Family history

Thanks to the internet and my sister-in-law’s Ancestry account I’ve learnt a lot more about my family history than I could have known if I had to rely on family memory. But still my knowledge is merely a collection of fragments from which it’s impossible to know what individual people were really like, how they responded to the world around them or even how they spent their days.

Lately I’ve been focusing on my father’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Ann. She is the GtGranny that I have most information about, from family anecdotes and public records. Elizabeth Ann is also the only great grandmother that I have any photographs of and I’m familiar with the village she lived in for nearly fifty years. It’s not much, but wondering what it was like to live her life has captured my imagination.

I like researching information and trying to imagine a life that began in 1864 and ended in 1942 requires a lot of research. Elizabeth Ann lived all her 78 years in rural Dorset. The daughter of a shepherd, she went into service in her teens and later married an agricultural labourer who eventually became a skilled and valued woodsman on a small country estate. GtGranny Elizabeth Ann bore ten children, eight of whom lived to celebrate their parents’ golden wedding anniversary on 2 May 1938.

I’m not sure when this photo was taken, probably some time in the 1920s. I wonder what GtGranny was thinking, standing in her front doorway. Contemplating her long life or just waiting patiently until the photographer has finished so she can get back to peeling the spuds for dinner? She’s a big woman for the era and, looking closely at the image, I wonder if that’s a goitre in her neck? Was she hypothyroid? Like most things about her, I don’t know and never will, but I’ll go on wondering about it all…

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I didn’t predict that!

I wrote my last post in the glorious anticipation of having at least four 8:30 – 3:30 days free of next door neighbour noise ahead of me. It didn’t happen and I don’t know when or whether that routine will resume. I’ve whinged enough about it on Twitter, so all I’ll say here is that it really underlined what a difference it makes to have predicable times when I know I won’t have to listen to TV, conversation, hoover-whine etc leaking through the paper-thin walls.

It’s harder to plan my activities and rest periods around unpredictable events, but I’ve recovered from last week’s fatigue-and-crushed-hopes induced meltdown and readjusted my expectations. I know that a lot of my tetchiness is due to the illness rather than the actual noise level, so I just have to accept it and get on with making the best of what I’ve got. It’s all quiet next door this evening, so I’m grabbing the opportunity to write.

If I’m going to keep on blogging I don’t want it all to be about my bloody health problems though, so here’s a photo I took at the beach yesterday. The weather was perfect and I needed a break, so I abandoned my to-do list in favour of going to see, smell and hear the sea. It always makes me feel better.

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The big change I mentioned is that I have new next-door neighbours and, at the time I wrote my last post, I was revelling in the huge reduction in noise pollution. The new people are a teacher and her son, so they are out most of the day during term time. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to my well-being to have a good chunk of predictable quiet time during the day.

It’s not all perfect, after the blissful last few weeks of term the summer holidays were very hard going with six long weeks of decorating, carpentry, garden clearance, footballing and visitors. Not to mention having their bloody TV audibly on morning, noon and night. The previous neighbours may have had world champion crying and tantruming kids, but I never heard their TV.

August is always my worst month of the year, but once again I survived. I’ll be better prepared next summer, but I think my hopes and expectations were too high this year. I didn’t expect the amount of home-improvement work that took place and assumed that they would go away for at least a week or two. I also failed to take into account the fact that 11 year olds go to bed much later than 3 and 6 year olds, so I didn’t even get a quiet hour or two in the evening.

It’s an odd thing that while under duress I long for respite, but when the stressor is removed I find it hard to get going on all the things I imagined doing if only I had the energy and a bit of peace and quiet. Distraction can be a useful strategy for coping with a difficult situation, but after a while it becomes a habit that isn’t useful when circumstances change.

It took me several weeks after the change of neighbours to stop startling at certain kinds of noise, as my system went on alert waiting for the next outburst of shouting or crying. I still scanned the street for their car as I approached my house when I’d been out, tensing to see whether I would be returning home to peace or mayhem. I felt triumphant the day I realised I’d parked my car without wondering whether the neighbours were in.

The last three months have been challenging, but interesting and enlightening. Overall my life has changed for the better at least in terms of my living environment, so now have the challenge of deciding how to use the extra time I have available and getting on with it

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Here’s one I wrote earlier

This is going well isn’t it? Once again, good intentions get smashed on the rocks of reality. There has been a big change in my life since I last posted. It’s a good (a very good) change. But it’s taking some time to get used to. More anon. In the meantime, here’s a transcript of a thing I hand-wrote a couple of years ago. I’ve edited the punctuation in places, but the words are in their raw state.

An exercise from “Old Friend From Far Away” by Natalie Goldberg:

Tell me what you will miss when you die.
10 minutes
29 March 2015, 9pm or thereabouts

-start timer-

Nothing. The dead cannot miss anything. Missing is for the living.

“Parting is all we know of heaven”
Emily Dickinson

Or everything.

