Monday, 17 July 2017

Aussies in Caunes

After a great Yorkshire week, and a few days exploring London on their own, cousin Linda, and her cousin Helen, arrived in Toulouse.

We had arrived back in Caunes just a couple of days before hand, so had rushed around getting the pool ready, airing rooms and filling the fridge. Luckily our earlier spring visit, when we had spent 2 solid weeks weeding, had paid off, and the garden looked just about presentable.

We did all the things we always do with visitors to Caunes including the tour of the Abbey, which we discovered will not be hosting open air Vendredis Classiques this year. 

It seems that the roaring success of La Cantine du Cure just beyond the Abbey walls means that the classical concerts could not compete with the noise. I am delighted the Cantine is successful. It is packed most nights, attracts the young, and les Caunois, which is excellent as we were starting to feel that many of our favourite eating and drinking haunts were being taken over by people like us...the English speaking residents of the village and tourists. 

However, it is a little sad that the abbey's beautiful outside space will not be used for the regular Friday night summer concerts. Instead they will take place inside the Church, which has outrageously uncomfortable pews, clearly designed to force you onto your knees. I'm not sure I will be able to force myself to attend many of what will be fabulous concerts.....even with the help of some serious cushions.

Breakfast in the bar
We enjoyed coffee in the bar, although French coffee was a bit strong for Helen, and they were impressed by the (we believe) world famous pain aux raisins, sold at our boulangerie. 

Linda had previously devoured all the Kate Mosse books so we visited La Cite to show them the sights they had read about.

It did rain while they were in Europe...but only for about an hour !
We had to shelter in the Church from the wind and rain, which only lasted a short time, but it proved to them that European weather is not always just like an Australian summer. 

Helen and Linda at St Pere de Rodes

We thought it would be amusing to extend their planned European tour of England and France to include Spain. With Australia being so far from anywhere else, they were amused that we could be in Spain in 90 minutes, and that no passports had to be shown. Of course, if they return in a couple of years time, post Brexit, who knows what they will find.

We took them to one of our favourite 'just across the border' spots......St. Pere de Rodes. With clear blue skies and views to die for, lunch and a wander around the restored monastery, I think you could say we all enjoyed ourselves.

Visiting  vide greniers was important, as the cousins had followed my various posts, through blogging and on facebook. I managed to make a few purchases while they were with us, although I think they, like Mark, wonder where on earth I am going to find to put all the treasures I manage to find each week.

Not sure what I was buying here.

Meeting up with relatives can often have its stresses and strains but being with Linda and Helen for 2 of their 3 week European trip was just perfect. We talked and talked for hours. It was as if we had known each other all our lives.

Sitting on the terrace,  on Mike's bench, chatting...again.
Mike, my dad, was Linda's mum's first cousin, and they did not know each other existed. We are making up for that !

We shared family stories, we learned new things about the shared elements of our family. Our shared great grandparents life stories, as much as we know, has been combed over. Why my bigamist grandfather never spoke of his siblings or his war experiences and why Linda's grandfather wouldn't speak of his siblings or his life back in England, or his war experiences, we will probably never know.

There is no doubt that Linda and I share a history, even if it is one that , as for now, remains mostly hidden. Our grandfathers were we, are family.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

First, the Aussies came to Yorkshire.

It is over a year since I blogged. I felt that my ramblings from England, and those from the Minervois had become tired and I seemed to be repeating myself as the predictable seasonal rhythms in both places continued.

I'm not sure whether dipping my toe back into the blogging pool will be the start of another long term commitment.......but I'm going to see how things develop.

Since last year, our UK base has moved from Hebden Bridge. On return from France last Autumn, we put the house on the market and sold it within days. We quickly found a new UK home, just 20 miles away, on the outskirts of Huddersfield, much closer to all of our grandchildren. We moved into the new house in February, and love it. We see the children more often, the house itself suits us perfectly and I love the garden, and the views across the Colne Valley.

The view from our new garden across the viaduct in Milnsbridge

I am now back in Caunes, and our summer activities are in full swing. There seems to be so much going on. The usual concerts, fetes, repas, vide greniers, cafe des langues meetings, gardening, walking, swimming, drinking coffee/wine with friends and planning for the vists from friends, children and grandchildren are filling our days.

Loving being back in Caunes

So, what is different ? Probably not too much, but having one of my Australian cousins, and her cousin visit us in Yorkshire and here in France has made me look at things a little differently.

