Tuesday, 8 February 2022

A Platinum Jubilee

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Is all well?  I seem to be careering from one metaphorical punctuation mark to the next without taking time to sit down and read the whole paragraph and it's making me feel quite unsettled.  This time of year is all about birthdays in our family which is rather lovely, but we've also had two stress-inducing covid isolations and the hideous news of a terminal illness.  However, I am trying to be a glass-half-full kind of person so the good news is that there is plenty of supply teaching work for the Best Beloved so the coffers are filling and I might even be able to buy myself a new, hardback copy of Jane Eyre!

The news over the weekend was dominated by the revolving doors at 10 Downing Street but something significant happened on Sunday: the seventieth anniversary of our Queen's accession to the throne.  During my lifetime we have had ten Prime Ministers but only one Queen and no British monarch has reigned for as long as Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith (to give her her full title and yes, I did have to look it up).  Celebrations will come in June when, hopefully, the weather will be sunnier, warmer and drier than it is in February and anyway, I always feel a little bit sad for HM on this day because it is, after all, the anniversary of her father's death.  Here is the first paragraph of her message to the nation, published on Saturday:

Tomorrow, 6th February, marks the 70th anniversary of my Accession in 1952. It is a day that, even after 70 years, I still remember as much for the death of my father, King George VI, as for the start of my reign.

So, there was no great royalist celebration here on Sunday (or, perhaps, on any day) but I did ask my mother about her memories of 6th February 1952.

Ma was born and raised in London and was at primary school that day.  It was an ordinary Wednesday until just before lunchtime when the headmaster, Mr Kershaw, entered the classroom and told the children that the King was dead.  This was shocking news and after Ma had bolted down her lunch she ran home and relayed it to her parents; ordinarily, her father would have been at work but he had annual leave to use up and had taken a day off work so he was also at home to receive the news from his young daughter.  Isn't that funny, that he should have taken that particular day off?  Ma told me that her parents couldn't really believe it so they turned on the radio and heard the BBC announcement which confirmed that the King was indeed dead.  Although we now know that he had been ill for months with lung cancer, Ma says that the general public didn't know that at the time which was why the news came as such a shock. 

The King's body lay in the church at Sandringham until 11th February when the coffin travelled to London and was placed in Westminster Hall.  The King lay in state there for three days and my grandfather took Ma to pay their respects.  Apparently, at times that queue was four miles long because in all, more than 304,000 people passed through the Hall before the funeral on 15th February.    

There may be more family folklore to come later, perhaps next year, as both of my parents were on the London streets on Coronation Day in 1953 to watch Queen Elizabeth drive past in her golden carriage.  In the meantime, I raise my cup of tea to HM and thank her for seventy years of service.  If nothing else, she deserves admiration for enduring weekly meetings with those Prime Ministers and for wearing coats made heavy by the weights in their hems and hats with contraptions fitted inside to clamp them to her head and prevent them blowing off in the wind.  

I don't have any photographs of the Queen and her father to show you so instead I offer you this image of my mother with her father and younger sister, taken in the summer of 1952.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Yours Grumpily

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  It has been very cold here this week, not warmer than three degrees (oo-ooh, aa-aah, precious moments, as we sing in our house), not bright, sparkling, makes-you-smile cold but dull, murky, seeps-into-your-bones-and-makes-you-miserable cold, the kind of cold which slows me right down almost to the point of torpor.  Today the sun is shining which ordinarily would make me feel much more cheerful but in fact, today I am grumpy, VERY grumpy.