Paper and ink.
Nightfall and stars.
Books, reading, words, thinking.
Ideas swelling out of my mind, growing, being shared, shaped, transformed.
Birds – songs and feathers and antics.
Daffodils blowing in the breeze.
The memory of past events.
The scent of a bonfire, the crackle and hiss of burning wood. Cold water to drink and paddle in. Water from taps, salty sea water. The beach, shells, pebbles, tidal sounds. The cry of seagulls, the smell of seaweed.
Food. Biscuits. Butter. Meat. Cheese. Apples. Cherries. Chocolate. Toasted bacon sandwiches. Many things that I miss already because they make me feel ill: Gin and tonic, Campari and soda, beer, Guinness, cold white wine, Fleurie.
People, cats, some dogs. Trees and old stone buildings, overgrown churchyards, petrichor. Libraries, walking, elderflowers, the smell of night air. Wind and rain and the taste of salt-spray on my lips. Cool cotton sheets and seeing the moon, especially when it’s at its slimmest brightest crescent phase. Rich winter afternoon light.
Writing on a quiet night when the only sounds are my pen on the paper and the wind rustling the bamboo in the garden. Sowing seeds, making cuttings, picking the fruits of my labour (and eating them). A few TV programmes, my collections of found objects. And the collecting of them. Apple blossom and the unfurling of new leaves in spring. The end of summer and promise of cold nights and easier sleep.
Ice cream. Even though I haven’t eaten ice cream for years. And fudge. Gran’s fudge. Christmas cake. Roast potatoes.
Bees and spiders. Breathing. Memory – the treasure box that is past experience.
The texture of things – the sensual pleasure of touching velvet, well worn cotton, cool stone, or sun-warmed stone. Polly’s fur, smooth wood, rough bark. The differences of similar things – tree barks, leaves, flowers, people.
Looking at art, being in wild places.

-timer pings-


I still treasure the memory of sitting at the kitchen table that quiet evening, inking my thoughts onto paper and being pleased with the result. It’s cheering to contemplate some of the many things that make life pleasurable.

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I suppose it’s a law of blogging that the longer it is since your last post the more difficult it is to write another. Having composed at least three thousand “not quite witty and erudite enough” pieces in my mind, agonised over whether to start a new blog (impossible to decide on a name) and procrastinated in every way I can think of, I’m finally taking my own oft-given advice and just doing it.

The sprouting oak leaves in this picture are what finally gave me the kick up the arse I needed to get going again. They reminded me that life persists even in the most inauspicious circumstances. Those tiny leaves are all that remain of a big dream, but in a way they mean more to me than achieving the original goal might have done.

I have a lot of stories to tell.

oak tree and aquilegia - 1

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Autumn creativity

Last night while I was looking at some lovely and very expensive Christmas garlands in a magazine it occurred to me that perhaps I could use some of the tired old hop vine stems in my garden to make the foundation for a home-made wreath. This afternoon, with uncharacteristic speed, I put thought into action.

Goodness me, it was such a pleasure! The hops are rather manky-looking, but still pliable enough to work with. As I pulled the stems free of the apple tree the crushed flowers released a delicious brewery-scent into the damp autumnal air. I twisted the strands into a loose rope, then twisted that into a circle using the plant pot as a form. It all came together beautifully, which I hope is a good omen.

hop garland  - 1

My plan is to leave the circlet on the pot until it is fully dry, hoping it will keep its shape. When it’s ready I’ll have a think about how to decorate it. Perhaps I’ll wind some strands of ivy round it, or attach pine cones and bows, or go for tinsel and glitter. Add bright colours or keep to natural tones? What about fairy lights? We’ll see.

Maybe it’ll just sit there in the shed, another addition to my catalogue of unfinished projects. But whether I finish the wreath or not, the memory of the fun I had starting it this afternoon will remain a treasure.

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Drawing August

When Concretemoomin mentioned #DrawingAugust a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a good opportunity to a) restart my drawing practise, b) thoroughly test my new occupational varifocals and c) have another go at that “little and often” thing I’m so bad at.

drawing august 2015 1To keep it simple, I counted out 31 of the old business cards that Alison very kindly gave me a couple of years ago, put them in a box and resolved to draw something on one of them each day throughout August. Having done the day’s drawing I put the card at the bottom of the pile and didn’t look at any of them again until I’d finished the last one. On the 30th, I realised I’d have to add another card to keep day 1 hidden until after I’d done day 31!

Given that the calm holiday-ish August I had planned turned out to be a bit of a one-thing-after-another stress-fest, I’m very pleased that I did do a drawing of some sort every single day throughout the month. None of them took very long – I always drew in the evening, so was often very tired by the time I started. Trying to observe rather than judge what I was doing, some days I found myself relaxed and engaged in the exercise, other times I was more like a reluctant schoolchild half-heartedly going through the motions of doing homework.

As the end of the month approached I started to feel a thrill of anticipation at the prospect of reviewing what I’d done and pleasure at having persisted despite all the stresses thrown in my path. I resisted the temptation to sneak-peek, which added to my small feeling of triumph yesterday when I slipped drawing 31 onto the bottom of the pile.

drawing august 2015 2

I pretty much hated all the drawings at the time of execution, whether or not I’d enjoyed making them. Looking at them again now, I still think they are crap, but, y’know, I was utterly whacked most of the time and hadn’t done any drawing for months. Many days it was just an exercise in sheer bloody-mindedness to pick up a pen and scribble. But it was fun doing the reveal yesterday, surprising myself with the subjects I’d forgotten, smiling wryly at how hard I’d tried to nail that blasted toy car and how spectacularly I’d failed at it.

Doing my mini version of #DrawingAugust has successfully renewed my enthusiasm for drawing, though I’ll be continuing on a “what I can, when I can” basis as I really don’t like the pressure of long-term daily commitments. I’m thinking of doing this portrait-drawing course next, because I’d like to be able to draw a face that looks like a face. As for my occupational varifocals, I’m still not particularly happy with them, but I can’t face the thought of another visit to the optician at the moment…

Perhaps the the best outcome of the challenge was the unexpected effect of deciding not to look at what I’d done until the end of the month. Each day I just did that day’s drawing, starting fresh without any feeling that I had to improve on the previous day or fear that I would do worse. And that was surprisingly liberating.

Note: The image shows the drawings in random order, because I didn’t stick to one orientation so laying them out in date order looked messy.

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