Saturday, February 13, 2016


 As I was wandering round the house today in ever-decreasing circles, 
gathering together and packing everything I need for my trip, 
I found myself humming some of the songs of the Great War 
which still echoed through my post-WW2 childhood.

Sometimes I heard them sung at local village concerts, 
or even joined in singing them myself. 
Sometimes my grandfather would sing a snatch or two to me,
 which is how I heard the first French words I can ever remember hearing, 
Mademoiselle from Armentieres, parley-voo?

Sometimes they provided the background music
of a TV or radio programme on the First World War,
 especially the haunting 
There’s a long, long trail a-winding.

Some of them, such as Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire 
I only really heard when I was older, 
as the words wouldn’t have been considered suitable 
for me as a young child.

Some seemed to me, even then, incongruously cheerful for such a terrible event, 
until the wonderful, bitingly-satirical Oh, What a Lovely War 
gave them a context and interpretation 
which made complete sense to me. 

As I say goodbye until my return next weekend, 
I’ll leave you with one of these, 
which I’m sure will stay with me as I visit the haunted landscape 
where so many fought and died 
and pay my respects to them and to one young Yorkshireman in particular.

Image via Google

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Gallivanting again…

...or another Big Birthday trip.

Almost five years ago, when my blog was still new and shiny, I wrote a post about a holiday I’d just had with DD.  2011 was the year I turned 65 and she turned 40 and to mark these momentous occurrences  we decided to go to Assisi together on a Pax Travel pilgrimage. I had been several times before and loved it, but for DD it was her first visit. On our return I shared some impressions of our experience in a post called The Big Birthday trip.

This wasn’t the first time in recent years that I’d headed off on holiday with a member of the family other than DH. The previous year, my next-to-youngest sister, PolkaDot, and I had visited Madeira only weeks after the catastrophic floods of February 2010 and, once I had a blog, of course I had to write about it. We both enjoyed our shared holiday so much that afterwards we talked several times about the possibility of repeating the experience.

In November 2011, to mark Armistice Day, I had written a post about my Great-Uncle Walter who died on the Somme in World War 1.  That sowed the seed in my mind of one day doing what PolkaDot had already done and visiting Ypres in Belgium to see his name on the Menin Gate memorial. Time went on and a couple of years later she suggested that we might like to go on holiday together in 2016 to mark two more Big Birthdays - her 65th and my 70th - and also the centenary of Great-Uncle Walter’s death on February 16th.

Now February isn’t normally the time of year one would choose to holiday in Western Europe, but some things are more important that the weather. When we discovered that a holiday company had scheduled a battlefields tour that would take us to the very area where Great-Uncle Walter had been killed, on the exact anniversary of his death a century ago, the die was cast.

We booked and now I’m busy with my final preparations before DH drops me at my sister’s house on Sunday, ready for a very early start next morning on our journey to Belgium. Fortunately the local weather forecast for next week is very much better than what we’ve been enduring this week - cold and sunny, rather than wet and windy - and we’re both starting to feel very excited about Big Birthday Trip Mark 2. My camera and notebook are already packed. Less important things like clothes will come later...

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Time to go home…

…for a while at least. Time has been up to its usual tricks since we travelled up to the north coast almost a fortnight ago. On the one hand it seems no time at all since we arrived and unpacked. On the other we seem to have been here for ages, so settled do we feel. We’ve certainly been busy, DH with his database work and frequent visits to the office of the local community transport organisation he does some work for, me with housework and church, friends and Knit & Natter.

But now the time has come to pack up and head south again, since I have an unbreakable and longstanding commitment to get ready for, of which more anon. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a selection of the few photographs I’ve managed to take over these cold, wet and stormy two weeks, most of which were taken as the tyre of a friend’s car was changed after a puncture on the way home from Knit & Natter yesterday. If one has to have a puncture, there can be few more lovely places to have one.

White caps on the Kyle, whipped up by the gales of Storm Gertrude

Ben Loyal from the village of Tongue - waiting for my lift

The houses of Talmine nestle in the lee of the hill, sheltered from the westerlies

Looking out over Talmine Bay while waiting for the wheel to be changed

The Rabbit Islands 

Going for a sail in Talmine Bay

Finally, for those like me for whom the words “Time to go home” find a strong echo from their own or their children’s childhoods, here is today’s theme tune…

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Water, water everywhere

Sitting here in the far north of Scotland, waiting for Storm Gertrude and its severe gales to arrive tomorrow, and with yet more heavy rain already falling, I’m starting to feel slightly punch-drunk with the weather that has been thrown at the north and west of the UK in the last couple of months.

