Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Loopy Nana

Reading Nilly’s great post about her grandmother,  (  http://nillyhall-maidinkent.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/whats-in-name.html)     and having spent the last week wallowing in family history research, I decided Loopy Nana needed an outing in my blog.
Nana is on the right.....walking with a neighbour.....I'd love to know what they were talking about.
Nana, Queenie Kathleen Gilbert, was born in 1902. Her father was a bootmaker in Rochester in Kent, she attended a convent school, rowed and drove a motor bike. It’s hard to think what the nuns made of her....she was a big girl, and became what others may have called a handsome woman.....always larger than life.

Queenie, aged 21

My parents and I lived with her for the first 4 years of my life. My early memories of her are that she systematically broke every piece of a 110 piece dinner service my mother had received as a wedding present. ( not strictly true, I have about 6 pieces of it left). I can remember hearing a crash from the kitchen, my mother raising her eyebrows, and Nana shouting “ oopps...sorry Joy, that’s another bit gone “
Nana took me for great walks in the park,  and always told me how much I would have loved “her Billy” ( her husband who died in 1946.....he’s the one I have since discovered was a bigamist, and Queenie was actually his third, simultaneously held, wife).
Queenie and her Billy, in 1928
Her motor bike was her pride and joy, and she would go for midnight rides in north London. The police followed her home one night, and suggested that she should probably stick to day time rides in the future...she was about 70 at the time.
no caption needed....it's just Loopy nana
Nana worked in munitions in the war, and then when Billy died she became a factory superviser for the Tilley lamp company. Later in life, she considered retirement, and then decided against it, working as a tea lady for an estate agent until she was in her late 80s. When I was a student ( mid 70s) she sent me £1 every week, in an envelope, with her latest news. That continued for 4 years, she was my most reliable source of income, at a time when £1 would certainly pay for a decent night out at the pub.

My father adored her, and she spent every weekend at our house, every Christmas day, and she joined us for a week of every family holiday we ever had. Nana could climb on the rocks, wield a mean cricket bat in any beach cricket game, and was always our favourite baby sitter.
Between being 16 and 18, I would go to her little flat for tea, every Thursday night after school. We had sausages and mash every time. Nana would ask what I wanted “next week” as I was leaving, and no matter what I suggested for a change..... it would be sausages and mash the following week.
I do remember being a little hurt when finding a Congratulations on the birth of your daughter ( me) card, in a box, with the words “ oh well, better luck next time, the train set will have to wait “. However, as she bought me a big red fire engine as a present when I went into hospital when I was 2, I guess, by then, she’d forgiven me for not being a boy.
We started to refer to her as “loopy nana” when distinguishing her from our other, not so loopy nana. It stuck, and she loved it. I am very proud to have inherited that title, and will work hard to deserve it.
Loopy Nana on the right, not so loopy nana ( nanny) on the left, with their great grandaughter, my daughter Jessie between them. This was taken just a couple of months before Loopy nana died......so glad she met Jess !


Friday, 21 September 2012

Florence Maud Mary 's prospects.

No photo has been found showing Florence, this is her elder sister Charlotte.
Florence Maud Mary was born in 1859,  the 7th child of 10 born to master tailor Edward Murch and his wife Catherine Vevyan. The family lived in Devonport, one of the 3 towns that were eventually amalgamated to become Plymouth. (Devonport, Stonehouse and Plymouth ). They were reasonably affluent, Edward employed a number of workers and the family had a servant at one stage, when they lived on Devonport’s thriving main street, Fore Street.

The dockyards were central to the lives of everyone in the area. Edward’s tailoring would certainly have included naval uniforms.
 Florence’s brothers were either employed in the navy or they worked at the docks, and she married a Royal Navy Artificer.
He was called William Whelen, and was the Liverpool born son of            Irish  immigrants

Although the Murch family were Methodist, Florence married William in the Royal Navy’s Roman Catholic chapel near Mount Wise in Devonport. The couple’s children were baptised as Roman Catholics.

