Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Saturday, 15 August 2015

To Dorothy, with love from Maude

The message was inscribed on this photograph. Also written on the back is “16th August 1915”, tomorrow’s date, exactly one hundred years ago. 

The photo is tiny and cut from a postcard, which probably had several more of the same image to give to friends and family as mementos. It’s my Great-aunt Maud, who would have been almost twenty-two when this official studio portrait was taken, and working as a Lace Hand. Two years later, In 1917, the Labour Corps Offices opened in Nottingham and Maud became one of 1,400 clerks dealing with army records. I told this part of Maud’s story in Another Day at The Office.

I can just make out the words, written on the back, very faintly in pencil, and this time she had added the final ‘e’. We have both ‘Maud’ and ‘Maude’ on various documents in the family. The 16th August 1915 was a Monday, so it was probably exchanged with her friend when she arrived for work that morning. How it came back into our possession we can only guess. There is no Dorothy in the family.

This is the only photograph we have of Maud at this age and I like to think she would also have given a copy to each of her brothers. Maud was the only girl of three children born to my great grandfather, William, and his wife Mary, and she was just nine years old when their mother died, leaving Maud, Sydney, my grandfather, who was four, and their brother, Albert, aged seven. They were brought up by their father and his sister, their beloved Aunt Lizzie, until their father re-married in 1912.

Great-uncle Albert 
The boys had both joined the army at the beginning of the War when my grandfather was only sixteen, and Albert just a couple of years older. Maud must have been very worried about them. Great-uncle Albert joined the South Notts Hussars and later the Royal Flying Corps and his story was told in The Two Alberts Memorial.

Sydney, my grandfather, had joined the Robin Hoods Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters and earlier that year they had transferred to Luton, and then Dunstable, for further training.  In August of 1915, my grandfather and his pals undertook a two-day march to Watford and the final preparation with 178 Brigade for front line duties. In fact his first experience of fighting did not come until a few months later, just after his eighteenth birthday, when in 1916 the battalion was dispatched to Dublin to suppress the Easter Rebellion.

The photographs below, which have recently come into my possession, show Syd, probably in his new uniform, issued in August 1915, just a few months past his 17th birthday, when he thought he was off to the Front Line. He looks so young, and very different from his portrait at the end of the War, after his experiences in Dublin and France. 

The Robin Hoods were still in Dunstable the weekend before Maud signed her photo, and the Nottingham Evening Post for Saturday 14th August shows a picture on its front page of  “The Men Who Help to Feed the Robin Hoods - a photograph of the men who do the work of cooks for our men in Dunstable”.

The newspaper clippings can be viewed in my Flickr Album

So, now that I have a few facts, photos and newspaper clippings, I can let my imagination have free rein. It’s exactly one hundred years ago, and my Great-grandfather was going home from his job as a lathe turner that Saturday, with a copy of the Evening Post, and pointing out to his wife Gertie, and to Maud, the picture of the Dunstable cooks. Perhaps there were a few words about Syd at least being well-fed. He would certainly have been very much in their thoughts. They probably wondered how Albert was getting on as well - wherever he was.

Also in that edition of the Evening Post was a notice about the first National Register, due to take place next day. Unlike the census this was the responsibility of every member of the household between the ages of 15 and 65 years to complete individually. Gertie and Maud would have had white forms and William a blue form. Perhaps those forms were sitting next to the clock on the mantelpiece, as a reminder of the job to be done next day. I wonder if Maud filled hers in before church in the morning, or before Sunday School, where she taught in the afternoon, or when she came home on her one ‘day of rest’. William would take the dog for his weekly bath in the River Trent in the morning and then have a pint in the local pub, whilst Gertie got the Sunday dinner ready. Perhaps they all sat round the dining table after dinner and filled the forms in together.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom; in those days Nottingham had several cinemas and then, as now, was famous for its theatres. Perhaps Maude and Dorothy went that Saturday, with other work friends, to the Royal Hippodrome to see, ‘A Daylight Robbery’ or to the Empire, where for as little as 3d they could watch a variety show. A Charlie Chaplin film was showing at the Picture Palace, Goldsmith Street, with five performances that Saturday. Nearer to home, at the Pavilion Gardens,Trent Bridge, the Pastoral Players were giving their last two performances.The Tea Balcony was open from 4.30 to 7 which may have made that the more appealing option. Perhaps William, Gertie and Maud went there together as a reward for working hard all week, to lift their spirits and to take their minds off the boys for a while.

