Sunday, 30 October 2016


We became Dubliners for three days at the beginning of the week, thanks to ridiculously low priced tickets from a budget airline. M had been to Dublin thirty years ago, but I had never been to Ireland before. We loved it! A lovely relaxed place to explore, with incredibly helpful and friendly people.

Our 10 year old is on a mission to visit the zoo whenever she goes to a new city, so we agreed rather reluctantly to include Dublin Zoo in our schedule. It proved to be one of the nicest zoos we have visited, beautifully landscaped and with animals who seemed as chilled and friendly as the people. One super-relaxed grandmother gorilla had even settled down for a nap right next to the glass separating her enclosure from the human visitors, apparently oblivious to the horde cooing over the snoozing baby gorilla in her arms.

We visited Dublin Castle, only to find ourselves in the middle of the set of a TV series about the Easter Rising of 1916, populated by authentically costumed extras who were staving off boredom with rather anachronistic mobile phones and paper coffee cups. We didn't get to see any filming unfortunately - all the extras knew was that they had already been hanging around for a long time and nothing seemed to be happening!

Other highlights were the trams (our hotel was some way out of the centre on a tram route), a build-your-own-stir-fry Mongolian BBQ restaurant, and a walk-in science workshop where N learned to solder and built an electronic voice recorder.

Even the weather smiled on us, with no rain and a respectable amount of sun.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

All I Want For Christmas Is ...

... this beginner's lace making kit, because I have been watching lace makers at work and I really, really want to play! This year we have been running a textile art project at the archive, encouraging people to create textile pieces inspired by documents in the archives. The project ended with a series of exhibitions at which a local lacemaking group gave demonstrations. It wasn't until the third and final exhibition that I started seriously watching what they were doing and having a go at basic stitches on a pillow set up for beginners to try. I got hooked.

I like crafting in various forms, but I am definitely more inclined towards crafts with a pattern to follow as I don't have a creative imagination. I don't mind things being intricate or fiddly so long as I know what I am supposed to be doing, and I think I could have a lot of fun making lace. I also like the historic element to the craft. Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire were two of the three main centres of handmade lace in England (Honiton in Devon was the third), and I know there were lacemakers among my Buckinghamshire ancestors.

Not only will I get to make pretty things, I can also collect pretty bobbins. I am trying to declutter and  become more minimalist (although I have a very, very long way to go), but bobbins are small enough not to become a clutter monster and larger projects need a considerable number. I love the idea of using bobbins which are either meaningful or decorative or both. A few I have my eye on are this commemorative Magna Carta bobbin, chirpy Christmas robinscanal art bobbins (these are already painted, but a friend has started doing canal art and she may be getting some bobbin commissions), Jane Austen, and ... well, a glance at this site shows just how easy it would be to get carried away!

Instructions have been issued to He-Who-Hates-Christmas-Shopping and I now just have to wait patiently for a couple of months and hope that I don't forget all the helpful tips and information I was given by the lace demonstrators.

Friday, 14 October 2016

And ... Three Months Later!

July? Three months ago? Really? So ... five things from the last three months as a catch up.

1. A lovely family holiday in Italy, with all the family except senior daughter who does her own thing these days. We have visited Lake Garda before, but had forgotten how stunningly beautiful it is.

2. Middle daughter left for uni in September and is now in a northern city studying Italian and linguistics. So far she is loving it, enjoying both the social life and her courses.

3. Middle daughter also celebrated her 18th birthday and an amazing set of A level results. As she eats dairy free we tracked down a hotel in London which provides both gluten free and dairy free afternoon teas for a celebration mother-and-daughter tea. A nice touch was that when they realised we were celebrating they brought her a beautifully presented mini-birthday cake. Definitely recommend the 108 Pantry at the Marylebone Hotel for anyone looking for a gluten free / dairy free treat.

4. We have been working on the house and managed to redecorate both small daughter's bedroom and our own. Quite a bit of decluttering was achieved too.

5. I took small daughter to a family lecture at the Royal Institution on giant lasers. She has now decided her future science career should be physicist rather than chemist.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A Week is a Long Time in Politics

This has been one of the longest and most extraordinary weeks this country has experienced in my lifetime, following the referendum on British EU membership on 23rd June. The phrase "a week is a long time in politics" coined by former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson has never been more apt. Despite the close recent opinion polls, the assumption was that the Remain campaign would win and Britain would carry on in the EU as before. The assumption was wrong and a narrow vote to Leave has thrown the country into confusion. The Prime Minister has resigned; the pro-Leave contenders for the job have indulged in a bout of back-stabbing of Shakespearian proportions; the Labour Party is imploding with a leadership election of its own pending, one of such significance that it could split the party apart and finish it as a serious political force; Scotland is likely to hold its own referendum on whether to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU. Politically, all is chaos and confusion. 