Earlier this month I found a second-hand copy of Jane Eyre in an online charity shop and I bought it.  I read a school copy of Jane Eyre when I was fourteen and last year I decided that I wanted to read it again as, being very familiar with the novels of Emily and Anne Bronte - which is no great accomplishment as there are only three of them - I felt uncomfortable about leaving Charlotte out and apart from that, Jane Eyre is a great novel with which any woman who considers herself to be "a reader" should be familiar.  I was truly tempted to buy a new copy, especially as The Crow Emporium published a beautiful, illustrated volume last year, but  in the end I followed my instincts and bought this copy instead.  It is a hardback, in good condition, lovely to hold in the hand and older than I am, and I polished my metaphorical halo at the thought that I had acted sustainably and supported a charity to the modest tune of £7.  I am enjoying reading it very much and yesterday I reached page 204.

An idea popped into my head yesterday afternoon: a couple of years ago my sister bought me a book written by Jennifer Barclay called "A Literary Feast, Recipes inspired by novels, poems and plays" and I thought it might be fun to marry up my novel with the appropriate recipe.  I turned to page 179 and found a passage in which Jane is served seed cake by Miss Temple, the superintendent at Lowood School.  Hmm.  Jane had left Lowood on page 70 of my edition and I did not recognise this passage.  I had a look online and discovered many references to the incident, which occurs in Chapter 8.  I scanned through Chapter 8 and there was no seed cake.  This morning I have reread the whole chapter and there is DEFINITELY NO SEED CAKE.  I have reached the conclusion that my edition is abridged, although that is not stated anywhere, and I am mightily disappointed.  I am a serious reader with a very rusty A Level in English Literature and I do not want to read an abridged version of Jane Eyre, I want to read exactly what Charlotte Bronte wrote.  Harrumph.  Have I made it clear enough that I am VERY grumpy?  

I shall carry on reading the book because I am enjoying it (and because I never leave a book unfinished) but I think that I shall have to buy another copy.  

Yours grumpily,

Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday, 17 January 2022

Happy Birthdays

Hello, and thank you for being here, I wasn't sure whether anyone would have stuck around and the fact that you have done has cheered me right up.  As promised, I am back for a witter.

Today is 17th January and I cannot let this date pass unmarked.  To begin with, Anne Bronte was born on this day in 1820.  I have read both of her novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and if you haven't read them, I wholeheartedly recommend Agnes Grey which, in my opinion, is the better novel.  Anne's work seems to be less well-known than that of her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, and I think she deserves better.

In 2010 I visited Scarborough with the Best Beloved and The Teacher.  We parked the car at St Mary's Church and as we were walking through the churchyard we came across Anne's grave.  I had no idea that she was buried there so it was a surprise and it felt very odd to just come across her in such a casual way.  Obviously I asked the Best Beloved to take a photograph.

I was pleased to see that somebody still cared enough about Anne to have laid flowers but saddened by the dilapidated state of her headstone.  I know that coastal weather can treat stone harshly but I felt that the grave of such an important writer should receive some special care.  Well, it seems that little can be done to conserve the headstone itself but in 2013 The Bronte Society had some work done which included the laying of a new plaque - if you are interested, you can read about it here.  

17th January is a rather special day in our family for other reasons.  My great grandmother, Martha Jane Stevens, was born on this day in 1871.  She died more than twenty years before I was born but I have known this photograph for almost as long as I can remember and I have a tablecloth which she worked with knitted lace around its edge; we use it at Christmas and as I unfold it and lay it on the table I think of her hands doing the same decades earlier.  Martha is pictured here in 1900 with my grandmother on her lap.

We have another family birthday today, too: The Mathematician has been celebrating in Guernsey while I have been wistfully remembering earlier birthdays: little girls in princess outfits, sausages on sticks and jelly, wintry weekends spent in cosy cottages, Saturday sleepovers with a houseful of excited teenagers.  Here she is on her fourteenth birthday which we spent in a cottage in North Wales at her request.

Happy Birthday to Anne, to Martha and to The Mathematician!

