1st of March — 1st day of meteorological spring — St David’s day is cause for celebration in Staylittle, Mid-Wales.
A time to meet old friends — here’s Audrey and Gareth.
We were entertained by famous local magician/retired dentist Gareth Jenkins. Sobering to find how apparently easily ones senses can deceive one — except it probably isn’t easy! Thank you Gareth.
We sported our daffs. The real things are a few days late this year. We ate cawl and Welsh cakes. Met new residents —
Here’s Anwen, the newest!
We played stand-up bingo and competed in the darts challenge — no one was injured this year. We nearly all got a raffle prize, I won a large clump of snowdrops to plant on our newly revealed bank and Bill got a birdwatchers mug and gardening gloves — how psychic was that!
The climax of the evening — Nick, who runs the village shop and won the darts challenge last year, defended his title in the final with all the bells, whistles and triumphant hype of the professional darts circuit… and lost to Audrey’s cousin! What a sport!
Kettering is not a bad place and it tries very hard.
It is full of proper, hard working people and has a proud industrial, non-conformist and anti-slavery history.
They got a bit carried away in the 1960’s when town planning, which had just been invented, got out of hand and they knocked down lots of buildings that they shouldn’t have.
There is still a beautiful parish church appreciated by the nesting peregrine falcons that live in the spire.
There are still some fine Victorian buildings and some earlier ironstone cottages and alms houses.
The Victorians also used some local ironstone, but mainly red brick.
Here is an elegant example, squeezed in next to a neoclassical bank building where shoe barons discussed investments with a bewhiskered bank manager. On the other side is a mid-twentieth century cinema, until recently an illicit cannabis farm, putting the “high” back in the High Street..
Here is the Royal Hotel — erstwhile commercial hub in the town’s heyday, where deals were negotiated for leather and shoes and more recently, probably marijuana.
Can you see someone at a first floor window, he gave me a friendly wave — one of the 40 people to whom the Royal now gives asylum. Despite the objections of the county council and police, Kettering seems to be surviving.
Development money has been spent regenerating the centre. There is the hint of a developing cafe culture.
A lot has been spent on new planters — the gardens have always been well tended.
Today I discovered the Yards, described as a cool, laid back, shopping area with lots of small, independent traders (I’m all for that). The old fire station calls itself “A low impact regeneration project”. I’d call it alternative — there is a terrific clothes shop with a clever buyer sourcing stylish, quality garments at low prices. There are shops, a food bank and cafes and places to hang out — and there are murals — large murals.
Now is the time to see the ducks and geese overwintering in Norfolk and Lincolnshire on the marshes of the Wash, escaping the frozen winters of their northern breeding grounds
Flocks of wigeon with their strange whistling call. Here they are grazing on Frampton Marsh. Later we see them in great rafts, floating out at sea — didn’t know they did that.
Further out, beyond the sea wall (not a wall but a huge earth bank) there are hundreds of Brent geese gathered feeding on the flats, muttering and murmuring to each other — squadrons of them coming in, in great skeins and others taking off and passing overhead. Some crossing the Wash, that big bite that the North Sea takes out of East Anglia between the bulge of Norfolk and Lincolnshire to the North-West. There are hundreds of Brent geese on the marshes at Frampton and a single barnacle goose today, but none of our hoped for white fronted and pink footed quarry or even our familiar greylag or Canada goose — despite an eight mile wild goose chase!
Nearer to Cambridge are the Ouse washes. We visit Manea where the River Ouse overflows and floods the flat farm land at this time of the year. One way there are flooded fields:
On the other side of the levee gulls and crows follow the plough as the rich fenland pasture is prepared for a new crop. The whole area is crossed by a network of dykes, rivers and drains.
We are looking for the flocks of whooper swans that spend their winters here, grazing the drier fields by day. There are also Bewick swans that breed in northern Russia — harder to find, becoming quite scarce, smaller, more delicate with less yellow on their bills. We see a few of these timid birds at Welney, but too far away to photograph.
Above is a whooper at the reserve at Welney where there are also hundreds of beautiful male pochard (below). Males outnumber females enormously, it seems that the females prefer a warmer clime for their winter break. They like shallow water and can be seen diving to feed around the swans who kick up the mud for them, stirring up the invertebrates and plant material.
This year there a plenty of these exquisite pintails swimming in couples.
and the less gregarious shell duck, like this one(below). They spend much time with their tails in the air, feeding, when they display the large orange area under their tails.
As we leave Welney there are tree sparrows in a bramble thicket — rarely seen these days.
They are more active than house sparrows, have chocolate coloured heads and distinctive black cheek patches, males and females are similar. Our last treat at Welney — a barn owl quartering the land behind the centre.
