Friday 24 July 2015

Five On Friday

Hello, thank you for calling in, especially if you have arrived here via Amy at Love Made My HomeIf you've managed to find me all by yourself, you might want to hop over to Amy's blog and see who else is joining in today.
I love, love, LOVE camping - not wild camping, oh no, my bottom line is flushing toilets and hot showers,  but I do love a summertime back-to-almost-basics trip with no electric hook-up, no on-site entertainment and plenty of surrounding countryside/coastline.  I think this is probably down to my father,  a very keen Boy Scout in his day, as when I was a child in the 1970s, summer picnics were spent in lonely places where he would find some sticks and build a fire for us to sit around and if it rained, he would use long sticks and a groundsheet to build a shelter for us to huddle under.  We loved it.  As soon as I joined the Girl Guides (I think that's Girl Scouts if you are in the USA) I was off camping for weekends, learning to build my own fires, lashing sticks together to make tripods to hold washing-up bowls and sleeping under canvas and I soon earned my Camper and Backwoodsman badges.  It was great - except for the latrines, hence my insistence on proper, flushing toilets.
When I was eighteen, my best friend and I celebrated the end of our A-level exams with a camping holiday in Dorset which, being rather literary girls, revolved around the places associated with the life and works of Thomas Hardy.  No Mediterranean sunbathing and drinking for us.
When The Teacher was nine years old she asked her grandparents to buy her a tent for her birthday.  They thought she wanted a play tent but it turned out that she wanted a tent for family camping!  They generously obliged and we have been enjoying camping holidays ever since.  Along the way we have learnt things, acquired things and discarded things and so today, I would like to share with you five things which are essential to my camping happiness.
1.  A Camping List
There is a lot of equipment and paraphernalia to remember when packing for a trip so we have a list saved on our computer and come the morning, we print it out and tick items off as we pack them.  It makes the job run much more quickly and smoothly for us as we don't have to spend any time remembering what we need and many hands make light work as we can all get involved.  Mallets?  Tick.  Six clothes pegs?  Tick. 
2.  A Good Table
This is my camping table -

What's so good about it?  Well, firstly, it folds flat, so it's easy to transport.  Secondly, it's round, so nobody has to get stuck with legs or corners - this is 80cm in diameter and six of us can sit round it easily.  Thirdly, it has a heatproof surface, so I can lift pans off the cooker and put them straight onto the table to dish up.  This is an absolute boon as surface space is hard to come by in a tent!

3. A Teapot

Now then, Earl Grey tea is my tipple of choice and I ALWAYS make it in a teapot, even if it's just for me.  I know that most people just pour boiling water onto a teabag in a mug but Earl Grey needs to brew for five minutes and I don't like the film which develops on top of the tea in that time, hence my need for a teapot.  I bought this one for £5 in Asda five years ago, it's made of metal so it won't break, it's lined (maybe even insulated?) and it's just the right size.  It lives with the camping gear and comes with us on every trip.  And where on earth would I brew the tea if I didn't have the table to put the teapot on?!

4. A Comfortable Bed

When I was a Girl Guide I slept in a sleeping bag on top of a groundsheet, using my folded clothes as a pillow.  With a torch, a book, a gaggle of giggly girls and a midnight feast I was in my element, it was fab.  Now, I need my creature comforts and nothing makes me more miserable than an uncomfortable, sleepless night spent shivering with cold.  So, we have an airbed, a large, double sleeping bag and our memory foam pillows dressed in proper pillowcases. On top goes a heavy cotton throw, it's not as bulky to pack as a blanket and it makes a massive difference.  Snug as a bug in a rug, the only thing which lures me out in the morning is...a mug of Earl Grey!

5.  Woollen Socks

Picture the scene, if you will: it's a hot summer day in the British summertime and you have spent the day wearing shorts and a T-shirt, plastered in suncream, drinking ice-cold drinks and desperately seeking shade.  The sun goes down, the temperature plummets and you find yourself shivering and wondering why you didn't bring a fleece.  Such a day was last Sunday, but I was not caught out, oh no, I was prepared.  Well, what else would you expect from a former Girl Guide?  As well as a fleece, I had packed a cotton scarf and wrist warmers.  Most importantly, I had packed warm socks because as long as your feet feel cold, the rest of you cannot feel warm.  There have been very few camping nights when I haven't needed to wear socks, I have some thermal ones but these, 75% wool, are equally good.  And in case you are wondering, yes, I did knit them.  Before I knitted my first pair of socks I read that once you have worn handknitted, woollen socks, you can't go back.  It's true.

