this is about so much more than race. It is about intolerance. I have spent the past few years researching seventeenth century intolerance: religious intolerance, class-based intolerance, intolerance of difference, the plight of those who had no voice. Sadly, human nature does not change. In our ignorance, we still feel threatened by those who do not look like us, those who do not worship like us, those whose sexuality is not our own. In our fear we strike out, verbally and physically and we bolster ourselves by banding together with others who do seem familiar. We fear what we do not know and our ignorance leads to unfounded prejudices. ‘Ignorance’ sounds pejorative, perhaps ‘lack of knowledge’ would be better. The good news is that we can address our ignorance. We all have things we can learn, we can all do better. If you are reading this you have the gift that you need. All that is required is a willingness to learn in a spirit of open-mindedness, in a spirit of tolerance. I am debating what I can do to make even a tiny little bit of the world a more tolerant place, are you?

Thank you for reading. I know some of you will not agree with me. If I do not have the emotional energy to enter into a debate with you at the moment, it is not that I do not care. It is not that I cannot defend my views. It is just that my reserves are on empty and I only want to make a response when I am able to do so in a considered manner.

Today is the Day! – cover and title reveal

Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you Sins as Red as Scarlet.

3d and Kindle

This amazing cover has been designed by Devon artist, Robin Paul of The Branch Line.

Now some of you will want to know more about the novel. Details can be found on it’s dedicated page on this website, along with information about the special offers that are available to those who pre-order. I am pleased to announce that there will be an accompanying CD thanks to Dan Britton. You can come along and listen to me reading short extracts on Facebook Live at 11am (technology permitting). You can also book to attend the free Zoom talk about the research behind the book, that I will be giving on launch day, 29 August, at 2,00pm BST. Please contact me for details of how to register. If this email address bounces, or if you do not get a reply within 48 hours, please keep trying, or use an alternative email address.

Book & Kindle publicity (2)

Mostly about going Virtual – Isolation day 93

With all the awfulness that is going on at the moment, I am sure this should be a deep and meaningful commentary on current affairs. It isn’t. Not because I don’t feel strongly about things. Not because I don’t care. I am an historian. I should have something to say. Not least about what some claim is the erasing of our history. Indeed I do have thoughts and opinions, it is just that they are not yet fully formed and putting them into words requires more emotional energy that I have at the moment. So I am sorry if this seems a bit like I am burying my head in the sand and ignoring world events but just for now, I am retreating back into the everyday, whilst I process everything.

There haven’t been many posts lately because, to be honest, most things are just jogging along in much the same way as they have for the past few weeks. The weather has turned a bit and the garden has reached a plateau. Plenty of baby blue tits to watch but not much else to report. So far, the relaxing of lockdown restrictions has not made any difference to my life, so I remain here in my own little world, making contact online. I have been invited to do several online presentations and have attended a lovely school reunion and several Devon Family History Society meetings. I took part in Crediton Literary Festival, talking about Remember Then, which was fun and there is also a YouTube video of me, with a very croaky hay fever voice, reading from Barefoot on the Cobbles. I will be reading for Exeter Authors’ Coffee Time Sessions on Thursday at 12. I have decided to run my own series of family/social/local history lectures, as well as provide a four week continuation of the family history course that I ran for Crediton library. There are still spaces if anyone is interested in any of these.

Tomorrow is the cover/title reveal for novel #2; so anyone who has been waiting for more news will learn more of what it contains. I am attempting to read some extracts from the book at 11am via Facebook Live. That’s another whole new learning curve. Now to create my ‘set’, which so far involves some red material, a sprig of bay and a noose …….hmmmm.


This Time it is all About the Books (includes offers and free stuff)

So, the excitement is mounting as the publication date (29 August) for my latest novel creeps nearer. Well, let’s be honest here, I am excited; maybe one or two of you are too. As face-to-face marketing opportunities have now dwindled to zero, I am climbing some steep learning curves in order to do some online promotion. You will also see offers for some of my other books flitter across social media. I really do need to make some space.

Firstly, the new book is all set for its cover/title reveal on 15 June. Watch this space and my Facebook and Twitter accounts to join in the fun. I shall also be guesting on some other blogs and will be sharing the links to these. If I can work out how to do it, there will be Facebook Live stuff on the day, so look out for that if you are one of my Facebook friends – and if you aren’t, why not? 😊. Hopefully, if I can work out how to turn myself into a social media influencer (whatever that is), I will be telling you about the book and I may even be reading some teeny tiny extracts. So far, the cover looks like this. And, no, the title is not ‘Redacted’, as one of my friends suggested, although it would have been a cool marketing ploy.


