A Reflection on 2014

Reflections on 2014Yet another year seems to have flown by in a blur. Where does all the time go?

2014 saw the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WW1 and a series of events throughout the UK were scheduled to commemorate this occasion. This is a recurring theme at many of the places that I visited over the year.

Our first holiday of the year was to Mechelen in Belgium. This was our Christmas present to each other. Mechelen is rich in history and is also a place of many bicycles that inspired me to purchase a new bicycle on my return home. Throughout the summer months I enjoyed cycling around the nearby lanes with my camera ever ready in the bicycle basket.

Our next break was a weekend in Salisbury where I was able to visit Stonehenge and Avebury, two places I have been promising to revisit for some time.  My Mum accompanied us on the trip to make up for last years cancelled trip to Oxford; we had promised to take her away for a few days as soon as her broken leg had recovered enough. Later in the year we also went to Oxford although not on my birthday weekend as we had planned in 2013.

2014 was the year that Mr C became a gentleman of a certain age.  We spent his birthday weekend in London so that we could visit the Natural History Museum’s exhibition on mammoths, the highlight of which was Lyuba, a well preserved baby mammoth found in the Siberian tundra.

Whilst in London we took time to visit the Tower of London to see the major art installation; Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red which was part of the WW1 centenary commemorations. We saw the ceramic poppies being planted in the Tower’s moat with a Yeoman Warder helping co-ordinate the proceedings. We returned to the Tower in November, just three days before the last poppy was planted. On this occasion we also heard the commemorative roll call and the playing of the last post, which I found moving. I had been following this project since it was announced on the Tower of London’s website earlier in the year so I was pleased to have had the opportunity to see it twice and also purchase one of the ceramic poppies which arrived in early December.

Due to unforeseen circumstances we had to shelve Mr C’s original plan for a birthday holiday abroad. Instead, we planned a more modest but no less interesting vacation in Winchester during September. The weather was kind to us and we were able to wander around without coats. I had the opportunity to revisit Avebury more thoroughly than we had managed earlier in the year.

I was lucky enough to meet up with blog friends when the Shutterchance group met at RAF Museum Cosford in May. A good time was had by all. I revisited Cosford later in the year and found that replica WW1 planes had arrived and were to be part of the museum’s WW1 centenary commemorations. I must go back for another visit now that the exhibition is fully open.  Another place we visited in connection with WW1 commemorations was Dunham Massey which is currently displaying some of its rooms as they were when it was a war time hospital. On the subject of blog friends there was a touch of sadness when the Vision & Verb collaborative project (of women of a certain age) reached its conclusion in July.

I visited the National Memorial Arboretum for the first time in May. In keeping with the WW1 commemorations I followed a WW1 centenary trail. My visit there was a very moving experience.

Other places I visited were; Hodnet Hall Garden, Berrington Hall, Westonbury Water Gardens, Weston Park, Wroxeter’s Roman City and nearby St Andrew’s Church (where I was able to take photographs after two previously failed attempts). I visited Attingham Park on more than one occasion, the most recent being a few days before Christmas to see the house decked out to a ‘Christmas Through the Ages’ theme;  just the thing to put me in the Christmas spirit.

I wonder what 2015 will bring…

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Lives of the First World War

Lives of the First World WarTo help commemorate the First World War, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) has launched a digital memorial to record the life of every person who served in uniform or worked on the home front during World War One.

During the next five years the “Lives of the First World War” will become the permanent digital memorial to over 8 million men and women. This memorial is still a work in progress; not all of the records are yet online and more will be added over the coming months.

Over the coming months, millions of additional new records will be added to Lives of the First World War – from the Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Forces along with the records of almost 17,000 conscientious objectors. IWM is also seeking to include the Indian Army, Home Front workers and all others who made a contribution from across the British Empire.

Lives of the First World War will continue to evolve over the First World War Centenary and new functionality will be added so that people can easily share and discuss who they are remembering online.

The “Lives of the First World War” is a project that anyone can contribute to by adding to the records, perhaps by uploading a picture, sharing a family story or connecting to official records that will help build up a picture of what happened to someone who served during the war.

You might recall I wrote about my great uncle who served in the RAMC during the war. His name was Harry Jefferson and I found a record for that name. The record has no other details against it so I wasn’t sure if it was the right Harry Jefferson. We have a medal with his name on the edge which my grandfather (Harry’s brother) gave to me when I was a child. I had given the medal to my dad and he kept it with his own service medal.

A couple of weeks ago my Mum and I had a little trip down memory lane by way of looking through dad’s bedside box of trinkets and cufflinks etc. I found a medal but not the one I was expecting to find (which I hope will turn up eventually). Luckily, the medal I found was Harry’s British War Medal, 1914-18 which has his service number, rank and name engraved on the side.

I was therefore able to establish that the digital memorial record I had found was his. I will be taking part in the project by adding the few things I know about him to his individual memorial record.

Freakish Weather

Freakish Weather

In England, weather is often a favourite topic of conversation.  We English are never content whatever the weather.

