Wednesday, February 24, 2016

First impressions

After months and even years of planning and anticipation, my trip with my sister to the battlefields of the Western Front proved to be a hugely interesting and deeply moving experience. After three packed days of visits, two of them in glorious sunshine and the third in the snow, we travelled back to the UK last Friday, tired but very content.

Next morning DH collected me and drove me home, with my head whirling with a kaleidoscope of impressions, my camera laden with almost 450 images, my suitcase full of laundry and my poor lungs feeling very sorry for themselves, thanks to a nasty chest infection which ambushed me and several other members of our party partway through the trip.

It’s taking me a while to recover, but I’ve finally dealt with the laundry, downloaded the photos and am just about thinking clearly enough to start to organise all my impressions and memories. Though it feels like I have enough material for a book rather than a few blog posts, at this stage I’m not even going to use words. In their place is a selection of images, which hopefully capture something of the essence of our trip - of cemeteries and memorials, of landscapes and the remnants of war that still scar them. The words will come later, when I can find the ones I need.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Five years on

It was a cold, grey day in February (no surprise there) and I was alone at home, high in the Welsh hills, DH being away on a visit to his mother. Being therefore without transport for two or three days, lots of lovely, empty time stretched out ahead of me and I wondered how best to use it. Spring-cleaningwhile I had the house to myself, was a must, but no-one can spring-clean all the time.

Knitting, of course, and reading my pile of library books, and a bit of TV watching, but what else? One of my favourite ways of online interaction back then, a small private forum, was temporarily offline, but of course there were always blogs to read and read them I did. But somehow I felt I should be doing more.

I had been reading blogs with huge enjoyment for some time and one or two bloggers had been gently encouraging when I wondered out loud whether I might one day do more than just read and comment. The absence of my forum friends spurred me on to a snap decision and within an amazingly short time one Sunday afternoon I’d set up an account with Blogger, registered a blog name, created a basic template and by the evening had written and published my first exploratory post

The five years since then have flown by, as my life has become ever richer and fuller with the growth of wonderful links and friendships with bloggers all over the world. We share ideas and interests, experiences and insights, joys and sorrows. The rate of posting waxes and wanes, as other aspects of life take over at times, but after five years and close to 300 posts, the sheer pleasure of blogging is still there and continues to bring me back to this most satisfying of activities. It looks like you’re all stuck with me for some time to come…

Image via Google

P.S. This post will be published while I’m on my way back from my Big Birthday trip, so there will be no replies until I’m home again. 

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
to 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 in the Ypres Salient 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…