Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Gallery - Faces - Survivors

The First World War ended on 11 November 1918. This photograph was taken in April 1919;  these young men had survived. This is a snapshot in time of a group of men with their lives ahead of them, their futures uncertain but surely, with the war over, possessing hope.

They are, of course, all dead now, but the picture brings life to each individual face. The fact that these squaddies have been photographed at rest allows us to catch a glimpse of their personalities; a more posed photo would have told us very little. I don't know how many of them saw action in France but I see weariness in some of the faces, bravado and swagger in others.

What do I see when I look at this face? The joker of the pack, I'm guessing. Cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, legs outstretched, a goat on his knee. Handsome chap. Was he a bit of a ladies' man or did he just think he was? Was he really as assured as he looks? What had he seen during the war? I wonder how was he changed by his experiences.

How about this pair? Best buddies I think. More at ease than some of the others, posing without their caps; jackets undone. Maybe they were related? Brothers-in-arms.

This man looks quieter than the rest. His cap is too far back on his head so he looks rather awkward. There's a comforting arm on his shoulder from one of his pals. Has the camera captured sadness in his eyes?

This last face, sitting on the far right, is smiling. He looks relaxed, his posture showing him to be at ease. And I do know what his future holds.

His name is George Arthur Grinsell and he is my grandfather. He was born in 1900 and joined the army as soon as he could, aged 18, just as the war was ending, so probably didn't see any real action. He became an accountant, married Elsie May in 1927 and had two children, Betty and my father, John. He joined the Home Guard (Dad's Army) in the Second World War. He died at the age of 62.

I never met him. But I know his face.

Some of you may already know that since my dad died in February I have been typing up his diaries in the form of a blog 'Memoirs of John Michael Grinsell'.  It's been a fascinating task and one which has helped me know more about my roots. Photographs such as the one above are now coming to light and somehow, appreciating how I fit into this circle of life, is a very healing process.

The theme for The Gallery this week is Faces. To see more contributions, have a look at Tara's website, HERE.


Friday, 21 October 2011

#FriFotos - Pink - Lake Garda

Another little dip into the Twitter travel world of #FriFotos where the theme today is PINK for Breast Cancer Awareness.

I had a look through my holiday albums and found my best selection of that colour from our trip to Lake Garda in Italy. We stayed in the beautiful town of Bardolino on the eastern side of the lake and as the sun set each evening, the sky turned a delicate shade of warm pink. I loved it so much I now use one of the photos as a header on my blog.

On one particular evening the traditional Bisse racing on the lake took place, beginning as the sun began to dip and ending in the black of night.

I hope the photographs below will give you a warm glow, though maybe the last one, taken bizarrely in the town square of Sirmione, may just make you smile. Simples!

Monday, 17 October 2011

How to embarrass your teenage son in Burger King

Let me set the scene. On the A1, coming home from Newcastle yesterday afternoon, we stop off for an early tea at the Moto services in Blyth, Nottinghamshire. Rather caught on the hop as there is no queue at Burger King so I haven't time to construct the order in my head before I open my mouth. My son, Rory, quickly states his order with no hesitation so it's my turn and I'm not ready. Eyes flickering at the boards above my head advertising innumerable combinations of Whoppers, I ask a stupid question of the young pale-faced chap who is waiting with bated breath to prod the buttons on his till.

Me: "Do you have any burgers without cheese?"

Now why did I ask that? I'm no stranger to burger joints, for heaven's sake, I do know you can pick and choose what goes in them. But I've said it now, so have to go along with the ensuing conversation.

Him: "You can have mouse without cheese."

Right. He's speaking English; he isn't foreign but I'm flummoxed. Not sure whether to query whether mouse will be deep-fried or just squashed flat and griddled to within an inch of its life. And how puzzling that it should be the mouse which comes without cheese considering how the mouse/cheese relationship is such a close one. Decide to push on with this follow-up question:

Me: "Excuse me?"

Yup, that's going to work.

Him: "You can have mouse without cheese."

