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

Sunday, 11 July 2021

A 1995 Weekend with the England Men's Football Team

Hello, thank you for popping in.  We're getting excited here about the Euro 2020 final this evening - I'd really like to be in my cousin's house because her husband is Italian and whatever the result, there will be a celebration!  I keep telling the Best Beloved that football is "only a game" but he doesn't believe me. 

In June 1995 my youngest sister got married and the day before the wedding we discovered that the England men's football team were staying in the same hotel while they were participating in a friendly international tournament at Wembley.  I wanted to share some of the stories from that weekend here so yesterday, I asked my family to send me their memories.  I'll begin with one of mine: we arrived at the hotel in the morning and it became apparent that the staff were so busy dancing attendance on the footballers that they were overlooking their other guests.  I ordered a pot of tea and had to wait for forty minutes before it appeared.  As my name means "grumpy until I have a cup of tea" this was tricky, even more so as I was ten weeks pregnant, full of hormones and had just spent almost three hours travelling so I really needed that soothing pot of tea and forty minutes felt like four days.

I was walking through the hotel with my sister, mother and grandmother, who was 83 years old and walked slowly and uneasily, when David James walked out of the gym and started following us.  When we reached the bottom of the stairs, three of us stood back to allow the sprightly Mr James to go up ahead of us as my grandmother's pace was so very slow but she was oblivious and began climbing them anyway.  Mr James was an absolute gentleman, he ushered us up behind her and brought up the rear at our snail's pace, waiving away our apologies.  I loved him for that and have held a fondness for him ever since.

One of my sisters took my 6 year-old daughter to the hotel's swimming pool and saw a young chap in the weights room as they walked past.  The Best Beloved joined them a little later, VERY excited because he had just seen Alan Shearer in the weights room.  "Who's he?" asked my sister.  After their swim, the Best Beloved went into the male changing room and found most of the team in there, half-naked, and was enjoying chatting with them until he realised that our daughter had followed her daddy in there.  He sent her out to join her aunt and carried on chatting.

Lots of our stories happened in the evening, after the ceremony and the wedding breakfast, when the team and their managers appeared in the hotel bar.  Some people were a bit starstruck and Terry Venables (Team Coach) and Bryan Robson (Assistant Coach) were gracious in signing autographs and having photographs taken but there were security staff there to ensure that we didn't take any photographs of the players, so this photograph of a card game shows only my sister and my cousin and omits the other players, David James (you can see his legs!), Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman, but her signed order of service proves that they were there. 


The page boy was ushered up to Bryan Robson by his grown-ups and held out his new football for an autograph.  "What's your name, son?" asked Mr Robson.  "Luke," mouthed the child as no sound came out of his mouth.  He was completely overawed.  The lovely Mr Robson signed the ball and then took it away so that the whole team could sign it, too.  The bride and groom later varnished that ball to preserve the signatures.  My 19 year-old cousin also wanted a signed football and about a fortnight later he received one in the post, also signed by the whole team.

During the evening the bride and groom quietly took themselves outside for a walk in the hotel gardens and some peace and quiet.  While they took a turn around the lawn, Paul Gascoigne joined them and chatted to them about the bad press he was receiving.  A minder followed them the whole time.  My sister recalls that Gazza was "sober and very pleasant" and when he congratulated the newlyweds, he shook the groom's hand, kissed the bride's cheek and asked them to ensure that the party didn't go on too late or too loud!  Gazza also had a quick, friendly word with my 85 year-old grandfather, a lifelong football fan, and made his day.

The team had a coach to transport them to and from Wembley and my daughter and the page boy were very excited to be invited onto it.  They were each given a chocolate bar from the fridge and a copy of the team's new official magazine, called "ENGLAND".  My sister couldn't resist the opportunity to sit in the driver's seat.

Our most memorable story involves Bryan Robson (again).  Here he is with two of my sisters and me, wearing a t-shirt bearing the name of the tournament sponsors.  

Later, he was bare-chested in the bar so I asked him what had happened and he replied that my aunt had his t-shirt!  She still has it - she sent me this photo yesterday.  

And I still have the ENGLAND magazine.

Understandably, I think my bridal sister was a bit disappointed when she learned that the England football team would be staying in the hotel for the weekend of her wedding because with so many football fans in the family, she was worried that they might be more interested in the team than in the wedding. However, twenty-six years later, although we have our stories and our souvenirs, when we think of that weekend and recall the anecdotes, we always refer to it as her wedding weekend and thoughts of her and her husband are always at the forefront of my mind.  She still has him, too.

