Saturday, March 28, 2015

On the road again

It’s Saturday morning and I am typing this in an empty house, the only sounds the clicking of the keys and the wind lashing the rain against the window next to my desk. Yesterday afternoon I waved DH off on another of his regular visits to his very elderly mother and after clearing a few chores headed out into the garden.

Earlier in the week a good friend had presented us with a delayed house-warming gift, a bare-rooted rose bush which needs to be planted without delay. Unfortunately the perfect position was already occupied by a battered, unsightly and very spiny berberis, which it was my unwelcome task to remove. The struggle was fierce, but ultimately I prevailed and managed to complete digging the hole for my rose as twilight fell.

The berberis had its revenge, however, and I spent much of the rest of the evening with a sharp needle, extracting the numerous thorns which had made it through my strongest gardening gloves. This morning my poor hands look as though I have a very localised attack of measles, but at least I’m ready to sally forth into the garden as soon as the rain stops and the ground dries up a little, and bed the rose comfortably into its new home.

After that my busyness will take a different direction, as I get down to the preparations for our spring trip to the north coast of Scotland. DH will be home on Monday evening and by then I need to have everything ready for us to pack the car on Tuesday morning and begin our journey with our customary overnight visit to his brother in Southport.

I’m already looking forward eagerly to the long journey up through the Highlands. The road is familiar to us now and we drive it with huge pleasure, revelling in the grandeur of the scenery, whatever the weather, and keenly anticipating our arrival in our little home from home between the mountains and the sea. Easter in the Highlands has become part of our lives over the past few years and I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

From family past to family present

After my recent forays into my family’s history, daily life has caught up with me again and I’ve been running fast to keep up these last few days. From leading a Mothering Sunday service last Sunday, to hosting a meeting on Monday and welcoming a friend today, life is suddenly very full and busy again.

Now I’m getting ready to welcome my next-to-youngest sister and her husband and pet dog for a visit which begins tomorrow afternoon and will end nicely in time for me to finish my final preparations for next Sunday’s service. Think of me tomorrow morning, as I dust and hoover and change beds and prepare food. 

Hopefully I won’t get lost forever in the duvet covers before I can enjoy a couple of days of not-stop conversation and laughter, interspersed with pleasant relaxation over lingering meals.  Our youngest sister and her husband and dog live not far away and will join us, so there will be a lot of chatter and teasing and “do you remember when”. I hope our poor husbands can keep up…

Cartoon via The Poke.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lost in the past

It all started early last month, when I learned that the genealogical website Ancestry was offering a weekend of free access to all its records. Two of my three younger sisters have done a great deal of family history research over the past few years, but somehow the bug passed me by. I’ve been genuinely interested in their discoveries and have used some of their information in previous posts, but I never felt the need to do the research myself - until now.

The Ancestry weekend whetted my appetite and since then I’ve enjoyed starting to put together my own version of our family tree.  However, last weekend moved things onto a whole new level. This is because another family history website was offering three whole days of free access to their huge stock of worldwide records  and this time DH was away visiting his mother and I had almost the entire weekend to myself.

Over the previous few weeks I had learned enough to know exactly what to look for this time. In three packed days I experienced the most enormous enjoyment and satisfaction as I gradually put flesh on the bones of my skeleton family tree (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor) and fitted half-forgotten names from my childhood into their proper places. Without DH to remind me about mealtimes I even forgot to have breakfast one day and ended up eating my cereal for lunch!

By the time the free access period ended I’d amassed an enormous amount of information, which I now have to organise and make sense of. But in addition to information I’ve gained something else over the past few days – something perhaps more important than factual details and certainly more personal.

Scanning through census returns, searching birth, marriage and death records, and adding details to the family tree, has brought the lives and backgrounds of my ancestors and their wider family members into very sharp focus, Suddenly I find myself trying to put myself into the shoes of two of my great-great-grandmothers, one of whom gave birth to at least thirteen live children and saw four die in infancy. Even more tragically, the other also had thirteen children, of whom only seven survived into adulthood.

My great-uncle George as he started school in 1896

The streets teemed with children, including three of my great-uncles.

Both these great-great-grandmothers lived in the industrial Lancashire town where I was born and I know the streets of small terraced houses in which they struggled to feed and clothe their large families.  One was the wife of a brick and tile maker, the other of a cotton weaver, so money must have often been very scarce with so many children to care for.

My great-grandfather, aged two, and seven of his siblings on the 1871 census

No wonder then that as soon as the children reached the school leaving age of 13, they too found themselves in the brickworks or the cotton mill, working long hours and bringing their wages home to swell the family purse. They usually went on living at home until they married and even then rarely moved far. One of my great-grandfathers, with his wife and child, lived just round the corner from an elder brother and his wife and both couples appear on the same page of the census return.