On their return Maud may have written to her brothers and enclosed one of the small photos she had collected that day, probably from Gales on Clumber Street. My Great-grandfather, who loved to read, would have been quite happy with his pipe and a good book, after he’d finished the crossword in the Evening Post. He may have taken the dog for a last stroll. Tomorrow was another day and there were those forms to fill in. My grandfather would have wound up the Mantel clock and checked it against his pocket watch before retiring. 

Good Night everyone.

For more imaginative tales and sepia photographs, join us at Sepia Saturday.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Box Clever

This photo of my grandparents 'watching the Box' (TV) at our house, was taken by my father, somewhere around 1962 I think. Dad liked to take unusual pictures and he clearly had crept up on his parents whilst they were engrossed in this TV programme. I think I can identify the comedian Ted Ray, who was better known for his radio shows.  Long before colour had arrived, this small TV set was rented from Rediffusion , because that’s what you did in those days.

Years later we had graduated to a better model, although still renting from Rediffusion, as can be seen in the picture of our daughter aged four months. I can pinpoint the date with some confidence to Sunday 5th March as those are Mothering Sunday (as it was still known in those days) cards on top of the TV.  I know, because I made the one on the right.  We would have been visiting Mum and Dad in Nottingham from our home in Lincoln, a few miles away.

My daughter is watching the World Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa, Canada, which were held from 1-6 March 1978, and that’s probably Robin Cousins skating for UK. He went on to gain the Bronze medal and I think we were all as transfixed as she was.

I used the term ‘watching the Box’ at the beginning of this post and I think it’s probably a peculiarly English term. We still ask ‘What’s on the Box tonight?’ and I know it’s not very correct but it’s a way of acknowledging that this clever box is held with some affection. We use it not just to entertain and pass the time, but sometimes as a way of diverting attention. My grandparents weren’t great conversationalists and the TV would have been a boon to my parents whilst they got on with other chores.

Like many other mothers, then and now, I’m guilty of sitting my children in front of the Box whilst I too grab a few minutes to myself. In this case I had obviously left our young son, aged eight months, in the care of his grandparents. This is another of my Dad’s photos and my Mum has carefully written the date on the back; 14th March 1980. I love this photo for two reasons; one because it shows the back of my son’s ‘baby-neck’ - not a view most doting parents would choose to take. You know what I mean by ‘baby-neck’ don’t you? There he is all ready for bed, having been fed and bathed and smelling of baby powder. Even now I can remember the sensation of nuzzling there and my feeling of maternal love rises to the surface.

I’m also fond of this snapshot because my son is watching Michael Wood, the TV historian, on whom I had a quite a crush, especially when he spoke in old Anglo Saxon. His skinny blue jeans had nothing to do with it - it was his mind that made my heart flutter. Remember, I was still in my twenties. When I see him on the Box these days, it’s definitely the history that has me enthralled; a man who is as clever as the box from which he reaches to his audience.

My final photograph is, no surprise, another of my Dad’s. It’s that little girl in the baby seat all grown up. She’s killing a few moments as she waits for us all to come to the table for Christmas Dinner. She doesn’t need to sit that close, but at a guess, she’s watching the Christmas Day edition of ‘Top of the Pops’; it certainly wouldn’t be The Queen’s Speech!  This time the TV is housed in a cabinet, a box within a box, and it had a door which you could close when you weren’t viewing, to make it look part of the furniture - now that IS clever. This is 1996 in our old house in Salisbury. and once again I’m filled with happy memories when I look at this photograph.

Why not join us for this week’s Sepia Saturday, for more happy memories. Some contributors may even be thinking outside the box. Happy viewing!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Cheer Up, It May Never Happen!

Many of you will recognise the cheerful cherub in this photo, as it’s the one I use for my blogger profile as Little Nell. Although wearing a sunbonnet, I’m obviously staring directly into the sun, and hence my screwed-up features. There are quite a few photos of me looking severely hacked-off as a youngster, and, if I’m honest, not all of them were the result of the sun-in-eyes syndrome. Here is a small selection. If you can bear it, click on each one individually to enlarge it.