In the aftermath of the referendum I wrote this on Facebook, which I'll share here as it still reflects how I feel a week on (apologies for those of you who are Facebook friends and get the same thing twice):

"I have said before that I don't normally do politics on Facebook, but I am going to break my own rule again. I spent yesterday in a sleep deprived fog (one hour of sleep just doesn't cut it) trying to process the referendum result. I began the campaign open minded and unsure which way to vote, but as it developed I became increasingly convinced that Remain was the right option. In the wake of the result I am shocked by how viscerally upset I feel. I know I am not alone in feeling an acute sense of loss, of bereavement. Many of us are grieving the loss of our sense of who we are, what our country is, and its place in the world. I also fear that the law of unintended consequences is going to run amok. Already we seem to be heading for financial upheaval, years of uncertainty, the possible (probable?) break up of the UK, a new prime minister, and a government with an agenda radically different to the platform on which it was narrowly elected last year. As for the rest of Europe, who knows what damage our decision to leave will do and what knock-on effects it might have.  

As a natural optimist I usually manage to find something positive in any situation. Yesterday I struggled to find anything in this. Today I am trying harder. It is going to take at least two years before we have any real idea how things will play out and nothing yet is a given. We may - or may not - get increased border controls (both ways). We may - or may not - stop being a net contributor to the EU. We may - or may not - be part of a European Economic Area. And so on. And that means that we all, whether we voted Remain or Leave, will have opportunities to influence how our country will look post-Brexit. Surveys show that for most Leave voters issues of sovereignty and democracy were their primary concern, with immigration a significant but still secondary issue. Most Leave voters are not narrow-minded racists. Remainers and concerned Leavers can work together to answer the questions we face in the aftermath of the referendum. How do we build an independent Britain that is open, tolerant and cares for its weaker members? How do we ensure that our kids have the same opportunities, both here and in the wider world, that they would have had before this vote? How do we protect the rights of individuals if the checks and balances provided by the EU are removed? How do we heal the divisions left by the referendum? Where do we start? There are no easy answers, but whichever way we voted, and wherever we stand on the political spectrum, we need to start thinking very hard about how we answer these questions. My optimistic side wants to believe that we can find some good answers."

I still hope that we are able to find good answers. This is still the very early stages of what will surely be a long process. It has been shocking, though not at all surprising, to see the complete absence of a plan on the Leave side as to how they would follow through if they won. Neither the Conservative nor the Labour parties seem to have had any clue how to respond to a Leave victory. Labour is imploding amidst recriminations against Left-Wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is supposed to have been at best lukewarm in support of the party's Remain campaign, and at worst actually obstructive. Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition is currently in no position to oppose (or propose) anything.  The Government is leaderless and a long way from formulating any sort of constructive plan as to how to move forward. It may have been a long week, but it is also going to be a very long few years before the UK, or whatever is left of it, comes out the other end. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Merry Month of May Movie Meme

While participating in the A to Z blogging challenge I stumbled across the genealogy blogging community. One of these bloggers, Pauline of Family History Across the Seas, has posted a Merry Month of May Movie Meme and I thought would be fun to join in ...

What's the earliest movie you can remember? The first movie I remember seeing at the cinema was Mary Poppins. I just checked and it was released in 1964, just before my fourth birthday. I don't know whether I saw it when it was first released or a year or two later. Of course, in the UK in the 1960s they were called films, not movies!

Where did you go to the movies? As a child I used to go to the old Odeon Cinema in Aylesbury (Buckinghamshire). At that time it was a single screen cinema, but I think it was subsequently divided into one large and two small screens. It closed in 1999 and was replaced by a modern multi-screen cinema in a different location. The old Odeon fell into disrepair and is now being demolished to be replaced with retirement apartments. 

Did you buy movie programs? I don't remember there being such a thing!

Did you take in food and drink (and what did you like)? Not that I can remember. We always used to get ice creams during the intermission, in the days when there was such a thing. I have to admit that I am a popcorn lover and a trip to the cinema just isn't the same without a hefty portion of salted popcorn (has to be salted, not sweet). I know it is ridiculously overpriced for something that is mostly air, but I can't resist. 

Movies of your teenage years: Star Wars (the original movie, which I saw four times), Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Towering Inferno (for which I mostly hid on the floor as I don't like fire - no idea why I went!).

Do you remember how old you were when you went unsupervised? No, but probably early teens. 

Mischief you got up to in the movies: As teenagers a group of us once smuggled in a bottle of whisky. I doubt I drank much as I loathe the stuff!

Did you watch movies at home? Yes. I remember sobbing through Love Story on TV, going through a phase of watching late night horror movies (the old fashioned type) when I had to sleep on a put-up bed in the sitting room at my grandmother's, and another phase of watching westerns as a teen. And of course we always took part in the pre-VCR British family ritual of watching the big blockbuster films shown on TV at Christmas.

What was your favourite movie to watch at home? During my childhood it was only possible to watch what happened to be on TV. No VCRs or DVDs.

Do you prefer to watch movies at home or at the cinema? Definitely at the cinema. So much more engrossing on the big screen with surround sound than it is at home, and it makes a movie into an event. 

Does your family have a special movie memory? Not one particular memory. The Harry Potter movies were a big thing with my two older daughters, and each new release was a cause of much excitement. We sometimes went on the first day, but never to the midnight premiere. With hindsight I wish we had done as it would have made that special memory.