There you are, five things which make for a happy camper.  I asked the Best Beloved what his five would be and he said, "Good bedding, a table, a chair, wine and good company," which made me feel somewhat abashed: how selfish of me to favour socks over the company of my family and friends.  But they are very good socks...

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Tuesday 21 July 2015

School's Out For Summer

Hello hello, thank you for calling in.  I am exhausted after a couple of days away camping with my favourite people to celebrate a birthday, a wedding anniversary and the start of the school summer holidays here in Shropshire.  Although our children are no longer of school age, the Best Beloved and The Teacher are both, well, teachers and so our lives are still tied to the rhythm of the school year. 
We didn't go far away, just here to The Green in the Onny Valley in South Shropshire.  We have been coming to this site for sixteen years and it's our go-to campsite for a night or two away.  It's a beautiful, well-maintained site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, very importantly, it has a large block of proper loos and hot showers!  Do you fancy a look at the site?  Here you are -
Behind those trees flows the River East Onny, shallow enough here for children to play in -


And play they did - the jelly shoes and fishing net belong to The Mathematician, aged nineteen!
 The water is very clear, but she didn't catch any fish.  I did, though...with my camera!
 I caught some other creatures, too: a Comma...
...and this chap, who's going to be a Peacock when he grows up -
Here are a couple of views from the site (with obligatory sheep) -
As you can see, it's very green and very lovely.  There is no on-site entertainment, just a small playground for children, fifteen acres of space and the river, but there is a pub next door, which our young people visited, and another up the hill in the centre of the village.  We didn't leave the site for two days and felt ourselves gradually unwinding in the  sunshine with books, newspapers, bats and a ball, racquets and a shuttlecock, a Frisbee and the happy sounds made by children playing.  FABULOUS.  I can't help myself, I'll have to show you another picture of the River East Onny (The Mathematician took this one) -

I had a precious "moment" on Saturday evening: I was inside the tent, cooking our dinner, while the others were sat around the table outside, chatting together and laughing in the sunshine.  As I listened to them I realised that I felt utterly content, just at that moment, in a beautiful place, in beautiful weather, with my beautiful girls and their boys, and my Best Beloved, and that they were all together, enjoying themselves.  There was no sign of tension or stress, just freedom and happiness and love.  I shall tuck that moment away and treasure it.

So I shall leave you with a couple of pictures of the sky.  There is a lot of sky here in this place which fills me with awe and wonder -

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Tuesday 7 July 2015

From Farmboy To Fusilier, 1880s

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  After a week of summer it's raining again - at least we don't need to water the garden.  Every cloud has a silver lining and all that.
Thank you for the kind comments you left on my posts last weekend - I read and treasure every one (especially the ones which agreed that I was cute!). Today it is time for my monthly family history post - if you are new here, I post an ancestral tale once a month.  I am so enthusiastic about my family history that I could post about it every day, but you might not be as keen as I am so I restrain myself, with difficulty!  My lineage is not grand or famous but to me, it is fascinating because our lives are so different from theirs and, I suppose, I wouldn't be here if it were not for them.  To be honest, I had a cracking tale of 19th century fraud lined up for this month but after last month's sad story, which you can read here, and May's sad story, which you can read here, one of my friends asked if we could have a happier tale this month.  That's not as easy as it sounds when your ancestors were poor, but I have done my best...
John McKeon, let’s call him Jack, was born in Ireland in the early 1860s.  We don’t know exactly when because civil registration did not begin in Ireland until 1864 and there is no record of his birth so we can only assume that he was born before then, and the church records are incomplete, but it’s probably safe to assume that he was born in about 1863.  His parents were John and Catherine, he was probably the eldest of their eight sons – Patrick, Edward, Paul, Andrew, Hugh, James and Martin were his brothers - and they lived on a small farm of 27 acres at Cloonfad More near the town of Hillstreet in County Roscommon. 