Things are not necessarily the way the BBC leads us to expect — Today I awoke to radio warnings of major disruption — most generalised and widespread strikes for many years. Looking for excitement I set off with my camera to record this mass political action in an East Midlands post-industrial town. Firefighters, health workers, railway workers and teachers — all out?
Fire Station — Fire engines having a lie in — No picket line, no muscly men and athletic young women gathered round a brazier… Disappointing
Railway station quiet — should have pictured it for my friend Steve it as it is a fine example. Next stop — General Hospital…
Very quiet — no picket line — I walked all the way round — I saw 4 ambulances waiting peacefully to be deployed (both crew in the cab and not looking after patients in the back).
Sorry everyone — not very exciting. But wait! What have we here?
Two friendly lads in disconcerting ski masks practicing to be stunt men… That’s better! Sorry boys I should have got your names and asked if your teachers were on strike!
You know that family dynamics have reached a transitional point when your entire stock of chocolate biscuits appear in the re-cycling bin. They do this spontaneously — apparently of their own volition. You call your daughter who is staying for the week-end to witness the mystery. You both stare into the gaping mouth of the green food-recycling bin where pale, slightly crackly milk chocolate digestives peep out from beneath cauliflower leaves and carrot peelings. “Perhaps it’s for the best, Mum? They don’t look very fresh!”
“I just fancied something sweet,” chips in son-in-law from somewhere in the background. The plot is edging towards a painful denouement. “But I couldn’t find anything that had expired later than 2018.”
“But, but…” I suddenly sound defensive, “We’ve only just dealt with the spaghetti mountain.”
“Not quite” interjects Judas Iscariot who is helping set the table, ” we’re up to 2016.”
“Well that’s no age at all for dried spaghetti” I snap, I’m starting to sound petulant. “Anyway, I’m on a war footing.”
So I have reached some sort of milestone. It only seems yesterday that I was furious with my own mother when I caught her rummaging through my kitchen waste to rescue things that she felt needed to be recycled — this was early in her eco-warrior phase. She had done this by emptying the entire contents of my kitchen bin onto newspaper on my kitchen floor.
I seem to have come all the way around some sort of cycle — I think I’ll go and hide my dirty underwear, like great-granny did, in back copies of the Daily Telegraph and start spitting my pills behind the toilet cistern.
I have just listened to a couple of women, their voices laced with empathy, talking on the radio about grief. They would think me a hard bitch or in denial — my husband died 4 years ago — I loved him — I think of him every day. BUT I moved on with my life almost immediately — the reasons for this are simple.
1. I always knew he was going to die and not just because everyone dies — sometimes I think people forget this. He was also 10 years older than me and he had cancer and he smoked and drank and ate bacon sandwiches and always lived life to the full.
2. I had planned for his death — I consciously valued my friends, not letting my other relationships dwindle during his illness. Our affairs were in order, we had discussed his funeral, he had an up-to-date will, I knew what he wanted me to do with his possessions. I had something suitable to wear for a funeral and had my hair cut regularly just in case.
3. I had an outline plan for my life afterwards — visiting family and spending time with my interesting, lively women friends, writing and not making any decisions about my life for at least twelve months.
3. Ever since his diagnosis I had known his prognosis (he had preferred not to be told) and I dreaded his passing — the mode of his dying — I did not want him to suffer — I knew he would loathe invalidity — he never gave in to his illness and clung on to his extrovert persona regardless of what the illness took from him. This meant that being in hospital was exhausting for him and he hated it.
4. In the event his death was dramatic but almost instantaneous, this may have been traumatic to his son who also witnessed it but, to me it was a huge relief — he had gone suddenly, a massive haemorrhage and complete collapse. No pneumonia, no difficulty breathing, no pain, just a big surprise. He had remained himself until the bitter end and now he was gone.
I was alone, but I had a plan and knew what to do.
Moving on? A human life is a very short span –you cannot afford to squander any of it. When opportunities arise one has to grab them while you can. The trauma of bereavement gives you a little burst of rejuvenating adrenalin — you can’t afford to waste that either!
Sometimes we confuse grief with guilt, with fear of the unknown and with loneliness, all of which are part of it. I would urge folk that the best way to avoid these is to think about them before the event, come to terms with what is ahead, anticipate and plan, be it joining a choir, taking up croquet or talking with friends.
And children (I am well) but don’t fall into the trap of thinking your Mum or Dad will always be there!
The weather is bad and I have been browsing in my great-granny, Isabella’s photo album, an object lesson in why you should label photos. Isabella (1873-1964) is here photographed in about 1895 in North London where she was born to Peter and Mary Grant.