It all began back in the middle of November with Storm Abigail. Quite who in the Met Office had the bright idea of giving our storms names I don’t know, but at the present rate we’ll be through the alphabet in no time! Abigail was closely followed by Barney, both bringing very high winds and considerable disruption, then at the end of November Storm Clodagh arrived, with more damaging gales and very heavy rain.

It was Clodagh, in particular, that transformed the normally placid babbling brook at the edge of our garden

into a still small, but quite scarily fast-flowing torrent, capable of sweeping along quite large sections of tree

and caused the River Severn locally to rise to its second highest recorded level.

After a breathing space lasting less than a week, Storm Desmond brought unprecedented amounts of rain to north-west England and south-west Scotland in one horrendous weekend, with 341mm (almost 13.5 inches) of rain falling in 24 hours over the Honister Pass in Cumbria. All over Cumbria and northern Lancashire rivers burst their banks and towns and villages were flooded, while tens of thousands of homes lost power, some for up to three days.

Flooded church on the shore of Derwentwater - Saturday December 5th 2015

After such an experience people could surely have been forgiven for thinking that the weather could only improve, but not a bit of it. The gales brought by Storm Eva on Christmas Eve were closely followed by intensely heavy rain on Boxing Day which led to swift, severe and record-breaking flooding in parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire. To bring the wettest December on record to an end we had Storm Frank just before New Year, bringing further severe flooding to many parts of Scotland.

So far, so horrible, but this isn’t a weather blog, and to sound a more personal note our Christmas visit to DD and her family gave me a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an area prone to flooding. They live near Selby in the wide, flat Vale of York, a couple of miles outside the village of Cawood on the River Ouse. Some degree of flooding after heavy rain is quite common, as we saw on our New Year visit three years agoHowever this time the Boxing Day cloudburst made the situation much more threatening.

The next day being Sunday we had gone to church in the village (the church being very close to the river) and as soon as the service ended and the congregation began to leave, a very youthful-looking soldier came in and told us that they were warning people to move their possessions off the floor in case the water overtopped the flood defences. Everyone in church rallied round and carpets were rolled up and lifted, the piano was somehow manoeuvred up the step into the chancel and a couple of pieces of  particularly old and valued furniture were lifted up on top of the pews out of harm’s way.

When everything that could be moved had been moved, we came out of church to be greeted by a scene of intense and well-organised activity.  Soldiers and local inhabitants were working together to move large numbers of sandbags across the churchyard to raise the level of the flood defences between the church and the river by half a metre from 7.9 to 8.4 metres. 

Here come the sandbags

Working together

As it turned out their strenuous efforts were well justified, as the water level peaked a couple of days later at 8.2 metres!

Water lapping the top of the flood defences and still rising

Cawood with the church at the right and water cascading over the defences into fields at the top left.

Cawood bridge going nowhere. It has only just reopened a month later after repairs.

All Saints' Church, Cawood, with its feet almost in the water

As DH and I travelled home to Wales the next day, our radio listening was regularly interrupted by traffic announcements about flooded roads and cancelled rail services, which brought home to us how very disruptive such extreme weather can be to the everyday life of a great many people.

And now it is happening yet again. In Orkney all the schools will be closed tomorrow because of the severe gales expected. There will inevitably be wind and water damage and almost certainly more flooding in places and to add to the mix we are now being warned to expect snow in Scotland on Saturday! Winter has arrived in force and we are hunkering down…

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Heading north

As you may remember, our usual autumn visit to the glorious North-West Highlands had to be cancelled last year, so we have been starting to look forward to heading north again when spring arrived. In the meantime, having recovered from the round of family visits over the festive season, I was settling in nicely to a quiet winter at home when DH casually dropped a very small bombshell at bedtime last night.

On our way to bed we stopped to look out of the landing window at the frost already forming on roofs and road and it occurred to him that the little house on the north coast hadn’t been winterised as usual. Except for the odd night or two of frost it’s been an unusually mild winter so far, but of course there’s no guarantee that this will continue and the last thing we would want would be to arrive in spring to find that we’d had a burst pipe weeks or months ago.

Our frosty Welsh garden

It didn’t take us long this morning to decide that a trip north sounded like a good idea and since then I’ve spent the day turning the contents of the vegetable basket into soup for the freezer and generally getting ready for a spur-of-the-moment winter break for a couple of weeks.

My camera is packed, along with my new pride and joy, a Samsung tablet (my early 70th birthday present to myself). So I will be blogging from the north for a little while and hoping for some clear weather to capture again the beauty and wildness of that extraordinary landscape.  See you there…

Ben Loyal in the snow