It was good to see both our homes, through their eyes. It has confirmed to me how lucky we are to have such a lovely balance in our lives, and maybe it has made me feel more grateful for what we have.

Mark and I always ready to enjoy good food, wine and company.

Our Aussies arrived in Yorkshire on their first ever trip to Europe. Huddersfield is probably not the first port of call for Australian tourists.....but they loved it.

Helen and Linda in Haworth

The weather was kind, in fact it was incredibly , unusually kind. The sun shone, the skies were blue and Yorkshire was at its incredible best.

The Aussies at Bolton Abbey

They visited Haworth, Bolton Abbey, Hebden Bridge, Huddersfield and York. We spent a day in Liverpool, and they joined us for a family party as Huddersfield Town won a play-off final and entered the premier division. ( This was improved for them by the fact that an Aussie player was part of the team ) 

Clark, who actually went to Wembley to see the great victory, while some of us stayed home to watch on TV.

They came with us to the welcome the team back to Huddersfield reception and cheered and shouted along with the rest of us. They were even interviewed on radio one, as they enthused about the team and the town !

The homecoming reception, with Liam and Izzie.

They loved it all...and particularly loved our postman. They were worried that he wasn't wearing long sleeves and a hat in the blazing sunshine. I guess that is something our posties dont usually worry about.

He was very hot.....but was happy to pose for his Aussie fans.

Linda ( my cousin ) and Helen ( her cousin ) left us to spend a few days in London, while we set off for France and Caunes. Their London experience was also excellent....getting into Lords free, as it was Ladies day, crossing the Abbey Road zebra crossing, tea at the Ritz, and walking the streets of London for hours and hours. They loved it all. The perfect guests, and the perfect tourists, wallowing in all their new experiences.

My wonderful Aussie cousins enjoying a glass of Yorkshire.

( Part two, to follow...... when the Aussies came to Caunes. )

Monday, 27 June 2016

The 40 year old rubber plant

I inherited a small rubber plant from a cousin about 10 years ago. It was in a strange 60s/70s pot that looked vaguely familiar, but I gave it no real thought, and just started caring, in my haphazard way, for my new plant.

A few months after it came into my possession, I was looking through some old photos and found one showing the plant, in its 60s/70s pot, in my parents' front room.

It seemed that my cousin had " inherited" the rubber plant from my mother.... who died over 30 years ago.

It was pot bound, still in its original pot, and had clearly belonged to my mother.

Suddenly this plant took on greater significance. It's survival became paramount ! I could no longer fail to water it. I had to organise a neighbour to look after it if I went away. I had to re pot it..... and actually look after it. I have done that for 10 years. 

Earlier this year I decided the responsibility of keeping mum's plant alive was too much. No one else in the family was prepared to take on the responsibility. So, I decided.... This plant need to have children of its own.

It had grown huge, it reached the ceiling. So, having read various articles about taking cuttings, I took 5 cuttings.

The mother plant became more manageable and I kept my fingers crossed that at least one of the children would survive.

I potted one of the cuttings in my mother's original 60s/70s pot.

Just before I came to France this year, I gave one thriving baby plant to my step daughter in law, Sarah Jane, one to Mark's ex wife, Carole,  one was promised to daughter Jess, and one to step daughter Jodie. 

I have brought the child plant potted in the original pot to France.
It is thriving. It has 4 new leaves, and clearly loves the warmth and the sunshine of Caunes Minervois.

So...  a neighbour is caring for mum's original plant while I'm away, and I am the proud owner of a second generation/ back in the original pot/ child of my mother's plant . 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

From Kinsale to Skibbereen

I recently spent a few days in County Cork and Tipperary, as a planned trip to see my brother and his family. However, as often happens with plans.....things didn’t quite work out as we thought. My brother is a film editor and goes where the work takes him. It took him to Amsterdam for the week we had planned our Irish trip.

We decided to go anyway, see my sister-in-law and my 2 nephews, and have a couple of days just wandering around, knowing how enjoyable such wandering can be in Ireland.

Seeing the family...even without my lovely brother, was great. It is 4 years since we have seen each other, and surprise surprise....the nephews have grown up !   21 year old Michael has turned into a gorgeous, gentle, interesting young man, about to move to Amsterdam ( where he was born), with his delightful girlfriend Kaylee, for some adventures. 13 year old Thomas has become a polite, sensible, hard working, musically talented teenager. It was lovely to spend some time with them.