Florence’s story is short and sad. Following her marriage she had 6 children in 10 years. Her husband was rarely at home, but she followed him back to Liverpool where he worked at the Bootle docks in the mid 1880s. Florence returned to Devonport sometime between 1891 and her death in 1898, when she was 39.
Five of her 6 children were sent to Catholic sailor’s charitable organisations. It seems her husband was unable to look after the children, and anyway, he remarried 2 years later. Florence’s own mother died the same year, so there was no possibility of her taking care of the young family. Florence’s eldest son, my grandfather, was 18 and deemed old enough to look after himself. The 5 youngest children emerged from their various orphanages, 2 of the girls marrying into naval families, one daughter seems to have vanished and I am unable to trace her at all. At least one of the 2 other sons emigrated to Australia and married an Australian woman with the wonderful name of Vera May Mulshine.
My bigamist grandfather went on to marry 3 women, leaving wife number one after his experiences in the trenches of the 1st world war. His complicated life led to 3 brothers not knowing of each other’s existence.

However, the story of my grandfather, and his siblings, is for another time.
I have wanted to know more about Florence ever since I have known of her existence. This last week I have spent 5 days in Devonport, looking for hints about her life. I did not expect to find concrete evidence of her, but I wanted to walk the streets that she had done, as a child, and as a young woman.

What have I found ? 
I have found a town that existed of appalling slums in the late 19th century, where cholera and small pox claimed the lives of many. I have found a very small town where there used to be 200 pubs, where alcoholism was rife, and prostitution even “rifer” !  One of Florence’s brothers was born again, into the Salvation Army, and I can only presume that this was connected to the Temperance movement that grew out of the horrors that alcohol abuse brought to the community.
one of the few remaining Victorian pubs in Devonport
I found the house Florence lived in soon after she gave birth to her first son ( my grandfather)...she was there with a cousin, and the baby. Her husband was at sea.
Florence lived here in 1881, with her baby....my grandfather.
I found the street she grew up on, although WW2 bombs obliterated any evidence of the houses she would have known.
I found the house her parents lived in 8 years before she was born. I walked along the streets that she would have known.
Florence's parents lived here in 1851...... I suspect it has seen better days, at least it is still standing.

The back to back streets of Devonport have gone....this is part of what has replaced them. The clock tower from one of the gateways to the dockyards has been retained.
I toured the dockyards where her brothers and her husband and her sisters’ husbands worked. I saw the few Victorian pubs that remain, and I saw the various, and variable attempts at regeneration that have taken place in Devonport over the years. I also found a housing development that has replaced the Roman Catholic chapel where she married William Whelen.
Houses, where the Roman Catholic chapel used to be.
The Church has gone, but the view from where the church used to be, wont have changed...so I spent some time sitting there, wondering what that young bride thought about back in 1879, when she must have looked out over the River Tamar, and the area around Mount Wise.
Part of the dockyard wall.....opposite where the Church used to stand.

The River Tamar, one of the ship building yards ( with royal statue !), opposite the site of Florence and William's wedding.
I found the street that she lived on when she died. The houses were all gone, small back to back slums, replaced by what look little better....tiny, crowded, terraced “affordable” housing. All that remains is the wall, dividing the road.....enticingly and hopefully called Prospect Row, from the dockyards behind it.
I didn’t find her grave. I suspected that there would have been no headstone, so I was not surprised. Her husband, so absent during her life, did not register her death, that was left to my 18 year old grandfather. So....no trace of Florence remains, but I do feel that I have walked in her shoes for a few hours.



Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Yorkshire wedding

Weddings are wonderful affairs,  and this one has been long awaited.

Getting ready was an adventure.
The boys were so excited.
Dad was so proud.
The bridesmaids were stunning.
The extended, blended family was thrilled.
and the bride and groom are in love.
and afterwards......Liam was very very sleepy.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Pat a cake, pat a cake

Liam, jumping for joy at his mum and dad's wedding
I have been on wedding cake duty this last week. Daughter, Jodie, got married on Saturday and everyone has been busy...my job has been ...the cake. So, this post is not actually about the wedding.....that will come later....this is about.....the cake.

Circumstances were against me.....my ancient but much loved Kenwood mixer finally died a few days ago. I had already made the large bottom tier fruit cake, but still had various chocolate sponges to make. Amazon came to the rescue, and my new Kenwood mixer, looking remarkably like my old Kenwood mixer, arrived within 20 hours of the latter’s demise.
2 Kenwood mixers,  the old and the new.
The trusty K beater has changed shape, and the pyrex bowl has been replaced by a stainless steel one, some very solid metal bits have been replaced by plastic....but otherwise.....not much has changed in 50 years.
I have chosen to retain the pyrex bowl.... I discovered that the stainless steel one was so cold, that even with room temperature eggs, things curdled too easily. The stainless steel bowl will be kept for pastry.

