Monday 24 August 2015


Hello, thank you very much for calling in here.  The weather continues to be extremely disappointing, so much so that a little seaside camping trip that the Best Beloved and I had planned was cancelled.  We can cope if it rains while we are camping, that's really not a problem, but we don't like packing the tent away while it's wet and the Best Beloved decided that for only a few nights, it really wasn't worth it, so we didn't go.  Harrumph.
However, last week we did get away to the south coast of England, to Hampshire, for a lovely family party to celebrate a special woman's 50th birthday.  The children stayed with their aunt and uncle but there wasn't room for the Best Beloved and me as well.  Unable to afford the exorbitant price of hotel rooms in/near a seaside resort at this time of year and with the only nearby campsite unsuitable (no toilets or washing facilities!), we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to go there and back in a day, at least seven hours' driving, when my very dear Yorkshire-based friend suggested that we stay in her late mother's empty house in Middleton-on-Sea in West Sussex, about thirty miles away. 
This arrangement worked out very well indeed.  My friend's thoughtful sister, who lives nearby, left milk, bread and butter in the fridge for us and made up the only bed left in the house.  Towels and bedding were there for us.  All we were asked to do in return was to feed the fish in the garden pond and the wild birds.  I really do have the best of friends, don't I?
We arrived the evening before the party and although we didn't know where the sea was, the sound of seagulls and the smell of seaweed on the shore as soon as I opened the car door let me know that it wasn't far away.  We unpacked the car, sussed out the house and then hopped back in to drive to the shore, having been advised by my friend that it wasn't really in walking distance.  We fancied a stroll along the beach and then a nice cold drink in  a pub.  Off we went with map in hand, to find the sea.  It was SOOOOOOOOOO frustrating: we knew where it was but we couldn't get to it.  All the roads leading to the sea had signs up saying things like, "Private Road, no parking, no access to the sea".  There were double yellow lines on the public road, so no parking there either.  We found a footpath on the map but when we got there, it had been built over!  It really wasn't very friendly and we got the definite impression that visitors were not welcome.  After driving around for an hour, AN HOUR, and it's a very small place, the Best Beloved went into the local shop and asked for directions (I know, practically unheard of, he's a man!) and was met with the reply, "I don't know, I can't afford to live around here!". 
Eventually, we found somewhere legal to park and walked down the lane to the sea.  The beach is shingle but the tide was a long way out, revealing a vast expanse of firm sand.  There was a bench on the beach but it was occupied by two men with a carrier bag full of alcohol, speaking to each other loudly and animatedly in a foreign language, except for the swear words, which were definitely English.  We walked down onto the sand and stayed awhile.  The Best Beloved played with his camera while I took deep breaths, drawing in the salty air, drinking in the shimmering light, listening to the gulls overhead, the scent, taste, sight and sound of the seaside.  It's a place where I always love to be. 
Eventually, we walked back to the car.  We decided not to go to a pub for a drink after all - if Middleton-on-Sea doesn't want to welcome visitors then I didn't feel minded to contribute to the local economy.  And we had spent so long getting to the beach that it was getting late.  We stayed for two nights and we had a lovely time.  Here are some photographs.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Wednesday 19 August 2015

From Farmboy to Fusilier, Part Two

Hello, thank you for dropping here.  I am a bit grumpy: I should be camping by the sea but the Best Beloved decided that we shouldn't go because of the weather forecast (wet, wet, wet), so instead I am at home.  He says that I am on holiday so I can do whatever I want, so I have been writing all this up for you (and for me).  You may want to settle down with a cup of tea because this is going to take a while.