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday, 9 January 2022

I'm Back

Hello, Happy New Year and if you are celebrating Christmas this weekend, Happy Christmas.  I am truly sorry for my prolonged absence; I succumbed to the dreaded Covid-19 in September and although I was unwell for only days rather than weeks, it left me a few unwanted gifts when it departed.  These included a distorted sense of smell, overwhelming tiredness and a lack of mental clarity.  I have been woolly-headed for months due to a combination of this Covid gift and some new medication.  I didn't read a book for two months, I just couldn't concentrate on the words on the page, and although I have been reading blogs, I haven't felt able to conjure the words to either comment or to write here.  I didn't even have the energy to feel sad about that.

However, I feel much better now and intend to write here regularly.  I have missed this little space.  I am aware that blogging has largely fallen out of fashion but I have never been particularly fashionable (except for a while in the 1980s when I sported the most fabulous hair) so although I am tentatively dipping my toe into Instagram waters, this is my comfortable place.  Thank you for sticking with me.

I'd like to finish by showing you a photo which my daughter sent me earlier this week, just because I can't bear to leave without showing you a picture.  It was taken on the first really cold day of the year and shows her children wearing the mittens I knitted for them for Christmas.  This bright little pop of colour has lifted my spirits all week and I hope it makes you smile too.  

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday, 11 October 2021

Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2021

I bought our tickets for the Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2020 in December 2019, hovering over the keyboard as they went on sale and bagging them at the cheapest price - not that it's cheap at £167 for an adult weekend ticket with camping, but at least the tiny people's tickets are free so a four day break for five of us cost £501 with unlimited music, dancing and workshops and a full programme of activities for the children.  When the pandemic struck the Festival was cancelled and we decided that rather than seek a refund, we would roll the tickets over and use them this year.

It takes months to plan an event like this one so decisions had to be made in the spring when nobody could have foreseen what the covid situation would be at the end of August.  In May the Festival organisers let us know that the format would be different this year and gave us another opportunity to request a refund if we didn't want to use our tickets.  Firstly, all the artists would be British-based; secondly, there would be only three stages this year, two large and one small, and no marquees so everything would be in the open air and we would have to bring our own rugs or chairs.  This is a big change: usually there are three huge marquees as well as the small outdoor stage and seating is provided.  Thirdly, there would be no dance tent so all the dancing would be outdoors and there would be no Festival events in the town so no performances in pubs and no dance parade through the streets to the main square.  Fourthly, the children's festival events would also be in the open air.  We did consider asking for a refund at this stage because  of the unreliable nature of our weather - we didn't want to sit in a field in pouring rain, hail, freezing temperatures or a heatwave, all of which we have experienced at the Festival over our previous eleven visits - but we decided to go ahead, largely because we just felt desperate for some live music and a return to something resembling precovid normality.   We almost regretted that decision when the programmes landed on our doormat the weekend before the Festival and we saw how thin they were in comparison with previous years, so it was without my usual level of giddy excitement that we packed up the car at the end of August and headed off to our county showground.

My fears were unfounded.  The weather was kind, neither cold nor wet, and on the first evening we packed the tiny people into their wagon with blankets and pillows, picked up our chairs and walked to the stage field.  We had all been asked to take lateral flow tests within forty-eight hours of attending the Festival and to keep away if those tests were positive. People were sensible about maintaining a distance from others and as The Longest Johns sang and the sun (and the wine) went down, I knew that we had made the right decision.  We were with our tribe, I felt safe and my heart was singing as well as my voice; I knew that it was going to be all right.

And it really was all right, although the outdoor stages created a very different mood from the indoor stages we are used to at this festival.  I enjoyed the relaxed mood, the space around us which meant that we could easily wheel the children in, let them dance around and then fall asleep on our laps or in the wagon.  I met an inspirational woman named Regina, at least twenty years older than me and probably more, who explained to me how she used her chair to steady herself when she stood up and then danced with one hand on it to maintain her balance.  She had come to the Festival by herself and she told me that she had brought a tent for her toilet and was sleeping in her car.  I think that I want to be like Regina when I grow up.  On Saturday evening Show of Hands played a blinding set full of hopeful, positive songs, just what we needed  eighteen months into a scary pandemic, and when they sang about people who were fleeing Afghanistan in fear of their lives and asked us to shine a light to guide them to safety we all turned on the torches on our mobile 'phones and held them aloft without feeling at all self-conscious, and we meant it, even the Best Beloved!  On Sunday evening, the tiny people went to bed and The Teacher and I sat outside our tents as we listened to Seth Lakeman and watched the lights beam across the sky.  The Teacher commented that she always forgets just how much she likes Seth Lakeman until she hears Seth Lakeman.