The beginning of 2014 has brought some freak weather to our shores.  Since December last year there has been torrential rainfall in the south of the country leading to intensive flooding.   The ‘Somerset Levels’ has now become an inland waterway.  Many people in that area have been forced to evacuate their homes and farmers have bought boats so that they can get to and from their farmland and the local town.

For some reason the Jet Stream has become stuck and it is this that is causing this unseasonal, freakish weather!  In recent weeks this anomaly has caused hurricane force winds along parts of the coastline.  Some gusts peaked at over 100mph exacerbating high spring tides and causing waves that damaged coastal properties.

The torrential rain has also caused sinkholes to appear because of underground corrosion.  Some of these have appeared next to residential properties, requiring them to be evacuated.

Moving closer to my Shropshire home the winds have been less severe but still strong enough to bring down many (old) trees, causing travel problems and damage to property.

Sadly the extreme weather conditions have led to some loss of life and some people have unfortunately lost their livelihood.  The weather has also had a devastating effect on the environment and the land will perhaps take a long time to recover.

Once again I am impatiently waiting for spring

A Reflection on 2013

A Reflection on 2013 V&V

After the mad rush in the few weeks run up to Christmas I can’t believe it is Boxing Day already!

Looking back on the year it doesn’t seem five minutes since last Christmas.  This year has certainly flown by in a blur.

It has certainly been a bumper year for vacations.  I had a mini break to Newcastle and two mini breaks to Nottingham early in the year.  The breaks in Nottingham were to celebrate significant birthdays of two members of my family.  In the Summer I had a well needed relaxing holiday to Lucerne and in September an even more relaxing holiday to Newcastle and Northumberland, this involved staying in one of my favourite places.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to go on my planned weekend away to Oxford with my family to celebrate my birthday.  The day before we were due to go away my mum slipped on the stairs and broke her leg in three places, so she needed a bit of help to get her sorted out around the house.

The year was tinged with sadness when early in the year one of my blogging friends passed away suddenly.  I still miss him, especially when I am out and about with my camera when I wonder how his photographs of the places I am taking would look.

I have been lucky to meet other new blogging friends along the way.  I even got to meet one of my blog friends for the first time earlier in the year on one of my mini breaks and again later in the year on one of my longer vacations.  We thoroughly enjoyed both occasions.

As you have come to expect from me I had many day trips out including two to London.  The second one became rather eventful when the coach broke down just outside London on our way home.  We ended up being trapped on the coach for four hours!!!

The summer weather was just perfect and we spent many evenings sitting out on the patio, dining and then waiting for the sun to set.  This was a welcome relief the previous year it seemed to rain almost continually in England.

Despite all the toing and froing we even managed get the guttering replaced and to have a new bathroom fitted along the way.  It is perfect to soak in the new bath, enjoying a glass of sherry, each Sunday evening before dinner.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring but perhaps I should slow down a little?

My image shows a picture taken in each month of 2013

A Family History Tragedy

A Family History Tragedy

You might recall that one of my interests is genealogy and researching my family tree.  I shared the mystery regarding my maternal grandmother’s family.  I will now share a tragedy that took place in my paternal line.

My grandfather’s brother served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WW1, serving some time in Egypt.  Within his line of duty, he treated casualties from both sides. It is difficult to comprehend the atrocities he would have encountered and been forced to deal with on a daily basis. He became friends with one of his German patients, who out of gratitude gave him his field binoculars.

During WW2 whilst carrying out his duties as a member of the home guard he was shot in the face with blanks which blinded him for a time.  In 1942 he shot his wife before shooting himself; my aunt still remembers the day the news came to the rest of the family.  There was an inquest which concluded that his being shot in the face had caused blood clots which led to the actions he took.

Unlike his brother, my grandfather didn’t serve in WW1 although he did try to join the Navy on two occasions.  On the first occasion he did join up and received the ‘King’s shilling’ only to be told by his mother to take it back.  The second time he tried to join up his boss persuaded him against it.  He was in a reserved occupation and therefore not obliged to sign up and take part in the conflict.

Some years ago the German field binoculars were passed on to me along with a pair of my grandfather’s binoculars.  The binoculars that belonged to my great uncle are a poignant reminder of the futility of war and the consequences of power and greed but most importantly they remind me of man’s humanity to his fellow men.

When I went to get the binoculars out of the cupboard to take the photograph to go with this post I got both pairs of binoculars out and it was only then that I realised that the second pair were English Army issue from WW1 and that they must have belonged to my great uncle before my grandfather.

Things That Make You Go Hmm…

Things that make you go hmm...

I recently read a blog post entitled ‘The Gate of Gifts’. 1 I found it quite heart-warming (it brought tears to my eyes in a good way); the experiences mentioned in the post chimed with things that have happened to me over the years and reminded me of some unusual events leading up to and after my dad passed away in April 2010.

On the day that my dad was rushed into hospital, my home phone was not working. There was nothing wrong with it, it started working again the day after…  My heating had also broken down a couple of days before. 2

When it was time to visit my dad on his last day in this world, all the roads to the hospital were blocked and I had to be creative to get there in time for the visiting slot.  I was meeting my mum and brother who were already there and I was worrying because I knew my brother would be stressed because I was late.  When I left the hospital room I knew I would never see my dad again.