It's time for this month's family history post and I would like to tell you some more about John McKeon, known as Jack, my great-grandfather.  I told you the first part of his story last month (you can find it here) and when we left him in 1886, he had been posted to the East Indies, which we now call India, with the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers.   On Tuesday 22nd July 1890 while stationed in Nasirabad he wrote home to his brother, Pat, about an impending promotion to Colour Sergeant:

I have nothing important to inform you.  I am doing right well and today the Colonel sent for me and offered me Color Sgt a vacancy having occurred today.  I refused it for two reasons first I do not care for the Company officer he is a contrary chap, got two Cr Sgts reduced in his time. + second there will be a vacancy in my own Company in November next, the Cr Sgt is going home to the Depot.  I am doing the work of my Coy. Officiating as Cr Sergt this is to be mine, the Colonel gave me my choice and I said I would prefer my own Compy. knowing it so well.  he gave me till tomorrow morning to consider the question of course I am still in the factory and drawing my extra cash – no trifle.  I have a good deal of work to do but I don’t mind it as long as it profits me.  We are shifting from here  in January to Karachi, a fairly good place on the coast, it will be welcome after spending three years in this hole.  One of the worst in India. 

I can report that Jack was promoted to Colour Sergeant on 9th October 1990, so I guess he must have turned down the immediate offer and waited for the vacancy in his own company.
That's all I know about Jack's time with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.  He remained in India until he left the service on 7th May 1895, being discharged at Gosport in Hampshire, presumably when he got off the ship which brought him home.  His army record states "Free after 13 years service" - to be precise, 13 years 97 days.
The next eighteen months are a mystery, but SOMETHING obviously happened during those eighteen months because on 3rd November 1896 Jack rejoined the British army in Ireland under a different name.  I suspect that he may have gone to America - certainly, a 31 year-old farmer named John McKeon did go to America with his wife Rose, leaving Liverpool on the Britannic on 29th May 1895.  When John and Rose arrived at Ellis Island in New York ten days later their surname was recorded as McKeown and John's occupation was given as "Clerk".  I cannot yet prove it, but this may well have been my Jack and if that is the case, I don't know what happened to Rose; she may have died, she may have left him, he may have abandoned her and returned home to Ireland without her.  We just don't know.  All I know is that there is no record of Jack being married during his service with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers but that in June 1899 he described himself as a "widower".  It's infuriating! 
So, in November 1896 Jack went to Armagh in what is now Northern Ireland and joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers.  Lying about his age, he claimed to be 24 years and 3 months old when he was, in fact, at least thirty-two years old, although his enlistment papers show that he appeared to be 24 years and 3months old (these are genes which I should dearly like to have inherited!).  They also record that he had scars on his back and his right knee and I wonder if these dated from battles fought in the Sudan eleven years earlier?  Again, Jack started off as a Private and worked his way up through the ranks, becoming a Lance Corporal within ten months.
The Battalion was stationed in Colchester in Essex and while Jack was there he met a girl, Martha Jane Stevens, who was living there with her elder sister and brother-in-law, Alice and John, and their three children.  Martha and Alice were tailoresses, having learnt their skills in an orphanage after their parents died.  Jack and Martha were married at the registry office in Colchester on 17th June 1899 and Alice and John were their witnesses.  Jack claimed to be thirty-four years old and a "widower".  Oddly, the army didn't seem to know about the marriage for another three years.  Did Jack not tell themIt's another mystery.  What we do know is that almost exactly three months later, on 16th September 1899, Martha gave birth to their daughter, Mary Alice McKeon, my grandmother.

Almost four weeks after that, on 11th October 1899, the Boer War was declared and on 23rd October Jack and his Battalion sailed for South Africa on the Hawarden Castle, expecting that the war would be over before they arrived.  Three weeks later, they landed at Durban and they remained in South Africa until January 1903.  In November 1902 Jack wrote a long letter to Pat, telling the tale of his war.  Here is the third sentence:

 Regarding myself, well I have not had an hour’s illness in S.A. nor have I ever stopped a man’s bullet – come through it all without a scratch. 

That wasn't quite true as he was injured in a fire in May 1902, an accident about which we know very little except that all of his possessions were burnt.  Thanks to this letter, I know a great deal about Jack's war, but I would like to share with you just this little snippet about the Battle of Pieter's Hill, which took place over a fortnight in February 1900:

Our losses were terrible it was sunset before the Hill was ours but the fighting continued all night, meantime the Boers got away all their munitions of war.  We kept the Hill all night and the following day each buried their dead.  I saw the next morning a Lance Corporal of ours, and a young Boer both lying dead in handigrips among the rocks with their rifles on the ground and beneath them both shot through the head with the muzzle evidently touching.  Colenso and Spion Kop are not to be forgotten by those who were there, but Pieter’s Hill should, I think, be henceforth called “Pieter’s Hell”.  Pieter's Hell.

