Archive for December, 2013

Entering a Lock

December 21, 2013

Canals are artificial and they go where water may not have gone naturally. Gravity ensures that water finds a level. It’s gravity that makes rivers flow from source, up in the hills, eventually, to the sea. Canals need to provide a depth of water for boats and conserve water, for it often needs expensive pumping to get it to the high point in the canal.

Canals are made in level sections, often called pounds. Where needed, steps are put in – methods of raising or lowering a boat through a height of about ten feet. In the UK the most common form of step is the gated lock.

Back in 1974 a group of friends hired a boat and as part of the journey we were on the Trent and Mersey Canal near Stone in Staffordshire. This is a front passenger view of entering a lock there.


The driver, of course, is at the back of the boat, with one hand on the tiller and the other ready to throw the engine into reverse. Some passengers will have left the boat earlier and walked ahead to open the gates to allow the boat (She was called Empress of Worcester) into the lock. The top gates, at the far end of the lock look a bit leaky.

The boat is passing under a bridge and then straight into the lock. This is a narrow lock – built to a width of around seven feet and the boat fits snugly into it. The bottom gates are large and there are two of them that, when shut, meet in the middle of the canal to keep the water in. The top gate has much less depth and a singleton suffices.

A handy foot bridge has been provided to allow workers to cross the lock. One of our workers, Sam the Springer Spaniel, is standing on that bridge. The bridge is in two halves – both cantilevered out from the lock wall. The gap in the middle was crucial in times past, when horse power was used to haul boats. It provided a gap for the rope to pass through.

Once the boat is in the lock, the bottom gates are shut and the sluices at the top are opened to allow water to fill the lock. These sluices are called paddles. There is nothing you can do to hurry the process and no way can you open the gate until the water is level on both sides of it.

So sit down on a balance beam and relax. Once open, the boat can continue, but workers must shut all gates and paddles so they’ll still be walking and trying to catch up with the craft.

By the way, Sam can be counted as a worker. On a couple of occasions he rescued floating items which we had dropped in the canal!

The Railway at Clifden

December 20, 2013

I first visited Clifden in Connemara, Ireland in 1971. I never noticed anything to do with a railway back then. I was on honeymoon so maybe I had other things on my mind.

We revisited to celebrate our Ruby Wedding Anniversary in 2011. It’s odd how a railway which closed in 1935 should seemingly reappear more than fifty years later. Or maybe it was me that changed!

If you haven’t been to Connemara it will be hard to imagine how this little town, with a population of just over 2000, can be so important. The truth is that it is very much the only town in Connemara and it serves as the capital of this large area. As a result it has streets of shops – far more than might be expected. It has hotels and facilities for people. And for just forty years it had a railway to connect it to Galway.

By 2011 we were in the times of ‘heritage’. Now I’m all for this. I do not live in the past but I do think the past has shaped the present and an understanding of times past helps with an understanding of the present. Heritage also means preserving things that are or were of importance to help people in the future have an understanding.

So Clifden now honours its long gone railway.


Railway signs have appeared on buildings.



A semaphore signal adds to the atmosphere and ‘pretend tracks have been laid on the ground.


The old engine shed has been converted into a general museum.



This building looks the part and amongst the amazing history of this area, there is a section devoted to the railway so we can see what it was like.


There’s much to love about Connemara – whether you are a nerd or not. It’s a grand part of the world.

Clowns at Firle

December 19, 2013

One of the hopes, when writing a blog like this, is that you might get more information from somebody about what was going on. Not that there’ll be many people around now with memories of events and things that must date back to the 1920s. Yes, this is a bit of family history.

Two sisters, both great aunts of mine happened to end up living in Firle in Sussex (correctly it is West Firle). One was Eliza who married Will Hughes who was a local farm worker. The other was Ellen (Nellie) who married Frank Toms who was a general worker/engineer on the Firle state. Ellen lived to a goodly age and I know she was known as ‘Granny Toms’ by many villagers.

Well that sets the scene for that hoped for recognition but it doesn’t introduce us to any clowns. For that we have to introduce two more sisters. One was my granny, Ethel, who lived in Bexhill and the other was Great Aunt Sue who lived in Ringmer. I am sure these photos were taken around Granny Toms’ house which was on Wick Street in Firle.


This is Sue in the clown costume on a bicycle which I don’t think we’d call roadworthy. It lacks a front tyre and minor items like brakes and pedals. Sue’s foot is on what is only a footrest.