On the subject of the cover, it has been designed by the incredibly talented Robin Paul from The Branch Line. Robin created an amazing cover from my vague suggestions and scribbles that were the first ‘art’ I had produced since failing art O level not once but twice.

Hopefully, by 15 June, I will have set up a pre-ordering system (another learning curve), even if it only consists of ‘email me and I’ll send details of how to pre-order’. The first 200 people who pay for a copy of **** ** *** ** ******* (see there’s a clue) by midnight on 28 August 2020 (British Summer Time) will get a free copy of Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors (RRP £12.95). These will be sent postage free to a UK address. Please note that this offer is only open to those who pre-order directly from me, or from my publishers Blue Poppy Publishing. Both books will be signed. I am sorry that it is difficult to provide an attractive offer for my overseas readers. In all honesty, I can’t pretend that it is financially sensible for you to order directly from me. If you are outside the UK and really want a signed copy from me I am happy to provide details of postage costs. All purchasers of **** ** *** ** ******* will be able to buy the CD of the same redacted name, at the reduced price of £3 (RRP £4), providing that the CD is pre-ordered at the same time as the book. The CD includes Dan Britton’s evocative companion song to the novel and two other tracks by Dan, on a similar theme. I am working on another goody for all pre-orderers but I need to make sure that what I have in mind is something that I can deliver first.

What else am I able to offer you? Well, if you are very quick, there is still time to register for the free talks at tomorrow’s (6 June) Crediton Literary Festival. See my previous blog post for details. During my talk, I will be revealing out a code, giving UK listeners an opportunity to obtain a discount on my book Remember Then; memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own, the subject of my talk.

But wait, as my friend Michelle would say, there’s more. I now have my own supply of my new booklet 10 Steps to a One-Place Study. So, if you want a signed copy and to avoid putting money into the hands of the multi-nationals, you know where to come. £5.90 including UK postage.

And yet more. In honour of Mayflower400, whose commemorations are sadly but inevitably, having to be postponed, I have another offer available on Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors. This book is a reflection of life in Britain at the time that the Mayflower left our shores. A copy of this book can be purchased for £2 plus postage and packing. That is a total of just £5 for this book to be sent to a UK address, please get in touch for estimates for postage elsewhere. Alternatively, if you order either Remember Then or Enquire Within directly from me at full price, you can order a copy of Coffers Clysters for just £1 more. These offers are open from 15 June up to and including 3 October 2020, or while stock last. I stress that these offers are only available to those ordering directly from me. Contact me for details of how to pay.

Sorry that this is a bit of an advert. Normal service will be resumed soon.


It is (not quite) all About the Books – Isolation Day 79

Isolation continues for me. I was just thinking that I might feel like going for a socially distanced walk when the idiocy factor ramped up and folk flocked westward in their droves. I’ll sit tight as the second wave tsunamis in; unfortunately I think it is inevitable. I do know that I am lucky to have this option. I am pleased for those who can now meet family in parks and gardens. It does make it hit harder that the gardens I’d want to socially distance in are 300 miles away though. So, I’ll continue to #staysafe, grit my teeth and enjoy my own garden. Suddenly, the facts that the single baby blue tit has fledged and the poppies are blooming seem hugely significant.


This latest update is mostly about books though. I am gearing up for the cover/title reveal for novel #2. It is now in the hands of the publishers. There really are only so many times you can delete a comma and then put it back again on the eleventy billionth read through. I am looking at today’s appalling worldwide news stories and sadly, the book’s theme of intolerance is all too relevant. I am excited to report that the talented Dan Britton has written a companion song for this book too. Recording it under lockdown conditions was challenging but the end result is perfect. The plan is that it will be available, along with two other tracks on a similar theme, on 29 August, along with the book. Ninety days to go! Don’t forget that I am gradually leaking hints about its contents.

In other writing news, I’ve been commissioned to write a school textbook and that is finally making progress. My online One-Place Studies course for Pharos is ready for presentation in September (bookings are already coming in and more than a third of the places are filled). I am looking forward to speaking about writing your memories for Crediton Literary Festival on 6 June. There are some excellent talks, you can attend from anywhere in the world and better still it is free. All you have to do is apply for the link to join the audience.


I am getting some exciting invitations for online presentations so watch this space. Thoughts are turning to ‘what next?’ I am playing with an idea that is set in the seventeenth century again but not Devon related. I am wondering if I can write ‘at a distance’, as I normally work by immersing myself in the locations. I am also thinking of reviving my collection of North Devon emigrant stories and I may work these two alongside each other. Then again, I might just sit and do nothing!