Here she is sitting at her mother’s right hand side with her Father and all her siblings; so many girls.
Peter Grant, seen here with his Victorian family, was the son of farmers from Boharm on Speyside, 15 miles south of Elgin, He went to London to make his fortune working initially as a clerk in a wine importers and probably meeting his future wife on a trip home to visit his parents. He eventually had his own import business specialising in port and sherry — as a child I always enjoyed visiting my Great Uncle George — seen here in his youth, lolling on the right of this photo. By the time I knew him, he was a rotund, red and shiny old gentleman with whiskers who went up to town every day in a black jacket, pin-striped trousers, a bowler hat, shoes in which you could see your face and carrying a tightly rolled umbrella. It seemed to me that he lived in the corner of a Victorian museum — a large ground-floor flat in Jackson’s Lane, Highgate. He was surrounded by drapes, oil paintings, bronzes and a large white marble bust — he would rise occasionally to warm his behind in front of the fire and at the end of each visit he would sidle up to me and secretly press two half-crowns into my hand. As I grew older, regardless of the time of day or night one always received a glass of excellent port and a digestive biscuit! His ports and sherries sold on their reputation — he did not believe in advertising. Eventually he sold his sherry interests to Harvey’s who did, and the rest is history — the great sherry boom of the mid-twentieth century!
Mary Grant’s family hailed from Inverness where her father worked as an architect. It is a typical story of migration — although she lived in London, Isabella spent holidays with her aunts and uncles in the north of Scotland often at Lossiemouth. Here she is in 1894 at a tennis match in Stotfield, Lossiemouth.
Another intriguing annotated photo from her album is Gilbert R. Betjemann.
Gilbert was a member of their circle, he was a violinist also working in his family’s luxury goods business. Isabella was an excellent amateur pianist, I suspect she accompanied Gilbert (son of the, then, well known conductor Gilbert Henry Beaman Betjemann, whose father was a cousin of John Betjeman, the poet laureate’s grandfather. I mention this because I have been reading John Betjeman’s biography (they dropped the final ‘n’ due to anti-German feelings around WW1) and I remember my Great Granny talking in rather disparaging terms about the ‘rhymes’ of said celebrity poet!
In the March before he died Gilbert made Isabella this little pot which stands on my windowsill to this day. This must have been a wedding present — the monogram ‘IN’ is for her married name and the tiny inscription — his maker’s mark: GR Betjemann fecit, March 1896, 2 months after her marriage.
She married Mitchell Nicholl (1865-1948) another ex-patriot Scot from Kirkcaldy in Fife. He was 8 years her senior and had started as a stock jobber’s clerk in the City some time before 1891 but within 10 years he was listed as a self-employed, Stock Exchange Jobber, married with a 2 year old daughter. It was his father, the sea Captain, I discussed in a previous blog published on 2019/05/08, entitled “In the family — Shipwrecks and Cholera”. He died of cholera in a foreign port having lost everything in a shipwreck.
Isabella and Mitchell Nicoll — social mobility in action — the growing Edwardian middle-class, thanks to sound education and possibly helped by the inability of the class-bound English to fit a Scottish accent into the established order!
c1900, Isabella, with her mother and her daughter. My sons-in-law will read what they may from this image!
Powys Council Superheroes Dafydd and Jamie, mobilized from Llandrindod Wells, have braved the elements to unbung our culverts and release our flood water — the valley reverberates with satisfying glugs, gurgles and the sound of rushing water!
Rainfall of 100ml in 24hrs and it’s gone on for days (uncorroborated due to unavailability of rainwater gauges “no-one here needs to measure it!” Our little stream has overflowed for the first time in living memory, mine.
And the road in the dip had turned into a lake — but here is Dafydd:
doing what must be one of the most satisfying jobs in the world — here is the apotheosis of his craft!
The great unbung! See the job satisfaction:
Meanwhile Bill and I continue our flood surveillance — the innovative unblockable, hurdle-based, stream valve is working well.
And I think how much Alan would have enjoyed the diversion of so much muddy water.
This is to put all you keen gardeners in your place.
It should be reassuring to see what happens if you do absolutely nothing. We dug the pond because we were fed up with having to evacuate the tadpoles every year as the puddles dry up and their wriggling density becomes alarming.
Here it is 4 months later — despite the drought!
There are fishes too, very tiny super-sonic ones. This is promising:
A frog wondering where her favourite puddle has gone. There are water boatmen and the southern hawker was patrolling all summer, though we haven’t seen the female laying eggs we live in hope that soon the mud will be teeming with insect larvae.