Without the large marquees the site felt strange and I found it difficult to orientate myself but the food court (once I found it!) felt the same as ever and we ate some delicious treats in the sunshine.  Tom Kitten and Cottontail would like to recommend the ice cream and the Best Beloved would like to recommend the stuffed crepes.

There were far fewer dance teams than usual but no dancing in the town meant that there was more dancing on the showground and it was surprising and delightful to come across these teams and their bands unexpectedly while I was waiting for my cocktail walking through the site.  

The Festival was small this year and felt rather subdued.  I missed the buzz.  Many people said that they preferred the outdoor stages and that it felt more like a "proper festival" but they obviously weren't there when it rained (every year between 2009 and 2018) and we were glad of the protection of the marquees.  I really can't compare this year's event with previous years, it was such a different experience that it would be like trying to compare pears with oranges, and I like both.

This is a small post for a small Festival but before I finish I must show you one more photograph.  The Festival finishes on a Monday evening and we always stay over and leave just before midday on Tuesday.  Every year I take a photograph of the camping field as we leave, before the volunteers come in to litter pick and clear the site, showing exactly how the campers have left it.  I am hugely proud to be part of this community which comes together for a few days once a year and leaves the site almost without trace.  Folkies are tidy.

I am sorry that it has taken me so long to bring you this post. I'll be back soon to share my covid experience with you.

Take care.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Hello!  Thank you for your patience.  I spent August flitting here and there, unpacking and repacking my travel bag and catching up with family.  It was unsettling, tiring and wonderful all at the same time but blogging fell by the wayside.  I'm starting to catch up with your blogs now and I'll be back here very soon to share this year's Shrewsbury Folk Festival with you.  

Take care.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

A Hardy Holiday

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  Here in Shropshire the weather has been sweltering hot for the last five days and I am hiding indoors with all the windows open. The heat gave me less than five hours sleep last night and I am trying my best to be patient and cheerful but it's taking a great deal of effort.  I am grateful that we have not seen the torrential rain and floods which have devastated parts of Europe and I am thinking of those families who are grieving for their lost loved ones while we have been celebrating family birthdays.  (Cottontail is two, how the years have flown, three-quarters of her life spent under pandemic restrictions.)  I have also been remembering another sweltering July almost forty years ago.

In 2019 I bought some second-hand Thomas Hardy novels at the closing down sale of my favourite bookshop and reading them rekindled my interest in the man and his writing.  I read The Trumpet Major, The Woodlanders and The Return of the Native as well as Claire Tomalin's biography, "Thomas Hardy: the Time-torn Man", and realised that I don't own a copy of the first Hardy novel I ever read, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which I studied for A-Level English a long time ago.  One evening in April I went online shopping at Oxfam and found a very nice hardback copy and a few days later, it landed on my doorstep.  (Actually, that's not true, my very cheerful postman has designated a safe place in my backyard where he leaves parcels if nobody answers the door.  He has to pass through my neighbour's property to reach my backyard so it's just as well that we're all on very good terms with each other.)  Anyway, my very nice book arrived and was soon read for the first time since 1983.  

Goodness, I did love that book.  I must have had an English teacher who loved it too.  After all our exams were finished, my best friend and I packed up her tiny car, a Fiat 126, and set off to Dorset for a five-day Hardy holiday.  We camped in Charmouth, a lovely village by the sea in the west of the county.  I have delved into my wooden chest and brought out a disintegrating paper bag full of treasures gathered on that holiday so that I can share them with you.