What I’d love to know is why Sue was dressed up as a clown.

And here, presumably on the same occasion, is Ethel, my grandmother.


Now I never saw grandma on a bicycle, although there is a photo of her and grandad on a tandem bike. Anyway, Granny has clearly decided against the bike and has a concertina instead.

I find these delightful photos and it reminds us that people did have fun in those old, black and white photo days.

But what was the occasion?

Skye Folk Life Museum

December 18, 2013

Back in 2010 we holidayed in the Hebrides, crossing over the Isle of Skye. Our time was a bit less than we planned because I developed what turned out to be a non-serious eye condition which necessitated a change of plan and a trip to the hospital in Inverness. Reassured, we continued our holiday for a briefer than planned visit to Skye.

We camped on the west coast, at Uig, and found we were near the Skye Folk Life Museum. Local museums about local people are often the best as far as I am concerned. I can relate to ordinary folk far more than I can to the ‘great’ leaders and the powerful people. I liked this museum up in the north west of the island.

A couple of times, fairly recently I have written about shepherding, both as a lad and as a grown man. I have kept sheep, I have shorn sheep, and we (my wife and I) have carded and spun wool. We have died it using locally found colorants and we have woven the result.

So there’s an area of folk life I really can understand and enjoy – and they had this at the Skye museum.


I love that wool which is far better in quality than anything I ever produced. And what gorgeous colours – including that in the woven cloth in the background.

The loom they had on display is far bigger than anything we ever used. It’s a grand bit of simple, understandable machinery – all human powered, of course.


As you might expect on a Hebridean island, the situation for this museum is coastal and dramatic.


There’s a range of small agricultural devices – all well painted against the hostile, salty environment.

The buildings at the museum are traditional in style and give a reminder of the wild, west coast conditions. A thatched roof needs some weight to hold it in place against the power of the wind.


And what better than hefty rocks.

It’s a museum that is well worth a visit. But then so are the Hebrides in general – both inner and outer.

A short mile

December 17, 2013

Quirky signs can amuse me – and for me signs can be quirky even if they weren’t intended to be.

Take this duo of direction and distance signs near Winterbourne Stoke in Wiltshire, for example.


There are all sorts to be amazed at here. First of all, the road going ahead is the A303 and there is not a car in sight. Finger posts, like the one on the junction have all but vanished from major roads. They are too fiddling and small to be seen by drivers travelling fast.

But most of all, I love the very short mile. In case it isn’t clear, let’s enlarge the finger post.


Look, it very clearly marks Salisbury as ten miles away but you only have to travel that yard or two to the newer sign and it is only nine miles away.


That is surely one of the shortest miles on record!

Shepherd (2)

December 16, 2013

Once upon a time I kept sheep. Actually, for twenty years or so I had a small flock. At first I shared them with a neighbour who was reasonably knowledgeable about what needed doing. Later I became sole owner, but still had access to the neighbour if I needed help.

Sheep first appeared in 1977 – and here they are.


Yes, that’s a picture taken on the old Canon Demi camera and shows the first five in-lamb ewes that we bought. They were quite elderly ladies and we hoped to get a good crop of lambs to start our flock – and we did.

Of course we were not good farmers for we tended to name our sheep. One was called Brush and her descendants became ‘Brush types’ which true nerds will recognise was a reference to diesel locos which ran on the railway at that time. Brush was a bit of a loud mouth and one neighbour referred to her as ‘Mouth Almighty’ with a bit of complaint about it. It always seemed to me that if you choose to live in a rural area you might have to expect rural noises from time to time.

We had odd forays into rare breeds. We tried Wiltshire Horn sheep at one time but they proved to be in the Houdini class at escapology. We hand a Manx Loghtan ewe which we called Ellan Vannin which is the Manx name for their island.

We had to do all the tasks – sheering, dipping (compulsory back then) worming and foot paring and the worst of all – dealing with blowfly strike.

And then there was lambing. What a joyous time that was, although there were the inevitable sadnesses as well. We took it in turns to get up in the middle of the night to check the sheep. The prospect was awful, but once out in the field at two or three in the morning, it was a wonderful experience. Never mind the lambs; just being out at that time was magical and delightful. But do I go out at that time now, when I have no sheep? No, of course I don’t.

The end came for us when our daughter left home for university. My wife and I were both teachers and could not take time off work for sheep problems. We realised we could no longer keep sheep so we gifted the flock to the same neighbour. They survived the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak but that really was the end for our flock. They suffered from lack of grass and the inability to bring food in.