There is another section of this letter which I would like to share with you as I think it says something about Jack's character:

Well on 5th September 01 we joined a mobile column operating in the East under Kitchener’s brother and we started off, on 16th we reached Ermelo (as nice a little town as I ever saw), and damn his soul he reduced the town to ashes.  It was a most sickening sight, the town was burning for days and the Colonials took away all the best furniture for firewood.  Furniture of all sorts, of polished mahogany, the costliest on the market.  8 day clocks and pianos were smashed up for firewood.  The looting did not end here, when all this was consumed, the sons of bitches had recourse to sacrilege the church, the only building standing, was robbed of seats, pews, pulpit, altars (Dutch church), the flooring and balconies the latter portions being so roughly removed that the building is quite useless, it may fall down any day.  I passed there a few months ago it was still standing but it must be rebuilt again...There was plenty of wood growing about the town, and coal mines at the surface everywhere. 

Jack was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps for Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, Cape Colony and Transvaal as well as the King's South Africa Medal with clasps for 1901 and 1902 and in August 1902 he was paid the South Africa War Gratuity of £12 and 9 shillings.

So, by October 1902, in his late thirties, Jack was a Sergeant and two significant things happened in that month: on 16th he informed the army that he was married and had a child and on 18th he extended his period of army service, signing up to carry on for another six years.  I reckon those two events must have been related.  You see, Jack's battalion was not posted home to the UK after the Boer War; in January 1903, shortly after his promotion to Colour Sergeant, they went to India, to Rawal Pindi, and this time, Martha and (Mary) Alice travelled halfway across the world to join him.  They hadn't seen each other for three and a half years and the new baby he had left behind was now a walking, talking, lively little girl.

On 20th April 1903 Jack wrote to Martha's sister to let her know of their safe arrival.

I am at length extremely happy to be able to inform you that my darling wife and daughter arrived here safe and well last Monday morning but needless to state they were awfully tired and weary of the journey and no wonder for I know the hardships a woman endures when travelling alone under military arrangements and I assure you my dear sister it is a shame the way they treat women and children.  Of course we men do not feel it half so much.  Well I think, considering the hardships of the journey my darling Martha looks fairly well and our little daughter is, I think, the most engaging little child I ever saw.  She is such a beauty and so lively all day long, so sharp and talking and running about the whole day, never takes a rest, and is dada's girl, but says she also loves her Mama dearly. 

I love this letter.  As Martha was six months pregnant when she and Jack were married, I had thought that theirs was perhaps a "shotgun" wedding, but when we found this letter I realised that I had been mistaken, there is so much love and delight contained in Jack's words.  And his description of his daughter, who I knew only as an elderly woman with impaired mobility, is very poignant. 

On 16th January 1904, almost nine months to the day after Martha's arrival in Rawal Pindi, she gave birth to a boy who they named Hugh.  He was baptised three weeks later - remember that, for I shall come back to it.  However, later that year Hugh fell ill and he died of enteritis on 26th October, only nine months old.  Heartbreaking.  He was buried the same day. 

Now, you remember that Jack joined up this time under an assumed name?  Well, by April 1904 the army knew that he was really John McKeon, but I can't find anything in his records to explain how they found out.  I did write to the regimental museum and ask for help but they were not forthcoming, so it's another mystery I have yet to solve.  That's the thing about family history, there is always more to discover.

There were no more babies born to Jack and Martha in India.  In 1906 Jack signed up for another eleven years in the army and in March 1907 he was posted home, I think to the regimental garrison depot in Armagh.  Certainly, that is where their second son, John Joseph, was born in military barracks on 29th January that year.  He was baptised in St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral in Armagh just four days later. 