I have been working on ‘writing-up’ the accounts of a few more branches of the family that have been neglected over the years. These are not beautifully crafted stories crammed with context, that’s just what I advise my students to produce! At least if I can get the broad outline done, I can add the flavouring later. Some of these offerings do appear on my website. Woolgar, Bulley, Dawson and Hogg are amongst the more substantial accounts, if you are thinking of taking a look. Currently, I am working on the sorry tale of a shipwreck that took place during the Napoleonic Wars, when the vessel went aground off the Dutch Coast but the crew thought they were in the Humber Estuary.

By the way, if anyone is wondering abut the fate of the parcels mentioned in my previous post, they arrived relatively unscathed.

Unhappy Post: or why parcels should never be triangular – Isolation Day 74

Martha, Rob and Edward have been posting and hand delivering ‘Happy Post’ to scores of people during lockdown. It is part of their fundraising effort for Calvert Trust Exmoor, where they all spent an amazing holiday last year and hope to again this summer, if circumstances allow. It is a wonderful facility, providing experiences for individuals with a range of disabilities and their families. I thought they and Rebecca’s family too, deserved some happy post in return and wanted to time it for when the husbands went back to full-time work out of the home. In the first instance, it was a total fail on the finding anything suitable to send front. In the end, I managed to get a game for each family that I thought they would enjoy. Rather than send them direct, I thought I would order them to be delivered to me, then I could add other things before sending the parcels on.

I did wonder why the items arrived not in a box but liberally wrapped in bubble wrap (useful for future book orders). The answer dear reader is because the games are packed in triangular boxes. Very aesthetically pleasing but totally impractical. I foresee the recipients not being best pleased with me when they try to find a home for said boxes. I had a complete lack of larger boxes in which to pack said triangular boxes. With permission, I sent the fisherman of my acquaintance, to raid the community shop’s recycling bin. This is about as exciting as it gets for him going out wise. The shop is next door but one. I am still not going out at all – well apart from a quick drive to charge the car battery and not then getting out the car. My co-lockdownee was however going stir crazy, so he is now going out for ‘exercise’ but not, I hasten to add, to Barnards Castle, or to any country estate anywhere. I digress, Parcels.

Well, we managed to find one box that I could pack a ridiculous triangular box in (with a bit of gentle persuasion). I congratulated myself that it was even just small enough to be sent for £2.95 instead of £5.05. Win! Now, this parcel also had to contain my son-in-law’s pants. Why? you may well ask. Firstly, I wish to make it clear that these are new pants, thankfully. By dint of clicking the wrong address button, Martha had ordered them to come to me instead of her, so now they needed to be sent to their rightful owner. Well, who knew how weighty pants were? With the added 1kg of pants, the parcel was now too heavy to go for £2.95.

I wrapped the parcel with lashings of tape and string. I am a bit of a dab hand at tying parcels. Once a girl guide……… AFTER the parcel was secured more tightly than UK Civil Service Twitter accounts, I get an email from Martha ‘could you just post me…….’ Maybe next time.

There was still the second triangle to tackle. Nothing we could find constituted a suitable container. We tried and failed, to construct a box out of other boxes. In the end I gave up completely and went for the solution adopted by the original seller. Copious amounts of bubble wrap. Then I needed some kind of strongish bag. Ah T****s shopping is currently being delivered in strongish bags, excellent. I put the cursed triangular box inside a T****s bag and then realised that it was the one the loose onions had come in, so it was already occupied by plenty of onion skin. By now this whole venture was seeming like a BAD IDEA. The T****s bag, now relieved of most of the onion skin, was not quite large enough. Cue black bin bag. Now I am a cheap skate, not for me the ultra-strong, suitable for posting things in, black bin bags. Oh no. Mine are really thin and flimsy with a stupid pleat at the bottom, tear as soon as they are looked at black sacks.  Reinforcement is required. Parcel tape doesn’t quite cut it. I am also having issues with removing excess air from the parcel; it is a little akin to deflating a lilo. Ah ha! The ubiquitous gaffer tape is to hand. The parcel is now wrapped tighter than a mummy. I suspect they will have a bit of a job trying to open it. I hope the corners survive the journey.

The story is not yet over. So far, we have only posted parcels that fit in the postbox over the road. Sending these on their way will entail running the gauntlet of the mobile post van. I’d better look out the Hazmat suit before casting the fisherman of my acquaintance into the abyss. Oh, and we have no masks, now where did I put that gaffer tape?


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.