The morning after the wedding the football team was training on the hotel lawn and one of my sisters leaned out of her bedroom window and took this photo (please don't tell anyone, it was strictly against the rules and we might get into terrible trouble!).  That afternoon, they boarded their coach, found two chocolate bars missing from the fridge and went to Wembley where Brazil beat them 3-1.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x





Tuesday, 6 July 2021

The Sock That Didn't Want To Be Knitted

Hello, thank you for popping in to read my musings.  I was away again over the weekend, staying with family in Wales and being well and truly looked after.  My diary is beginning to fill up - actually, it's not, there are only eight events planned betweeen now and the end of August but after so many months of staying at home that feels busy and it's making me feel a bit anxious.  I shall have to pull up my big girl pants (Kay, that's knickers, not trousers!) and be brave.  In the meantime, there will be some soothing domesticity at home to keep me grounded. 

So here is the tale of a sock which didn't want to be knitted.  I knitted the first one without any problems at all but as my needles were weaving the yarn and the sock grew I realised that it was a long pattern repeat and that matching up the yarn for the second sock might be difficult.  I do like socks to match each other, although I know that some people are not as bothered as I am if they don't, and even though these socks were a gift for somebody else I needed them to be identical twins.  Had I known how difficult this would be with this yarn I wouldn't have bought it, although I love this colour and I am almost (but not quite!) wishing that I had bought some more of it for myself.  This is Drops Fabel 672 and the colour is called Bourgogne.

Having finished the first sock, I started winding yarn off the second ball until I reached the place where the colour matched the first and I could begin.  I wound and I wound and I kept on winding.  The colour change was subtle and I couldn't be sure of the exact point at which to stop.  Eventually I found it, at least I thought I had, and I cast on.  After knitting sixteen rounds of the cuff I realised that I had not found the right point so I pulled out my needles, undid all my work and began winding off more yarn until I found what I thought was the right place to cast on again.  This time I had found the exact point and as the leg emerged it matched the first sock beautifully.  Hooray!  

Everything was going well until my yarn became tangled up so tightly that I had to cut it.  That wasn't really a great problem as I made a beautiful, invisible Russian join and spliced the two ends together...except that I joined the ball of yarn to the tail at the top of the cuff instead of the working end!  Grrr.  I cut the yarn again and made another invisible join, this time using the right ends.  Off I went again, around and around the needles.

I finished the leg and began to knit the heel flap over thirty stitches.  I made a serious mistake at this point: I did this while I was at my daughter's house and after knitting six rows I set the sock aside and went upstairs to read her children a bedtime story.  I really should have known better.  When I came downstairs and picked up the needles again there were only twenty-nine stitches!  I counted several times, in horror, in the hope that my counting spell would cause the missing stitch to reappear but alas, there really were only twenty-nine stitches and I couldn't work out where the missing one had gone.  There was nothing for it, I had to pull out the needle, take back those six rows and start again.  Harrumph!   This time I ensured that I was at home, by myself, with no distractions as I counted every stitch, and after thirty-five rows I still had thirty stitches.  Phew!  However, it was apparent that the pattern on this knitted heel flap did not match the pattern on the first sock; I must have knitted one row short on the leg and although it didn't show up when I finished it, knitting the heel flap over only half the stitches made the difference glaringly obvious.  Again, there was nothing for it, I had to pull out the needle, frog those beautiful thirty-five rows and knit one more row on the leg of the sock.  I was, to put it mildly, quite frustrated!  The third time I knitted that heel flap, at home, by myself, with no distractions, I was successful but I was beginning to curse the sock.

Once the heel flap is complete I always feel that I am on the home straight with a sock, unless it needs to fit a very large foot, in which case I have sometimes been on the verge of losing the will to live, and I was able to complete that sock without any further mishaps.  The pair of identical twins were duly wrapped and posted off to Scotland, where the weather allows woollen socks to be worn for many months of the year, and their new owner reported that they were a perfect fit and she was beyond delighted.  I think that makes all the splicing, frogging and reknitting worth it - but only just!

  

Some of you may have struggled with some of the terms I have used in this post, and I have never met a non-knitter who knew that socks have gussets!