Colour Sergeant John McKeon was discharged from the Royal Irish Fusiliers at Bordon in Hampshire on 20th January 1911, having been found medically unfit for further service.  His pension claim stated that "the disability has been gradually progressing for several years to very shaky and debilitated.  Always very quiet and at times somewhat depressed.  Prematurely aged.  Not result of service, climate or exposure on duty.  Aggravated by campaigning in S. Africa and service in India directly following.  Permanent."  The Medical Board concurred.  The records showed treatment for jaundice, colic and ague in India during his time there with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and it was minuted that "the disability of this man may be regarded as the result of service."  Jack was about forty-seven years old and he had spent more than twenty-seven of those years in the British Army...Sudan...South Africa...India...

Jack's discharge papers record that his conduct and character while with the Colours was "exemplary", that he was "steady, sober and reliable" and that he was "a good clerk and accountant".  I should have thought that his employment prospects were good.  He intended to return to County Roscommon, not to the family farm but to the town of Boyle.  I don't know whether or not he did, but I do know that two years later, in September 1913, he was at his wife's sister's home in Portland in Dorset when he had a brain haemorrhage and died.  We think that he was not yet fifty years old; Martha was forty-two and would live for a further twenty-nine years; the children were fourteen and four. 

Would you like to see a photo?  Last time I showed you a fine portrait of Jack in his scarlet tunic.  This time I offer something a little different, a rather more casual photo of a group of soldiers, taken in India. You may wish to click on it to look more closely.  The small girl sitting in the middle is my grandmother, Alice, and the man to her left, with his arm around her, is Jack. 

 Oh yes, and I promised to come back to Hugh, the baby who was born in India and died within a year.  Remember that I told you that he was christened when he was three weeks old?  There are no photographs of him, only words written down on official documents to prove he ever existed, but I have something which belonged to him, something which makes him real, a living, vital baby who was loved and to whom I feel connected: it is his christening mug.

See you soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

P.S. Blogger is driving me mad: it keeps changing the fonts and their sizes and I can't work out how to fix it.  Sorry.  Please bear with me and thank you for your patience.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Perfect Company

Hello, and thank you for dropping in.  I really do appreciate every one of you.  At last we seem to have summertime.  Hooray!  Now then, some of you have asked me if you can "subscribe" to my little patch here by e-mail so I think I have added a gadget which will allow you to do this: if you scroll down to the bottom of this page you should find it, enter your e-mail address and then when I publish a new post, I think you will receive an e-mail to let you know.  If it doesn't happen like that, please let me know and I'll do some more tinkering.
The Best Beloved and I have been away visiting old and very dear friends at their new home in South Yorkshire and I feel like a pampered princess.  For three nights I have slept in a king-sized bed on a mattress which must surely have been made of marshmallow clouds and awoken to a breakfast of frothy cappuccino,  warm croissants, homemade jam and fresh fruit.  I have taken afternoon tea on the terrace, strolled in dappled sunlight in the orchard, wandered in the woods and in golden fields.  I have been driven around in a 1983 Daimler, picnicked in the sunshine and danced at the top of the Pennines until the wee, small hours of the morning .  I have eaten with gold-plated cutlery off bone china plates.  I have sat outside until long after dark, drinking wine and reminiscing with my oldest friend, looking at photographs of our families whom we have known for more than thirty-five years.  The sun shone all weekend and my soul sang. 

Here are some pictures to remind me of this wonderful weekend:


 Thank you for indulging me.  See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday 7 August 2015

A Tale of Two Moisturisers

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  Guess what? The sun is shining!  
This is the first time I have reviewed any product here but I am desperately feeling the need to share.  I have been using moisturiser on my face for about thirty-five years and for about thirty of those years, it's come from The Body Shop. In the mid-1980s it was difficult to get hold of cosmetic products which met my ethical requirements but then The Body Shop came to town: the products didn't contain animal products and neither they nor their ingredients were tested on animals; you could buy the stuff in very small bottles, so it was affordable and you could try new things easily; when those bottles were empty, you could wash them out and take them back to the store to be refilled rather than throwing them into landfill; their bags were made of paper rather than plastic.  I also liked their campaigning stance - Greenpeace, Fair Trade, local communities.  It was cutting-edge stuff back then and for a would-be eco-warrior like me it was just perfect.  And because loyalty is one of my traits, I have stuck with them ever since, even after Anita Roddick sold out to L'Oreal nine years ago.  (I was very concerned about that but a long chat with the manager of my local store convinced me that it would be OK, that L'Oreal was committed to maintaining the cruelty free stance.  I'm not so sure now.)
Of course, I haven't always used the same moisturiser: as I became older and my skin changed there was always a Body Shop product which met my needs.  This is the one I have been using for a long time now -