Definitely the sun
But I love donkeys!

Probably wanted to build a sandcastle.
Not very happy at being perched on the castle wall.

Everyone else seems fairly happy.
Clearly the sunglasses didn’t help on this occasion.

In fairness to myself, there are far more photos of me looking happy. The sun-in-eyes thing is not too far from the truth; even to this day I wear sunglasses on bright days, not just sunny days, and if I don’t, my eyes sting and water copiously.

In the photo above I look as if the whole lollipop has come off its stick and I’m not sure whether to spit it out or swallow it.  Let’s end with a smile, just to show that I was a cheerful baby and went on to have a very happy childhood; it’s just that the camera caught me out sometimes.

This week’s prompt for Sepia Saturday, shows a group of down-in-the-mouth students, which gave us one of the possible themes for this week’s post. If you need cheering up, go and see what other contributors have come up with for their own blogs.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Infinite Budgie Theorem

"The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.” (Wikipedia)

Here’s our budgie, Pippin, putting this to the test (for monkey, read, budgie) at Christmas 1993. It’s not a typewriter of course, because we had moved on to computers by then. The computer itself almost dates the picture, as its an Amstrad PC and a rather clunky keyboard, typical of the times. Ive sepiarised them for fun and because the picture quality is so poor.

 Pippin also helped me out when, during my first Headship, I brought a school computer home to prepare some work for the children (no laptops then).  Thats not the result of his efforts on the screen however.

To distract him my son placed one of Pippins toys on top of the computer, so that I could get on with some lesson preparation in peace.

Pippin was very inquisitive and would help with any activity the family were involved in. Pippin Helping became  a family catch phrase. He would help' with jigsaws, by turning over all the pieces back to the blank side. He would ‘help' by grabbing my sewing needle and trying to pull the thread through. 

He would help my daughter by tidying her hair ribbons and ensuring she hit the right notes in her recorder playing. 

 He liked to check that the salad was thoroughly washed and that there was no leftovers in the cereal bowls. Any empty crisp packets were ‘tidied up’ by being marched to the corner of the table and dropped over the edge. Pippin also liked to groom anybody who was willing to sit still long enough. 

What he wasnt very good at was helping with any writing. He never wrote a report or assisted with homework. No matter how many keyboards he was allowed to run along, he never produced anything worthy of a mention. 

He certainly inspired us all to write our own memories when he died in August 2000. He’d been part of the family for ten years and his antics were a source of joy to us all. 

Fly over to this weeks Sepia Saturday today and see what this old image of a typewriter has inspired others to post.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Erected for Counsel and Welcome

This is my brother in 1946, perched on the paws of a rather disdainful stone lion. This isn’t just any old lion,  it’s the famous  Left Lion,  well know rendezvous in front of Nottingham's magnificent Council House in the Market Square. There is also a Right Lion, and the pair are know locally these days as Leo and Oscar. They were designed by Joseph Else, principal of the Nottingham School of Art.

There would have been an added significance at the time of this photo, as my grandfather  had worked as one of the team of builders who constructed the Council House almost twenty years earlier.

The above picture is taken from Arthur Mee’s 1938 ‘The King’s England: Nottinghamshire’, courtesy of the excellent ‘Notts History’ website * and where we can read a very detailed description of the new building and its significance for the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ as Nottingham was known. Mee uses the image to show how the old Market Square looked during the Council House construction; he then extols the virtues of the new Nottingham, which has tidied itself up, got rid of its slums and ‘shabby’ market and built many new houses, schools, hospitals, boulevards, parks and playing fields, making itself “one of the most wonderfully equipped cities in the kingdom."

The Council House official opening by the Prince of Wales, on 22nd May 1929** attracted large crowds. I wonder if my grandfather took his family along; perhaps they are somewhere in this picture. The market had been moved to an indoor venue and the old market square was laid out with lawns, flowers and marble walks. Perhaps that’s when the local nickname change to ‘Slab Square’.