I know very little about Jack’s early life other than that his mother died before he was thirteen years old, but in January 1882 he joined the British Army, enlisting in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.  He claimed to be exactly nineteen years old (but we don’t know if that was true) and the enlistment sheet shows that he had a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair.  The sheet also records that his physique was equivalent to that of a man of nineteen years and if you consider that he was 5’6” tall and weighed 131lb (that’s 9 stone 5 pounds if you are British) it tells you something about the size of the average young Irishman in 1882.  While he was in the army Jack grew taller and put on some weight, which was probably a testament to the diet.
Jack was promoted to Corporal thirteen months after enlistment and again to Sergeant six months after that.  In January 1884, the regiment sailed to Gibraltar and one year later, on 28th January 1885, the young sergeant wrote this letter home to his brother Pat –
North Front Gibraltar
28th January 1885
Dear Pat,
Your letter of 9th came to hand all right and in due time.  It is not necessary for me to go into details to explain the satisfaction which it brought me.  I have nothing strange to say this time living as usual and likely to continue so.  I had a letter from Jamesy yesterday written in the same half-foolish sort of a way which of course he thought was par Excellence.  He says all the Co. Leitrim party will soon die, that he does have great sport over in Kilbride at dances, that he brings Pat Kilbery the Fluteplayer , Peter’s Bay with him.  They are a nice pair of boys when they are together especially when they are beating across the bogs to see the Kilbride girls.  What sport.
 I have some reason to believe that as you say, Bedelia will never carry out her designs of emigrating.  I think she is only “fitting it on” in order to try and knock numerous perquisites from you and I.  This is my final opinion on the whole affair what do you think.  There is nothing further or contrary regarding our shift from Gibraltar to a home station although it is still very much talked of among the whole of the parties whom it concerns.  But I have a strong opinion that we will go home very shortly.  And I hope we do.
Jamesy says the old chap looks very and works away finely.  He is getting young begorra I  wonder does he drink so heavy as ever.  I suppose not.  I think if Bedelia would act in conformity to the rules of obedience things would go on to perfection.  I have failed to find out how Hughy is doing at school, I do not think he is doing the best. I suppose by this time you have written a long and a strong letter to Andy strive and do your best to bring him home.  I will do my part as far as I can understand he would as soon be in the army as out of it because he drinks and can get enough of it and nothing to do and soldiers in general does and loves to lead this sort of life.  They do not care how the world goes if they get porter to drink and I think Andy is a real specimen of what I picture an unfortunate soldier to be.  If he was desirous of getting on all right and of pushing forward he would be well above the Rank and file years ago and in this Regiment.  In fact if he was a good character even, and a man of his Education he would be obliged to take promotion and not to thank him.
For the last month I have been pretty busy up to now.  I have completed my Annual Course of Musketry last week and a General’s Inspection going on today and tomorrow so after tomorrow I will have very easy times of it again.  Nothing strange here.  If I go home in April I will get a furlough of two months in the summer it will be splendid.
 Nothing more this time.
I remain yours,
J. McK Sergt.
That’s nice, isn’t it?  I bit of chitchat about the family, nothing much for a soldier to do, looking forward to the regiment being posted home soon and two months off in the summer.  How wrong he was.  Look at the date: 28th January 1885.  Two days earlier in Sudan, Khartoum had fallen to the Mahdist forces and General Gordon, the British Governor-General, had been killed.

Do you know about the Sudan Campaign?  I must admit that until I began reading about it for this post my only knowledge was the 1966 film Khartoum which starred Charlton Heston as General Gordon.  You can read about it here but in short, the British government supported the Turkish-Eyptian administration which ruled Sudan in the 1880s and so when the Sudanese people revolted against the administration, the British army was mobilised.  The Sudanese were led by Muhammad Ahmad, who had proclaimed himself the Mahdi, the promised redeemer of the Islamic world, and so this conflict is also known as the Mahdist War.  Still with me?  Thank you!  Actually, that is another lovely reason why I research my family history - it increases my knowledge of all sorts of other areas.

So, on 27th February Jack’s regiment sailed to Alexandria in Egypt and shortly afterwards, he wrote this letter to Pat –
Ramseh Camp Alexandria
Tuesday 11 March 85
Dear Pat,
I suppose that these days you are anxiously awaiting a letter from me and watching the daily prints of any strange news from the front is published.  Well I am a good way from the seat of war even still.  But I do not know how long I am going to remain here.  I am 6 miles outside the city under canvas at present.  Well I will not write at much length this time.  I had a splendid voyage out from Gib. and Alexandria is a beautiful city notwithstanding the injuries it received at the Bombardment in ’82.  Our camp is situated on a field where a battle was fought in ’82 against Arabi Pasha.  The graves are to be seen and numerous human bones are scattered about the field being rooted up by the dogs.  
The country is very nice and some very rich land about.  Duty is very light here.  It is not very hot.  The people are very curious in their customs and manners.  You could not find one in a hundred wearing a trousers men and women dress alike.  The women have their faces covered that is the only way a stranger could distinguish them.  There is a rumour about to say that we are getting a draft of 80 men from Ceylon whether it is true or not. 
I would have written on Sunday only I found that a letter posted on Wednesday will go as soon as if on Sunday and that mail will fetch it to you in 5 days.  So you will have this sooner than you think. 
I am writing to Jamesy by the same mail.  I will send you a long letter next time and give you an account of many things.  Write soon and you ought to have a good lot of news for me now including home news.  I am pushed for notepaper and my writing desk is the ground so that accounts for my poor scribbling. 
We disembarked on Saturday last.