My skin is dry and sensitive and I have rosacea, a relapsing condition which means that I am prone to redness and spots.  My skin often feels hot and my face becomes red very easily - one glass of red wine, spicy food, hot weather.  I am sick and tired of people assuming that I have sunburn in the summer (although not this summer!) when in fact, I always use a high SPF suncream on my face when I am out in the sun -  it's the heat which makes me red, not the sunshine.  This Aloe range is gentle and soothing and I use it daily.  However, at £12 for 50ml it's not at all frugal and even though I only buy it when there is a 40% off sale, it's still £7.20 for a pot and that's too much.  So, when I read about Superdrug's Vitamin E Skin Care range here I thought I would give their moisturiser a try.

I am so glad I did.  I shan't be going back.  This one is lovely.  I do miss the instant cooling effect of the Body Shop one but the Best Beloved, who has a background in chemistry, says that that's probably due to a higher water content, and who wants to pay extra for added water?  Not me.  The Superdrug cream is not too heavy, makes my skin feel soft and smooth all day long and has a pleasant smell redolent of 1980s suncream which instantly transports me to the Mediterranean holidays of my teens.  I've been using it for four weeks now with no problems.  It's cruelty free and best of all, it costs £1.99 for 100ml, that's less than 9% of the cost of the Body Shop moisturiser (at full price).

So, if you have dry skin and an almost-empty purse, I recommend you give it a try.  I wish I'd known about it years ago. 
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Back to Ironbridge

Hello, thank you for popping in.  I didn't mean to be away this long but I am having a few tech problems at the moment, so thank you for bearing with me.  The good news is that it has warmed up a bit here, but I am still in long sleeves and it's been raining.
So, following the (albeit limited) success of last week's impromptu afternoon outing, yesterday I got home in the early afternoon and suggested to the Best Beloved that we go out for a couple of hours.  We were out of the house within ten minutes(!) and before too long we were in Ironbridge.  We went there in January on a much sunnier day and I wrote about it here if you would like to read about it. This time, we parked in Coalbrookdale and  walked along by the River Severn -
I stood on the bank and looked east towards the famous bridge, built in 1779 -

In case you are not familiar with it, this was the first cast iron bridge to be constructed in the world, cast in the furnaces of Abraham Darby III at Coalbrookdale, which is why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A settlement grew up around the bridge on the north bank of the river, houses clinging to the steep side of the gorge -
The bridge opened on 1 January 1781 and a toll was charged to those who used it -
The Darbys were Quakers and so believed that all men were equal, so even if you were a member of the Royal Family, you would have to pay the toll.  Fortunately, it's now free for pedestrians to cross and so we always do and when we reach the other side, we turn around and cross back again!  While we were up there, I took some photos of the views.  This one is looking west -
And this is the view to the east -
Shall we have a closer look at those boats moored up on the south bank? -
Opposite, on the north bank, the nearest house to the camera was the home of the Rogers family, coracle-makers for more than 200 years, and the corrugated metal roof you can see in front of the house is the shed in which those coracles were made.  If you click on the photo and enlarge it, you should be able to see a coracle propped up against the wall of the house -
Here is a picture of that shed, said to be the last coracle shed in England, which I took in January -

The last in the family line, Eustace Rogers, died in 2003 and the shed has stood empty ever since.  I read that the owners of some of the bars and restaurants which overlook it wanted it to be pulled down because it spoiled their views, but another faction considered it to be an important part of the area's history and wanted it to be preserved.  Three days ago it was announced that the Ironbridge Coracle Trust has purchased the shed for the princely sum of £40,000 and will be conserving it and opening it to the public.  £40,000!!
After taking a look at the shed, we walked underneath the bridge and the Best Beloved took this photo to give you an idea of how it was constructed -