Spot two of the Fish brothers on the same census return

If they were female and didn’t marry they often went on living at home until their parents died. My grandmother’s mother was one of a family of nine, eight girls and one boy, of whom only four married. In the 1911 census six unmarried sisters are shown living with their widowed father. The youngest eventually married and I still have vivid childhood memories of her and her next sister, whom I knew as Aunt Ethel and Aunt Lil. If only I’d known enough then to ask about their lives and hear from their lips the way the world had changed since they were my age.

Or at least five of them. My maternal great-grandmother is on the far left.

Sadly those generations are long gone, but surprisingly vivid echoes of their lives and struggles, their joys and sorrows still linger in the apparently dry and dusty pages of those official records.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – I’m hooked!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A very musical weekend

Last weekend DH and I headed across the Pennines to visit DD for her birthday and to take across to her an old American-style rocker for which we have no room in the new house and of which she is very fond. To our amazement the extremely small car had no trouble in accommodating both the bulky chair and our luggage, which got our trip off to a flying start.

That evening, after her return from church choir practice, DD gave me the first musical treat of the weekend by accompanying some of my elementary clarinet tunes on the piano, thereby totally transforming them. I couldn’t believe how much better they sounded with an accompaniment and this has spurred me on to learn more tunes for future joint sessions. Teaching oneself to play an instrument can sometimes feel rather lonely, so this was a huge encouragement.

The next musical treat came the following day and it was a truly wonderful one. DD and her family had booked to attend a concert by the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra at Leeds Town Hall to celebrate her birthday and when she heard we were planning to visit, she offered to treat me to a ticket as an early birthday present. This is how I came to be sitting almost in the centre of the second row, just behind the conductor and in a perfect position to admire the virtuosity of the soloist, the young Russian-born violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, as he thrilled the audience with his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

The crowning touch to my musical weekend came next morning, when I stayed behind in church after the morning service to listen to Grandson#1 practising the organ. He’s busy preparing to take his Grade 5 organ exam and I very much enjoyed hearing him playing his pieces and realising just how much progress he has made in the past two years.

Now I’m back home, doggedly practising my very basic scales, exercises and tunes and still inspired by my musical treats. How far I’ll manage to progress with playing the clarinet remains to be seen, but I still love every minute I spend on it.

Image via Google

Friday, February 20, 2015

A worldwide web of friendship

It began in 1997, just after I’d been made redundant from the library and was officially early-retired. Enjoying my new-found leisure, I treated myself to a day trip to the annual Christian Resources Exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. There I came across a stand run by a new organisation, Christians On The Internet (always known as COIN) through which I was introduced to the concept of mailing lists and began to discover how people I’d never met could become friends.

The next step came three years later, when I first started to suggest to DH that we might look at buying a little cottage in France. As part of my research I joined a couple of French-interest online forums, where helpful strangers offered me a lot of useful advice and where in turn I could eventually share the fruits of my own experience. A recurrence of breast cancer in 2005 brought me on to a couple of support forums where I received a huge amount of help and kindness and it was here first that forum members really began to become friends. Later I had the same experience on other small and friendly forums.

It was on a French-interest forum that I stumbled across my first blog, French Leave (now sadly defunct) and I was hooked. I rapidly discovered more and more blogs, by no means all writing about France, and eventually began to be nagged by the thought that perhaps this was something I too could attempt.

Finally, four years ago today, I took the plunge and launched my first baby post into the ether, helped by an understanding blogger who had kindly offered to add my blog to her blog roll, if I ever summoned up the courage to start one. To my surprise a tiny trickle of comments came in, including one from the writer of the marvellous blog that had first whetted my appetite. She has encouraged me every step of the way since and pointed me in the direction of many other wonderful blogs. Thanks, Helen.

The four years since that first tentative post have been deeply enjoyable and satisfying and my web of online friends has become truly worldwide. Day by day I’m offered fascinating glimpses of life throughout Europe, north and central America, Australia and New Zealand and I never cease to marvel that my own blog has visitors from all over the world.

When I at last gave in and joined Facebook last year, I found many of my virtual (but nonetheless very real) friends from every medium already there to greet me – another strand in a beautiful and rewarding web of friendship that has enriched my life immeasurably. I’ve even managed to meet a few of them in person and would love to meet more. Just imagine the world tour I could make…

Image via Google

P.S. This post will be published while I’m away on a weekend family visit, so there will be no replies until I’m home again.