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Craftivism

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  I had the most wonderful weekend: I went to a family party, held to celebrate the 21st birthday of a nephew.  A carefully managed invitation list meant that we fell just within the thirty person limit on garden gathering numbers and double vaccinations meant that there was a lot of hugging.  It was wonderful to be together again for the first time in more than eighteen months but there was also sadness as we were not all together: The Mathematician is still stuck on Guernsey and watching my sisters and cousins with all their children around them emphasised the black hole in my family.   Also missing were a significant aunt and uncle, kept away from the rest of us by illness, the elephant in the garden.  Apart from those absences, there was everything I love about our family gatherings:  lovely chat, reminiscence, music, singing, great food, plenty of fizz and a super duper cake.  I have been basking in a warm glow ever since, but it's time to come back down to earth.

"Craftivism" is a word I heard for the first time only a few months ago when I watched a documentary fronted by Jenny Eclair.  (I have a great soft spot for Jenny Eclair because before she became famous she came to my college and performed in the student union bar.  I had never seen a female comedian before and I had never found any comedian so funny before.  I completely connected and it was a revelation.)  Craftivism is a portmanteau of the words "craft" and "activism" and it's a form of gentle protest in which craft skills are used to advance social causes.  I have some basic craft skills and I always wanted to change the world so the documentary was right up my street.  Afterwards, I searched around the internet and found this website and its social media pages and I began to get a bit excited.

A couple of weeks ago we landed in Cervical Cancer Awareness Week.  Smear tests can prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing but UK attendance rates are lower than they have been for more than twenty years and the campaign aims to address that and encourage women to book and attend tests.  Apparently, some women don't attend tests because they feel that they are not sufficiently "well-groomed" and the We Are All Smear Ready campaign addresses that myth in an attempt to overcome barriers caused by embarrassment and negative body image.  The campaign invites people to craft tiny pairs of pants and leave them in public places with an information label - at least, that's what has happened in the past, but for the last couple of years the craftivists have been asked to simply photograph their tiny pants and labels and share them on social media.  I decided that if Jenny Eclair could do it, so could I.

Cath Kidston (the company, not the person) sent me a letter a fortnight ago printed on very pretty paper which I immediately realised would make some lovely tiny pants and even better, the envelope was similarly patterned but its other side was red.  

Armed with a template, scissors and glue I watched a Facebook makealong at the beginning of Cervical Cancer Awareness Week and fashioned that pretty paper into several tiny pairs of pants, decorating each pair with some lace and a teeny, tiny bow.  They were so pretty that I wished they were real pants that I could wear.  


The following day I went out to meet some friends at a tea room with my tiny pants and a label in my bag.  At an appropriate moment I took my bag into the ladies' loo, trying very hard to look nonchalant.  I had intended to stick my handiwork onto the inside of the cubicle door, thinking that it would be the perfect place as women always sit down and look at the door when we are in a cubicle, but the door was made of wood and very beautiful and I was worried that my sticky tape would spoil its lovely surface so instead, I stuck it on the tiles (easily wiped) next to the mirror.  Luckily there was nobody else around so I was able to take my photo carefully before sauntering out of the door in a casual manner as if everything were perfectly normal and I hadn't just performed my first act of guerilla craftivism.  Inside, I was flying and I felt tremendously liberated. Go me!  I really did feel as if I should have been wearing sunglasses, a large, floppy hat and a turned-up collar.  I fully expected the staff to remove my tiny pants at the end of the day but if one person saw it before that happened, it was worth it (although I feel a tiny bit sad at the thought of those beautiful, tiny paper pants being thrown away).  Later that day I posted my photo on Instagram and another on Facebook and I know that people have seen them.  I did it, I raised awareness and I am a craftivist!



Craftivism: Making A Difference is still available on the BBC iPlayer if you'd like to know more. I'm working on my next project.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x  

Friday, 25 June 2021

On Midsummer Day

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Is all well?  Yesterday was the first day this month that I failed to get outside to commune with nature but while I was indoors I read some of A Midsummer Night's Dream - after all, it was Midsummer Day - and I reckon that counts because of all its references to plants.  Here's a rather lovely quote:

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough briar,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moone’s sphere;
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green:
The cowslip tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats, spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

It's rather lovely, isn't it?  The next time you see a cowslip, have a look inside the yellow flowers and you will find those rubies, and while I'm on the subject, if you look inside the flowers of a white deadnettle you will find the golden dancing slippers which the fairies wear to balls.  Honestly, you will.  Please don't say that you don't believe in fairies because if you do...well, if you are familiar with Peter Pan, you know what will happen!