It's a lovely place to spend an afternoon and I have never tired of it.  I reckon I could blog about it every day for a month (don't worry, I shan't) and have something new to show you every time.  There are museums, little shops, cafes and restaurants.  The wooded slopes of Ironbridge Gorge are beautiful, as is the little flowerbed by the bridge -
As we made our way back along the uneven pavement to the car park, it began to rain -
We sheltered under a plane tree for a few minutes, then hurried to the next tree to shelter again, and so we made our way, laughing, back to Coalbrookdale, tree by tree.  The cobwebs had been blown away.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Saturday 1 August 2015

Five On Friday (on Saturday)

Hello, thank you for calling in.  Today I am joining in with Amy at Love Made My Home so please feel free to hop over there with a click and see who else is joining in this week.  The weather here seems to have forgotten that it's summer - it's mostly overcast, we had rain for nine days out of ten and it's been bloomin' cold.  We have even thought about lighting the fire in the evenings.  I am officially having a moan.
I have cabin fever: although the Best Beloved is "on holiday", I am not (this can often be a source of tension for teachers' spouses and I am no exception).  I have been very busy and when I have had some free time, the weather has not been good enough for us to get out and make the most of it.  It's driving me nuts.  We met my parents for lunch in Church Stretton on Monday but it was so cold and wet that we didn't wander around the town, camera in hand, we just dived into the pub as quickly as possible, which was a shame because the town is very picturesque.  It's the blog post that got away.  (I should add that lunch was very good, thanks Dad, as was the company.) 
On Thursday, I knew that I would be free just after 1pm so before I went out, I asked the Best Beloved to organise an afternoon outing.  This is always a risky move as he is not good at organising anything, but he is good at recognising when I need to be "out".  So when I arrived home, off we went.  As we were leaving the house I noticed that he was carrying his fleece and walking boots so I asked him if I would need mine?  Oh, yes.  If I hadn't noticed, we would have gone without them, me wearing short sleeves and dolly shoes.  I did say that he is not good at organising things.
We got into the car and he decided to program his new satnav.  "I know the way so I don't need to use it, I just want to try it out," he said.  Fifteen minutes later he was still pressing buttons and I was Quite Tetchy.  I may not have been able to hide my tetchiness and he may have snapped at me.  It didn't augur well.  He eventually started up the car and we drove to Ellesmere in Shropshire's "Lake District" (don't get too excited, gentle reader, it's not like Cumbria).  Lovely, I thought.  We haven't been here for a couple of years, we can go for a walk by the mere and then go and look at the canal boats in the basin.  So, the Best Beloved parked the car, walked over to the pay-and-display machine...and discovered that he hadn't brought enough change to pay the £1.70 fee.  As I said, he's not good..."It's expensive here," another driver said to him, "It's free at Colemere."  So he got back in the car and drove us to Colemere.
Colemere is lovely too, but we went there in April, which you can read about here if you'd like to, and I can't deny that I was a little disappointed.  By this time it was 2.30pm and I was starving.  The Best Beloved had made a scrummy picnic (credit where credit's due), but it was too cold to sit out so we ate it in the car, in the car park.  The view through the windscreen was...ok.  Then we put on our boots, our fleeces and, in my case,  a scarf (in July!) and off we went for a tramp about. 

Goodness me, the wind was cold!  It was sheltered in the woods but when we came out beside the canal, the wind was whipping up the waters.  We didn't linger there for very long, certainly not long enough for Mr Impatient to take a cracking photograph of a canal boat under the canal bridge.  However, by the time we got back to the car the wind had dropped and the sun had come out.  It was quite pleasant - I took off my scarf and even unzipped my fleece.  It was also time to go home.

So, here are my Five photographs of Colemere on a cold day in July, rather than Five photographs of a warm, sunny day in Church Stretton in July.    
Thank you, Amy, for hosting these Friday parties for us, they are fun. 
I do hope to see you soon, but if the weather doesn't improve I fear I shall continue to have nothing particularly interesting to share with you. 
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x