Arthur Mee wrote in 1938 that: "The dome looks down from its 200 feet height to the floor of a spacious arcade of shops and offices, approached by great arches from the streets. Round the bottom of the dome we read that the Corporation of  Nottingham erected this building for Counsel and Welcome, and to show Merchandise and Crafts.”

This is how it looked in August 1994 in a picture taken by my father.

Over the years the square has changed several times. The picture above was taken sometime in the late 70s, early 80s, and where the iconic black and white taxis are lined up on the far side of the square, now runs part of the city’s vast new tramway.

Visiting in December 2012, for my father’s funeral, I took this picture. The Christmas Market was on and, for some reason, this is the only image I took; I found it curiously uplifting.

When I was there last month I took this picture, showing the new fountain/water feature. The flowerbeds and walkways are gone, but in their place is a large space which serves the city as a venue for celebrations, Christmas Markets, and other events. Sometimes it becomes an ice rink and sometimes it is filled with sand and becomes ‘Nottingham by the Sea’.

The Council House remains unchanged, and Leo is still there too.

In both the 1946 and the 2015 picture can be seen the plaque marking the laying of the foundation stone on 17th March 1927.

One of the themes suggested by this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt was construction work, tunnels or significant dates. Step back in time and see what other Sepians have found in their old photo albums.

*Andy Nicholson holds the copyright and in 2012 graciously granted me permission to use his pictures. Do go and have a look at his labour of love at nottshistory.org. The Arthur Mee volume was only added this year and is full of interesting information.

** Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A Tale of Survival

This may look like a just a very old packet of cigarettes, but it is the subject of this week’s Sepia Saturday post. Yes, the cigarettes are still with us, but their owner sadly died some years ago.

This is my sister-in-law’s father, Joe, and seventy-five years ago this month, he took part in an historic event, The Dunkirk Evacuation, also known as Operation Dynamo. It was the evacuation of around 40,000 Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 27 May and 4 June 1940. You can read about this in countless books and on the web, and this week’s commemorative events, but Joe’s story has never been written before, so it is my honour to do so now.

Joe signed up for four years military service with the Territorial Army on 1 May 1939 at Harborne, Birmingham, England, and on 1 September he was called up as a Driver in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). He was posted with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) as an ambulance driver and landed in France on 9 January 1940. It was from there that he was to swim for his life during the Dunkirk Evacuation. Joe survived, though many didn’t, but we don’t know any more details of his rescue; perhaps it was on board one of the fifty or so ‘Little Ships’ which came to the rescue of the stranded allies. He was a very quiet man and didn’t talk much about his wartime exploits. What we do know is that the packet of cigarettes Joe was carrying at the time, also survived and that he kept them as a constant reminder of how close he came to losing his young life that day.

Joe, bottom right.

After Dunkirk Joe spent two and a half years stationed at various medical reception centres in Lincolnshire.

In January 1943 he was posted to PAIForce (Persian and Iran Expeditionary Force) where he drove petrol tankers. He remained in the Middle East with spells in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, until he returned to UK in March 1946.

It was exactly seventy-five years ago today that a message was sent to Lord Gort, the Commander of the BEF, to evacuate the maximum Force possible. This British Pathe News clip gives a flavour of the event; who knows? perhaps Joe is one of the soldiers in the water, or one of those later being hauled aboard ship.

Joe, Veteran of Dunkirk, 1921 - 1983

Sunday, 24 May 2015


The peeling paint, and rusty hook, 
The battered book,
The old straw hat,
The threadbare mat,
The furled umbrella, grey and torn,
The coat quite worn,
The shirt with holes,
The shabby soles,
The tattered bag and empty purse
The life, a curse,
Enough to make
The spirit break.
© Marilyn Brindley

Joining in with The Mag for the first time in ages, and returning also to a favourite verse form, ‘The Minute’ - sixty syllables exactly (8,4,4,4 x 3),  and also written in iambic rhythm and rhyming couplets, making it an interesting challenge. Thanks to Sandy Brownjohn’s ‘The Poet’s Craft’ once more for guiding me in the techniques, and to Tess Kincaid for the picture prompt as inspiration (1907, John Frederick Peto).

See also A Towering Talent and Trapped for other examples of my poems using The Minute.