But sheep do still grace our field, still belonging to the same person. I have the pleasure of seeing them without any effort. Here’s a little group in the snow of January 2013.


Christmas is Coming

December 15, 2013

Maybe geese are getting fat as the old nursery rhyme says, but these days goose is not a major part of this country’s Christmas fare.

We’ll all be panicking about last days for posting cards but things were clearly different when this card was sent.


Now there’s a pretty post card for a Christmas card and very nice it is too. The holly has been embossed which we can actually see better on the reverse side of the card.


Let’s look at the postmark first. This was posted in Crawley (Sussex) on 24th December 1917. I wonder if there was an expectation of delivery to Hampshire by the 25th.

The card was sent by my Great Aunt Mercy, her husband, Ern and their five surviving children. I think, but can’t be sure, that the recipient was another of my Great Aunts – a younger sister of Mercy.

So a nice bit of family history to start this run up to the festive season.

A Perpetual Calendar

December 14, 2013

I have a little collection of perpetual calendars although I definitely do not collect them. They have just arrived from various places and I do rather like them.

I have since childhood. Not that we had one in our childhood home. We always had a paper calendar, hung on the wall and perhaps we had limited surface space for a piece of frippery. But my grandparents had one and I found it an attractive toy to play with.

Here’s one of mine which I keep on my computer desk.


This could date from the 1920s through to the 1960s – but anything I Say about this item will be guesswork. Do not trust it as being correct.

The actual date is altered by flipping over the top roundel, with the distorted map of Great Britain. So tomorrow I will look at the other side of this top part, but it looks identical. Just how the mechanism ensures that the next number falls into place I don’t know. It is oh so tempting to break it open to take a look but I have refrained from doing that. In any case, I think I can imagine how it works.

The month and day of the week are on rollers in the base of the calendar.

There is almost nothing to suggest when and where this was manufactured. Once again, it could be entirely wrong, but it might be Germany. The clue here is actually a paper label stuck on the base which just says ‘foreign’. At one time it was deemed unpatriotic to buy goods made in Germany – the country which had been on the other side in World War One. German goods were sometimes marked as ‘foreign’ to disguise the country of origin. These days, of course, Germany is our friend in Europe. Please remember, I only guess at Germany, I don’t know where it was made. Maybe someone out in blogland can tell me.

I like it, wherever it was made.

Great Aunt Mary

December 13, 2013

Back in 1919 – on December 23rd – Great Aunt Mary married Walter Pope. Although they both came from East Sussex the marriage took place in Fulham in London.

The following October, their first born arrived on the scene.


There’s Walter, Mary and Baby Reginald. The photo was taken in Sussex.

In 1921, the family, along with Walter’s mother, emigrated to Australia. It was the widowed Mrs Pope who kept a diary of the journey and here are a few extracts.

March 11th 1921

What a day this has been. We got, off beautifully, taxied, to meet the 8.30 at St.Pancras – Fred coming to the station with us. There we met Aunt Alice and Daisy but the train had to be run in duplicate. There was a crowd and quite 200 children. We went by the second train and (I) was very disappointed that none but passengers were allowed to travel by the special boat train. I need hardly say the last goodbyes were very painful for one and all had done their very best to give us a good time in every way and I shall always remember it as a bright spot in years to come. When we arrived at Tilbury, I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see Philip. It was nearer for Him to come there than go to St. Pancras and his was the last face I saw in leaving England. The Euripides was lying in mid-stream so we had to be taken off by tender, a very tedious business for we had to wait the doctor’s pleasure before we could board the boat. What a scramble it was with so many children. What a fine ship the Euripides is – and 1 hear is carrying 13 hundred passengers. It took us some time to get our luggage again, it had been sent on by the first train. I don’t know what I Should have done without Walter, but oh, the cabin. There are 6 bunks in mine and we are 3 adults and 4 children so you will know how happy I feel with this family, But Walter and Mary’s cabin is quite close and unless for sleeping I Shall spend much time with them when not on deck. So far the menu is splendid. As soon as possible we had dinner, pea soup, steak pie, beans and Potatoes and rice pudding and more than a hundred sat down at a time. The afternoon we spent on deck watching the land disappearing from our view. A very lonely feeling came over me but found refuge in my crochet until teatime. That too was well-served, soused herrings, buns, jam and bread and butter – plenty of good tea. Since then I have done what unpacking is necessary but I don’t feel a bit sick; neither does Mary or Walter. We must be making good headway, the engines are thrashing so! We left Tilbury at 2.30.