Movies you fell in love to/with? I really didn't! Movies and romance never coincided for me. 

Favourite romantic movie theme music: I'm not a fan of romantic music and would find it much easier to pick a most disliked romantic theme - My Heart Will Go On from Titanic wins that title. I get to play a lot of movie theme music with brass and concert bands and if I had to pick a favourite it would be either Jurassic Park or Pirates of the Caribbean. Much more fun than the romantic stuff, both to play and to listen to!

Favourite musical movie: For some reason I always loved Calamity Jane.

Which movies made you want to dance/sing?  I'm a hopeless non-dancer, but for singing along it has to be The Sound of Music and Mamma Mia.   

Do you watch re-runs or DVDs of old movies? Not as much as I would like to. Most of the DVDs we own are newer, although we have some classic children's movies. We have a Netflix subscription and I keep meaning to watch some of the old classics but somehow never get round to it. 

Do your children/family enjoy the same movies? There are a few children's movies which all three of my daughters have loved, but there has rarely been a movie that all five of us would watch. In fact, I don't think we have ever all been to the cinema together. Partly this is due to the age gap (eleven years between eldest and youngest daughters) and partly because if all three daughters like something it is almost certainly too girly to appeal to their dad. 

What's your favourite movie genre now? I am not sure I could pick one single genre. I enjoy human interest dramas, British comedy (American not so much), some science fiction/fantasy, some rom-coms. It really depends on my mood. 

Did you read the book before or after the movie? Usually I prefer to read the book before the movie. 

Which did you enjoy more, the book or the movie? More often the book, although not always. I loved The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as a movie, but did not enjoy the book at all. Some movie adaptations are just awful - the American movie version of the children's book The Borrowers was particularly atrocious.

What's the silliest movie you've seen (silly funny or silly annoying)? I'll go with silly funny and pick Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean movie. 

Pet hate in movies: Bad sound and / or mumbling actors making it hard to follow dialogue. 

A movie that captures family history for you: Interesting question! I am going to go for All Creatures Great and Small, the movie based on James Herriot's vet books (yes, there was a movie, made a few years before the better known TV series). It is set in rural North Yorkshire, where my mother's family come from, and I have farmers and farm labourers on both sides of my family. No vets though! 

If you could only play 5 movies for the rest of your life, what would they be? 
(1) Lord of the Rings. Love the books, love the film version. Can I count the trilogy as a single movie?
(2) Star Wars IV (THE Star Wars!). The big movie of my teens and part of me has never outgrown it.
(3) Truly, Madly, Deeply. A wonderful low budget British romantic movie starring Juliet Stephenson and the late, great Alan Rickman as the ghost of her dead partner. Poignant and funny by turns, and beautifully acted.
(4) The Railway Children. There has to be a family movie in there. Matilda nearly won this slot - one daughter loved it so much that we can still quote chunks of the script, and Pam Ferris's Miss Trunchbull was superbly awful. Another daughter watches Elf multiple times every Christmas, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc are big favourites, but The Railway Children just squeaks it. I loved it as a child, and even as an adult I can't help but shed a tear when Bobby spots her father through the steam of the train at the end. 
(5) Billy Elliot. This was the hardest to choose as there are a number of other films I like but none that stood out above the others. Billy Elliot, in which a young boy from a tough mining town in Northern England fights poverty, political upheaval (it is set against the background of the 1980s miners' strike), and prejudice to become a ballet dancer, is one that grabs me each time I watch it.

Favourite movie stars:
 Alan Rickman, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Those Boots Were Made For Walking ...

At the beginning of the year M bought a pair of walking boots - his first since a teenage trip to Israel - with the intention that we would get out and walk more. I told him that before the end of the year he would be doing 10 mile walks. He was not convinced!

The boots have turned out to be a great buy. They were reduced in the post-Christmas sales to less than half price, so were quite a bargain. M finds them very comfortable and they have made a huge difference to his attitude to walking - I hadn't realised quite how much the wrong shoes were holding him back, making him reluctant to go anywhere that might be muddy, and generally making walking less comfortable. We try to go out for at least one reasonable (3 miles or more) walk every week, and are gradually increasing distance. 

We have just got back from a long weekend in Cumbria, where we were able to introduce the boots to both the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. We went for a walk everyday, working up to a seven mile circular walk around Wensleydale on Sunday. That 10 mile target is in sight! Both the Lakes and the Dales are extraordinarily beautiful, in different ways, and spending so much time out of doors in the fresh air enjoying the scenery was a joy. We both felt it was one of the most enjoyable short breaks we have ever had, and M is now most definitely a walking enthusiast. Pictures to follow once they have uploaded themselves to iCloud!

Challenge Completed!

I may not have been writing here for the past few weeks but I have been writing on my history blog, where I managed to make it through the entire A to Z Challenge and finished my A to Z of Archives, talking about all sorts of archive related things from catalogues to knickers (if you want to know, you will have to read the entry for K!).