For that reason I took this photo of the beginning of a sunset.  The actual sunset was amazing, something I have never seen before or since. I saw it in the rear view mirror as I was driving back to my parents’ house. 3  The sky was orange and the sun was a bright orange disc gradually changing to an intense red colour. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so the sun was a perfect circle with a different shade of orangey/red behind it. 4

One evening several months before my dad passed away when I was visiting my parents I pressed the doorbell and it played a completely different melody to usual.  My dad opened the door and we commented on it and he tried it out a few times but it had reverted back to its usual sound.  Everyone else claimed we were hearing things and it never did it again until one morning a few days after my dad passed away…  When I pressed the bell it took me by surprise by playing that same unusual melody.  My mum opened the door and said “I don’t know why it did that!” 5

When we returned to my mum’s house after my dad’s funeral some plants my dad had ordered (several months before) were unexpectedly sitting on the doorstep. 6

A few months later I spent time with my mum on my dad’s birthday helping her to choose a memorial rose in his memory. Later in the day when we were leaving mum’s house ready for an evening meal at my house I heard what I thought was a door shutting upstairs.  When I went to investigate I found that the door to my dad’s office, which even now is always left open, had blown shut…  This reminded me that my mobile phone had been playing up in a very unusual way earlier in the day… 7

Other odd things happened after my dad passed away…

The doorbell rang randomly at my mum’s house when no-one was there.  For many months a telephone rang in her dining room where there is no phone and nothing in the room that could make that noise.  There were many electrical failures particularly in my mum’s house but there were also some in mine.  There was a very strange incident involving a glass shelf…

Around October 2011 I was at home alone eating my evening meal.  I was using the lights in the side unit rather than the main light and my thoughts were away with the fairies, as they often are when I have peace and quiet.  The light dimmed and I looked around because I thought the bulb had blown.  What I saw was the light slowly dimming and growing bright again three or four times. I thought it was a bit strange but it stopped and I thought nothing more of it, until a few months later…

On Christmas day I scheduled a picture of my mum and dad (taken on the last Christmas we had with my dad) to post as we sat down to dinner.  It was a very happy thought and it made me smile.  As we sat down to dinner the same light slowly dimmed and grew bright three or four times… 8

Things that make you go hmm…

1 The Gate of Gifts by Iain Carstairs

2 Failing Technology

3 Sunset

4 Cragside Revisited (comments section)

5 The Doorbell and the Shoe

6 New Growth

7 The Magical Mystery Tour

8 Christmas Memories

NB: Update link for the Gate of Gifts post that inspired me to write this 🙂

Day Trip to London

Day Trip to London

On a recent day trip to London the weather was perfect.  Rather than use our local station we drove a short way to catch a train because the journey times are better.  When we sat down in our designated seats there were already two people in the seats next to us; they had boarded the train in Liverpool.

They turned out to be very interesting people.  One of them had worked as a stunt double for a famous actor and had recently been asked to act in his own right in a couple of films.  He was travelling to a filming session for his third film in which he had been asked to speak in a Slavic language rather than English.  In addition to this he had he had previously taught martial arts and run his own gym.

The other person was responsible for the smelting and casting of the bronze statues around Liverpool.  The conversations made the journey interesting and enjoyable.

On arrival in London we made our way along Victoria Embankment toward Westminster Abbey with a view to finding somewhere for lunch along the way.  We managed to walk past all the best eating places without stopping and found ourselves outside Westminster Abbey without having eaten.  I sat down on a wall whilst a quick recce of the area took place, after which I was taken to the Westminster Arms, a place I know well having frequented it on more than one occasion when I have been in London on Trade Union matters.

We descended into the basement where food was served and were pointed in the direction of one of the corners.  I was initially a little bit confused because I couldn’t see a table.  I then realised that it was behind a wooden screen and we ended up in what I jokingly called a cupboard. I had thoughts of Harry Potter and being shut underneath the stairs.  I little bit later, when we were settling the bill, the owner told us we were sitting in the confessional box.   The food was nice honest fair and set us up for a walk round Westminster Abbey.

When we arrived at the Abbey one of the guides insisted that we took one of the electronic self-guided tour gadgets.  I much prefer to use a guidebook and pick out the things that interest me the most.  The electronic guide was good but, for me, it detracted from the ambiance of the building.  The cloister and collage gardens were wonderful and especially enjoyable because of the sunshine.  After all that walking, it was time for a cold drink and afternoon cake in the Abbey’s tea room.

We then made our way across Westminster Bridge towards the London Eye which was our next port of call.  The views from the Eye were spectacular and the bright sunshine enabled me to capture some good photographs from the heights. We next made our way towards the British Museum where I intended to have a quick look at the Egyptian antiquities on the ground floor. Unfortunately I had got the timings wrong and it had closed when we arrived, so we made a quick detour to browse Foyles book shop and have another refreshing drink before catching a cab back to the station in time for our return journey.  Before boarding the train we picked up some sandwiches to eat on the journey.  The late evening sun shining on the English countryside was spectacular, reminding me how lucky I am to live in this part of the world.