See how his tone changed over those few weeks?  I imagine that seeing the dogs rooting up the corpses not three years old must have been a bit grim, brought home a few truths.  And note how this Irish farm boy told his brother about the very nice country and the rich land.  I don’t suppose it looked a bit like County Roscommon!  The good news is that the 1st Battalion did arrive from Ceylon and that Jack survived the battle.  A year later, the regiment was posted to the East Indies.

There is more to tell about Jack – his marriage, his Boer War experiences, his eventual retirement from the army, but I shall save those stories for another time.  I can also tell you about his brother Andy, the “unfortunate soldier”, there’s a fascinating letter there, now in a museum in Montana, and a little about James and about Pat; Bedelia too, even though I don’t really know who she was!  And how am I able to tell you these stories?  When Pat died in 1944, the letters were returned to Jack’s next-of-kin, his daughter, Alice, who tucked them away in her bureau.  When Alice died her daughter inherited the bureau but I don’t think she went through its contents, it just sat in her living room until she died, when her sister went through it and found the letters.  Then they were passed to me, the family historian, for copying, transcription and safekeeping.  I am going to leave you with this photograph of Jack, taken about twenty-five years later. This jacket was red, how fine he looked...
You see, Jack was my great-grandfather.  Dark hair, like my own, hazel eyes, like my own...I carry his Irish genes.  (Actually, the women in my family are all really good talkers and the Best Beloved calls that our “Irish gene”!) 
See you soon. 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday 5 July 2015

4th February 1959

Hello, thank you for calling in.  As in many other places in the UK, it seems that summer has properly arrived in Shropshire - and in Buckinghamshire, where our clan gathered yesterday to celebrate a 20th wedding anniversary.  My aunt told me this story which the Best Beloved says must be recorded somewhere, so I am going to record it here and share it with you.
There was a boy in her class at primary school who was really into music.  One day in February 1959 he came into school crying.  The teacher asked him why he was crying and tried to console him, but when the boy explained that he was crying because one of his favourite singers had died the previous day, the teacher was unimpressed and told him that in ten years time, the singer would be forgotten and nobody would remember his name.
I think the teacher was wrong: the singer was Buddy Holly.  The eleven-year-old boy would later change his name to Marc Bolan.  I remember both their names. 
So today, I would like to thank Aunty Pat for sharing this story and to wish her and Uncle Colin a very Happy 46th Wedding Anniversary with lots more to come.  This is them on 5th July 1969 and see that small, cute bridesmaid on the right?  That's me.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Saturday 4 July 2015

Fourth of July - Independence Day

Hello, and Happy Independence Day to those of you who are celebrating the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation.  Today I am going to share with you my own 4th July story: it was 1985 and I need no prompt or prop to recall that day as it is burnt into my memory.
I went to Wembley Stadium to watch Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band in concert.  I was twenty years old and, suffused with the memory of youth, friendship, optimism and summertime, it was the best concert I have ever been to. 
It was a hot, sunny day and I made my way there alone on the train to meet college friends who were travelling in from different parts of the home counties.  I was running a little late but I didn't think it mattered because in my experience, concerts never began at the stated time.  I was wrong: as I came out of the underground station and began walking up to the stadium I could hear The Boss singing Independence Day - well, what else would he open with on 4th July?  I hurried.
He was amazing.  The concert began at 6pm and ran for over four hours, finishing after the best version of Twist And Shout I have ever heard - it lasted for twenty minutes, he called and we responded, all 72,000 of us.  People edged towards the exits but nobody actually left because we were all under his spell.  For more than for hours he leapt and bounded across the stage, full of energy, making sure we got our money's worth, all £14.50 of it.  He was amazing.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x