Monday March 21st

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, really my first Sunday on deck for I was not well enough to leave my bunk last Sunday. 3 years since dear Harry was killed. There was Holy Communion in the first class Lounge, quite 70 of us was partakers. And then the middle deck was cleared for a 10.30 service. I shall never forget it; 5 or 6 hundred people singing well known hymns. What a volume of sound there was and what an impression it must have made on many there. And although we have 4 clergy on board that 1 have seen, the Captain-took the service. We had quite a Xmas fare for dinner, roast pork; plum pudding and oranges after. I should have said there was soup but it is too hot for me to take soup. Then there was a children’s service at 3. 300 children I should think singing the hymns that you have all sung to me. One little thing jumped up and asked for ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and I think everyone beside joined in the singing. Well, the first bell rang for tea. I think I have mentioned I go to the second sitting. I went to the side of the ship to get a little cool before going down and saw the flag being hoisted half-mast. Almost directly a part of the deck was roped off and a very {mournful?} sight presented itself. An old Bishop travelling to Africa had died at 2 o’clock suddenly and was to be buried. It was covered with the flag but I saw it slipped into the water, The corpse was sown up in canvas to quite its natural form but must have been weighted for it went with a splash, I did not feel much like tea after that, but we had another nice service at night and it was given out that all those who liked could sleep on deck – the women on the upper deck and the men on the middle one. I believe many availed themselves of the chance. And thus ended one of the most eventful Sundays of my life. Through all this the ship steals on, hardly noticeable to us but it has) done in 24 hours 57 minutes, 323 knots,

Saturday April 2nd

Friday was a very exciting day. I stayed the night with Mrs Abernethy where I enjoyed the nice bed and the comforts I had there. Walter and Mary left about 8 the evening before and came again on Friday morning and after lunch we went for a 13 miles ride on a tram that goes all around the Table Mountain and the lovely coast, Mary left baby who slept all the while we were gone, He has been such a good child all the journey. They provided a good day for us and after a cup of tea Mr and Mrs Abernethy came with us to the boat for we had to be on board at 4. We left a short time after our only consolation for leaving so soon being one day nearer the end.

Friday April 15th

How excited everyone is. We are due at Albany tomorrow at 7 o’clock when we are all to be on deck for a medical inspection by the Inspector who will come on board. We do not put in port. A Tender comes and takes off the passengers and luggage. A baby was born in the night. First class passengers collected £32 for it

Saturday 23rd

I was woke up about 4 o’clock by the slowing down of the engines. We had got to the entrance of the harbour but it was too dark to see anything. I got up soon after and got my packing done so that I could go on deck when it was light enough. I can quite endorse all I have heard about the beauties of the harbour, it was like fairyland and quite impossible to describe. Only my brother’s wife met us for we came 5 days before time and Phebe only heard by wire from friends at Sydney that the boat was in before time. We had a very tedious time waiting to pass the Customs with having so many packages. We found Aunt Sissie very pleased to see us. I must leave all else till I write home again which will be after the mail from England comes in. This ends a chapter and begins a new page in a long life.


I think this is the whole family, including the diary writer, after arrival in Australia – in about 1923. They made their home at Murwillumbar

I Spy – On a Train Journey

December 12, 2013

Now here is a blast from the past which has nothing whatever to do with me. This I Spy book belonged to my wife when she was a little girl although I have to say, it seems to be unused apart from having her name (I think in her dad’s handwriting) on it.


Oddly, for I was, like many kids, an avid I spy person, this was one book I never had. I suspect my dad had sussed it out and reckoned that it was too based on lines we’d never travel. My travelling for the first dozen years of my life was very much confined to Kent, Surrey (including London) and Sussex with one odd trip to Southend in Essex. We were never going to see water troughs, the standard train description lamps nor, I think, post bag catching equipment. So my Dad, I reckon, steered us away from a book that would be disappointing.

He may also have reckoned that he knew enough about railways to point things out to us. I certainly knew about mile posts on the railway.


I suspect I’d only have seen number 40 but from an early age I’d have known what it meant.


I knew, too, about turntables though I suspect the ones I saw were hand operated ones.

Nowadays, I suspect I’d be able to identify any of the items in the book – but many no longer exist.

It’s a nice bit of the past – it carries a 1955 date and steam was still ruling the roost in most parts of the country but the lines I knew best had been electrified in the 1930s.