We visited Higher Bockhampton, the hamlet where Thomas was born on 1st June 1840 in a cottage built by his grandfather.  We weren't allowed into the cottage so we stood outside and here's the photo my friend took, as pretty as the postcard and probably a lot prettier than it looked in 1840.

This postcard published by J. Salmon Ltd. of Sevenoaks.

I don't actually remember us visiting Dorchester but I think we must have done because Dorchester is the fictional Casterbridge in both The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd, which I read while I was on this holiday, so it would have been an important place in our pilgrimage...and I have these leaflets (Barbara, I am thinking of you here).  The Dorset County Museum holds a significant number of Thomas' artefacts and papers, including his desk in a recreation of his study.

I do remember our visit to Maiden Castle, an expansive Iron Age hill fort a couple of miles outside Dorchester which features in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd.  If you have read the book or seen any of the film or television versions you might recall the handsome Sergeant Troy flashing his sword around?  That scene happened at Maiden Castle.   

This postcard published by Judges Limited of Hastings.

The fictional village of Kingsbere is mentioned in both Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which I had read before we took this trip, so a visit to Bere Regis, its real counterpart, was a must.  The Turberville family became wealthy and influential here in the fourteenth century and their vault is in the Church of St John the Baptist.  I'm sure you can see the similarity between Turberville and d'Urberville and the church features in this novel.  In Chapter 52, Tess and her family have nowhere to stay and set their bed in the churchyard, against the wall of the church.

"Tess listlessly lent a hand, and in a quarter of an hour the old four-post bedstead was dissociated from the heap of goods, and erected under the south wall of the church, the part of the building know as the d'Urberville Aisle, beneath which the huge vaults lay. Over the tester of the bedstead was a beautiful traceried window, of many lights, its date being the fifteenth century. It was called the d'Urberville Window, and in the upper part could be discerned heraldic emblems like those on Durbeyfield's old seal and spoon."

This postcard published by Judges Limited of Hastings.

Adjoining Bere Regis is the parish of Wool.  Tess and Angel Clare spent their wedding night at Woolbridge Manor, renamed Wellbridge House in the novel, the home of the Turbervilles, some of whom are buried at The Church of the Holy Rood.  

Thomas Hardy died at his home, Max Gate, near Dorchester, on 11th January 1928.  He wished to be buried in the churchyard at Stinsford where his grandparents, parents, sister and first wife, Emma, already lay but his friend and literary executor, Sydney Cockerell, felt that he should instead be buried in Westminster Abbey because he "belonged to the nation" and persuaded Thomas' family to agree.  The Abbey insisted that it could not inter Thomas beneath the floor but said that if he were cremated, they would be able to accommodate a small urn containing his ashes.  The vicar of Stinsford suggested to the family that Thomas' heart could be cut out and buried in his churchyard before the cremation and on 13th January a doctor, surgeon and nurse went to Max Gate and performed that operation.  The rest of Thomas Hardy was cremated the following day and both funeral ceremonies took place on 17th January, one in sunny Dorset and the other in rainy London.  So my pilgrimage ended at St Michael's Church in Stinsford, less than two miles from Higher Bockhampton.

This postcard published by J. Salmon Ltd. of Sevenoaks.

West Dorset really is lovely and we visited other places too, spending time on the beach and at Barney's Fossil and Country Life Experience in Charmouth and visiting Durdle Dor and Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens.  I considered showing you some of those photographs but decided against it because the main focus of the holiday was our Hardy Pilgrimage.  We also went to Wyke Regis and paid a surprise call on my aunt and uncle who kept a pub there.  I returned to Charmouth for a holiday with my family twenty-six years later and I telephoned my aunt and suggested we meet up. She asked where I was staying and when I replied she said, "You've stayed there before."  I think it might be time for another visit, and perhaps another Hardy novel.

See you soon, and do take care.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x