We always used to joke about how sitting around sister-in-law Catherine’s kitchen table involved a never ending pot of tea and a revolving kitchen door, through which various brothers/sisters/cousin/neighbours would stream.

No sooner had Mark and I sat down at the kitchen table, with Catherine and the boys and Michael’s girlfriend,  that Catherine’s eldest brother arrived. It was good to see that despite us not being visitors for over 4 years, the open door policy continues.

Anyway, after spending time with family, we wandered off on our own.

We followed the Wild Atlantic route from Kinsale to Skibbereen. It was stunning.

The colours of Kinsale will live with me for years. The early morning sunlight made everything glisten. It was one of those mornings when somethings seems almost too bright to look at.
 We found a lovely cafe for breakfast, drank some fabulous coffee and wandered on.

We had to keep stopping for castles,

 fabulous views across bays,

 incredible bird sightings

 and walks along various beaches.

 We were reminded how long journeys in Ireland take.

 Winding narrow roads, driving behind slow farm vehicles, and stopping frequently to take photos...and just to look, takes its time.

Skibbereen was our target, and we arrived in time for lunch. It was a truly fascinating town.

By the mid 1800s, Skibbereen was quite densely populated, with about 400 people to the square mile. The potato was the staple diet for more than half the population of Ireland, particularly the poor. Apparently, with the addition of buttermilk or fish, it provided all the requirements for a healthy diet, although to do this, it required a man to eat up to 14lbs of potatoes a day !

Anyway....when the potato blight ( phytophthora infestans ) hit.....people died. It was a fungal infection which arrived from north America in the autumn of 1845. It spread rapidly and by 1846 there was a 90% loss of the potato harvest in the Skibbereen area.

In the cold winter of 1846 many thousands died of starvation, some in the totally inadequate work houses, but many, just on the sides of the roads, or hidden away in their tiny mud cottages. There were a few public works schemes that were supposed to provide work, and therefore money, for the poor. Thousands involved in the schemes died as they were so malnourished and sick  that they were unable to earn enough to stay alive.

By 1847, Skibbereen was being referred to as the centre of the famine.

Disease was rife, “famine fever” covered a range of diseases, including typhus, relapsing fever or yellow fever, dysentery, and what became a pandemic of cholera in 1848-9. No one knows how many died. Bodies were piled into mass graves, relatives too weak to bury, mourn or to organise funeral ceremonies, died themselves, and were added to the piles of bodies.

The population of the area covered by the Skibbereen Union fell by 37,000 between the census years 1841 and 1851.

It is thought that at least a million people died in those few years, and within 10 years another 2 million had emigrated. Few from Skibbereen were able to flee though. People in the poorer areas did not have the means to emigrate.

Many of those who were able to escape went to America, but first had to leave Ireland to get to England. Thousands flocked to Liverpool, where most of the trans Atlantic crossings began. The Illustrated London News reported that the treatment of the Irish by Liverpool parish officers was worse than that given to cattle. It is estimated that 100,000 Irish famine migrants died in Britain.

At one stage, famine emigrants who were destitute on arrival in England were classed as vagrants and deported back to Ireland.  Some parishes offered rewards for information leading to the discovery of” illegal immigrants”. Nothing changes !

My great great grandparents, William and Mary Whelan, appear on the 1851 census, in Liverpool. Their birthplace is listed as “ Ireland”, and their eldest child was born in Ireland in the mid 1840s. I don’t know where in Ireland they came from, but they were clearly part of the movement, escaping the famine. Their son, my great grandfather, was born in Birkenhead. His son, was my grandfather, for those of you that know a bit about my family....the bigamist grandfather. 

Our bit of the Whelan family had escaped, and survived. Due to the fact that William and Mary Whelan survived, our family has spread to England, Australia and New Zealand..... and maybe Michael will re settle in Holland, who knows ? Jessie, my daughter, lives in Liverpool, not far from where William and Mary settled and where my grandfather spent part of his youth.

Our trip to Ireland was wonderful. We caught up with family, we visited beautiful places, but the horror of what happened there, not so very long ago was haunting.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

45 years between trips

Janice and Mark, South Africa, 2016
As a child, one of our family rituals at Christmas, was opening the crate of South African peaches my great aunt Muriel sent us each year. Muriel had emigrated to South Africa after the war, and always sent the peaches to arrive just as we were settling into our British winter. The smell as well disturbed the straw in which the peaches were packed still lives with me today. The taste is also a memory that I can conjure up was beautiful.