The various cake components....rich chocolate, less rich chocolate, plain sponge and very rich fruit cakes.......all to be iced and assembled.


Hopefully it will taste ok.....samples of each bake have been tasted by other family members. I like to think that although it is too home made looking for Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry would approve.  

As no one in the family likes marzipan ( except me) and Mark actually has a nut allergy, I smeared a thin layer of buttercream icing under layers of royal icing ( made with egg white substitute).
              A friend’s daughter made the gorgeous roses......thanks Katy.
One of Jodie's friends made some beautiful peg people, to represent Jodie and her family.
Peg people...from left to right, Liam, Kieron, Jodie and baby Izzie

                                   And finally, it was ready to transport.
Matty, had the enormous responsibility of carrying the cake to the wedding venue.

It looked brilliant from a distance.....closer examination by experts would have declared the icing to be less than perfect !

but who would ever notice the slight cake imperfections, when Jodie's  beautiful radiance shone so brightly .


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

What a difference a year makes

This time last year we were getting ready to move into our house in Caunes.
Mark and a very empty room....just a year ago.
The sad loss of our gorgeous palm
We have now spent a year watching the garden, discovering the different plants that have appeared....some where we wanted them, and some requiring removal....some, unfortunately dying in the cold temperatures of February.

The trees blocking the view have now gone...so has the strange little fence
We have had some improvements made to the area around the pool.
The bathroom fittings that just had to go.

We have had a new bathroom installed, and we are planning another, but mostly we have just tried living in the house, to see how it suited us. We have experimented with various places for eating outside....on the terrace, by the pool, with the best view of the village, etc.

We now know where we want a further terrace built, and where the various sitting spots will be....one, high above the house, giving the best view of the mountains,  and one in front of the house, giving the best view of the village.
It has been good not to make too many changes, just to see how we, and the house got to know each other. Basically. We don’t want many changes.... it is beautiful as it is.

A whole year...of meeting neighbours, of discovering local wines, of navigating around local villages, exploring Narbonne, Beziers, Montpelier, Perpignan, Limoux, Carcassonne, Minerve, of discovering the Cathars, of watching grapes, figs, almonds, hazlenuts develop on our vines and trees, of learning how to maintain a pristine swimming pool, of wallowing in thunder storms the like of which I’ve never seen before, of practising French, of drinking coffee in the bar, of entertaining friends and family, of watching grandchildren grow in confidence in the gorgeous freedom of a large and wild garden where the noise of crickets and bees accompany their squeals of delight,of concerts and fetes, of trips to the jazz club, of bread and marble, of cassoulets and confits, vide greniers, beaches, lakes, mountains, sunrises and sunsets, cloudless blue skies, nights with no light pollution that can be filled with star gazing and knowing that we can do it all again this coming year.
my first figs
Marble looks just as good in the snow


Monday, 3 September 2012

Loving Limoux

When we were looking for our French home, we were tempted by one house in the town of Limoux. We decided against it partly because we found the house in Caunes, that we fell in love with. However, we were particularly tempted, as we had found Limoux to be such an interesting place.

It is the home of a wonderful sparkling wine , “Blanquette”, first made by the Saint Hilaire Abbey monks in 1531, claiming to be France’s first sparkling wine. 
 It is  also the home of a very long drawn out weird and wonderful winter Carnaval which I posted about earlier in the year, and every time we have visited, some strange and startling events have been taking place.
A visit in June ended with us joining these 2 fabulous women in a dance on the corner of the main square.
While we danced, these characters posed, danced and threatened to whip customers in one of the cafes around the square.

Our last visit, just a few days ago, included a visit to the puppet museum,  the Musée des Automates.
I was spellbound.

There is little information at the museum about the puppets. The man selling tickets showed us a 2 page extract from an old book that described how Martine and Jean Jacques had started making these fantastic creations about 30 years ago. Some are modelled on recognisable characters...one was supposed to be Leonardo da Vinci, others are from fairy stories, but all are mystical and decidedly surreal. They looked like characters from a Venetian carnival, with a dash of Tim Burton and possibly some Stanley Kubrick.