See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday, 21 June 2021

Summer Has Arrived

Hello, thank you for calling in and thank you for the kind comments left on my last post.  I am slowly catching up with your blogs.  The weather here has improved and June is turning out to be much drier, warmer and sunnier than May.  We were forecast rain on Wednesday and it finally arrived on Saturday evening, very light rather than the expected storms, but persistent and the ground was wet when we woke up on Sunday.  The garden is grateful. I have kept up my intention of spending some time outdoors every day and every buzzing bee and trilling bird has been a delight.  During one exciting day I saw both a skylark and a red kite!  I have never seen a skylark before but the Best Beloved says that the song of a skylark is the sound of his childhood springs and early summers so I identified the distinctive sound easily after watching the bird rise over the field and flutter its wings furiously as it hovered.  I was also very happy to hear that the swifts are back - I always hear them before I look up to see them and I know that summer is almost here when I do.  




For the first time in several years we have foxgloves in the garden and the bumble bees are thrilled.  They had to wait longer than usual for the geraniums and weigela they love to flower this year, presumably because of the cold weather in April and May, and for the first time ever the mock orange blossom is flowering at the same time as the weigela so the garden looks different, as if she is wearing all her best clothes at the same time.  Its scent almost knocks me out in the evenings, I think the philadelphus is my favourite June flower.


So here we are on 21st June, the longest day of the year, and I set the alarm early so that I could watch the summer solstice sunrise.  The temperature was eight degrees and I noticed that there was a touch of frost on the cars as I sat on the front doorstep and listened to the dawn chorus which was almost deafening, although the only bird I saw was a crow which flew down the street.  In the distance, a cockerel was crowing, greeting the summer.  

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Tuesday, 8 June 2021

30 Days Wild - Week One

Hello!  I didn't mean to stay away for so long but May got on top of me and I retreated.  However, I have come home from a half term camping trip feeling relaxed, revived and ready to face the world again. 











I have decided to have another go at 30 Days Wild, the annual campaign run by The Wildlife Trusts which encourages us to do one wild thing each day during the month of June.  I have participated in this before but never completed it, rain usually defeating me, but so far, it's going well.  This year, 123,129 people have registered with the campaign, doing something to put themselves in touch with the natural world every day.

We were camping on The Lizard in Cornwall last week which made it easy.  The campsite is rural with lovely mature trees and hedgerows, reached at the end of a mile-long, single-track lane through the Gwendreath Valley.  Each morning I awoke to clamouring birdsong and stepped outside the tent, barefoot, onto grass which was still wet with dew.  I watched the daisies open out their petals as the morning sun touched them.  One morning, an unfamiliar butterfly landed on my t-shirt and sat there for a while (I think it was a fritillary but I don't know which one).  One evening I spent quite a long time examining the lichens on the trees around our pitch.  At night, an owl hooted.   Campers are very aware of the weather and on the hot, sunny days we went to the beach, watched the light change over the water, lay in the warmth of the sun and listened to the rhythm of the waves as they landed on the shore.  I paddled in the shallows of cool, clear water and poked about in rock pools.  On the day the sun didn't shine, we noticed the mist over the water and watched it thin out.  I spent some mindful minutes contemplating all this every day, although most of the time I simply enjoyed it.

Returning home, my acts of wildness require more effort.  On Day 6 I visited my friend in the local hospice and stepped outside when staff needed to attend to her.  The garden is beautifully planted in a cottage style and I sat and watched great tits and dunnocks on the bird feeders while a grey squirrel scampered around on the ground, picking up the dropped seeds.  Now that I have no cats, perhaps I will set up a bird feeding station?  I didn't want to do it before because it didn't seem fair.  On Day 7 I met with two other friends in a garden.  As we drank tea and listened to the birdsong I told them about 30 Days Wild and one of them slipped off her shoes to feel the grass beneath her feet. 

These acts of wildness don't need to be grand.  I couldn't go to a beach today but I could take a mug of tea into my garden, listen to the birds, watch the bees and think about my relationship with the natural world.  I could sit down, slip off my shoes and read a book.  If it rains tomorrow, I could sit in the summerhouse with the doors open, listen to the raindrops and smell the petrichor.  It's all about connexion.

See you soon.  Take care and stay safe.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x