"Do I dare to eat a peach ?"
Alice, my grandmother, auntie Muriel's sister-in-law, spent her superannuation retirement lump sum ( the first person in our family to receive a work related pension !... Alice was a school dinner lady ) on a 6 month trip to South Africa in 1971.

I remember talking to Alice about her trip. I saw her photos, and enjoyed hearing about her adventures. I was 16 when she went on her trip, and was just becoming aware of some of the political issues that she witnessed when she was there. I don't think Alice had much idea about apartheid, and apart from a few not very pc remarks, her diary of the trip shows little awareness of what was going on at the time.

Alice, South Africa 1971

One of her diary excerpts describes an excursion in Cape Town.

Her trip was made on The Edinburgh Castle....note her reference to "natives" unloading luggage. Anyway, she clearly enjoyed her trip around Cape Town and loved the views from Signal I did.

Mark at Signal Hill

Table Mountain, from in front of Signal Hill....just as my grandmother Alice saw it 45 years ago.

I still have the photos that Alice took on her trip....with her little Kodak instamatic.

It is strange to think of her taking these photos in the Kruger Park, and having her roll of 24 snaps developed. I think she must have been pleased with the way these turned out. 

Alice's giraffe photo

Alice's lion photo

I, of course, took hundreds of photos in Kruger Park. I could check them each day, delete the poor quality ones, and enhance the best ones with some light tweaking or shadow tweaking.

Here are a couple of mine ....similar subjects !

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

District 6

Like many people my age, I marched against apartheid. I boycotted Barclays and  I wore my Free Mandela T-shirt.  I was delighted when 2 students in my tutor group, back in about 1980, spent a lunchtime loading a supermarket trolley with South African tinned goods, and dumped it by the checkout, shouting " Boycott South African goods", as they ran out. This occurred after we had been discussing apartheid in a tutor group session.

Steve Biko work within the Langa township did I not know about District 6 ?

My recent trip to South Africa has been an incredible experience. I'm sure I will be blogging about cricket, flora and fauna, animals and spectacular scenery in the next few weeks. However, today, I want to record some thoughts and images related to the political background to what I have now, personally witnessed. It has been a humbling experience.

"District 6" was the 6th Municipal district of Cape Town, established in 1867. It was a racially mixed suburb of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. It was a vibrant and close knit community where tolerance and freedom were central. 

Photo from the District 6 Museum, showing the area before it was bulldozed flat.

This became more and more undesirable to the apartheid government, so there was a plan to demolish all the buildings in the area and declare it a whites only district.

This is what District 6 looks like now......flattened, but empty....the planned white suburb never happened.

Between 1966 and 1982, the entire area was bull dozed. More than 60,000 people were forcibly removed, to areas like the Langa and Nyanga townships.

A scene from Langa, one of the Cape Town townships. The irony of the billboard was particularly haunting.

Incredibly enough, once the place was one was prepared to move in. What was a vibrant and thriving community remains a patch of derelict wasteland today. The feeling now is that it should remain as such, as a reminder of the forcible removal of all those people. There is now a museum which is documenting what happened and is a place for those people whose homes were destroyed and lives wrecked, to record their thoughts about what happened.

District 6 now.

One of the most haunting museum exhibits I have ever seen is the " namecloth".

It started as a narrow strip of calico, that ex residents of District 6 were invited to write on, recording something of their District 6 memories. Pens were provided, and hundreds of people started writing their thoughts on the sheet. Some women then had the idea of embroidering over the writing, and the namecloth began. It now measures over a kilometre long, and contains thousands of inscriptions.

Since 1999 women inmates from Pollsmoor Prison have been involved, along with other sewing groups, ensuring that the inscriptions are recorded permanently.

"I remember District 6 with fondness.. "

" My very best years was in District 6 "

" A completed piece to my own personal jigsaw of life"

"I would like to come back"
I am still asking myself why I didn't know about all of this ?

Learning about District 6, visiting Langa, and talking to people about the changes, and the slow rate of those changes, since Democracy, has been a very moving and powerful experience. 

The beauty of this country, the animals, the birds, the plants, the scenery....the cricket.....have all been seen with us recognising the dreadful history of what people in this country have been through......and it is not over yet. 

A Langa resident, today.......explaining how she burns the fur from sheeps heads, the cheapest meat she can buy.