Thanks, mate.  Just repeat it, why don't you! Didn't know what you were talking about first time and now I'm panicking. Rory is mortified and has slunk away to gather up handfuls of ketchup sachets. I look to Dougie, hoping for some assistance. He looks equally stumped and is avoiding my pleading look. I have no idea why I don't just pick a burger, any burger, but I'm scanning the list for something that begins with an 'M'. Can't find one so try again:

Me: "Sorry?"

Him: (sounding slightly shirty now) "Mouse without cheese!"

Me: "Mouse?"

Him: (gripping his till with both hands) "MOUST!"

Me: "MOUST?...OH....MOST! I can have MOST without cheese. Oh well I'll have an Angus then, as a meal, with coffee."

Oh the shame. Join Rory to pick up sugar and milk cartons and leave my poor husband to continue the order. As we sit down I begin to laugh and then can't stop giggling. Rory informs me that I'm always embarrassing in fast food restaurants. Apparently I'm 'too middle-class'. What on earth do you mean, boy? I stopped asking for cutlery and a pepper-mill years ago. He's right, though. I try to make small talk when I should shuffle to the front and mutter my order with no extra discussion about the weather or how busy it is.

It's then we remember the classic opener I uttered in KFC when we'd just come off the plane after our gorgeous holiday in Portugal this summer. Again, wrong-footed by the lack of customers, and forgetting where I was, I said the following:

Me: "What can you recommend for three people?"

Rory's face turned puce and he looked as if he could happily throttle me. The young girl serving was taken aback but, bless her, she stepped up to the mark and said very slowly, as if she wasn't sure if this was some kind of sad joke:

Her: "Um...well...there's an 8-piece bargain bucket...and a 10 piece bargain bucket...or a variety bucket. Yeah...sort of...buckets....with a bottle of coke?"

I think it was at this point, before I opened my big mouth even further and debated the intricacies of the bucket combinations, Rory took charge and told me: "For god's sake, go and sit down, Mum'.

It's hard trying to be invisible for your children.


Friday, 14 October 2011

My Winning Entry

As I still own the copyright to the article I wrote for the Beautiful Britain family travel writing competition, I thought I'd post it here on my blog just so I have it for posterity. It is also published on the Have A Lovely Time website along with the runner-up submissions.

So here it is, for anyone who missed it:

“This Way to the Devil’s Arse”

Like most 10 year old boys, my son was mightily impressed by this sign indicating the way to Peak Cavern and the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles.

After the obligatory photo shoot, involving Dad bending over so the big arrow was strategically pointing just below his hitched-up cagoule, we spent a fascinating hour or so in the enormous cave, discovering its history by tagging along behind a group of fidgety school children.

This was just one of the highlights of a family break in the Peak District, a breathtakingly beautiful National Park offering a wide spectrum of attractions suitable for all ages and, importantly, weather conditions. Peak Cavern was the ideal spot to dodge the rain, coupled with its close neighbour, Speedwell Cavern, where we took a fascinating journey by boat to explore its underground passageways. It was still raining when the boat trip ended so I naturally took shelter in the gift shop to pick up a piece of Blue John stone, a mineral unique to the Peak District caverns.

We were self-catering in one of a number of apartments developed from the old Pump House of the Ladybower Reservoir. The reservoir, a stone’s throw away, is part of the Derwent Dams, and we were able to evoke a sense of history by telling our son how the RAF’s 617 Squadron, “The Dambusters” used to practise their low-lying flying techniques over these very waters before their successful mission in Germany with Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb.

We couldn’t fault the location of the apartment; in the countryside, overlooking the lake and hills and a short stagger from an excellent family-friendly pub on the other side of the road. Somehow my provisions of microwave rice, quick cook pasta and suckable yoghurts were overlooked when we had the delights of steak pie, battered fish and spotted dick with custard to tempt us in the evening. In my experience plenty of fresh air requires a big feed afterwards.

When the sun eventually appeared, we made the most of the blue sky and headed for Matlock Bath, a fashionable spa town of the 19th century which, with the advent of the railway bringing hundreds of day-trippers, became the very popular resort it still is today. One of its attractions, the Heights of Abraham, is a hilltop park on the steep slopes of Masson Hill, reached by an impressive cable car which rises above the valley. Son was keen to have a go but it was only when we were dangling over the valley, the car swinging from side to side as it stopped for people to take photos, I discovered my husband suffers from a type of vertigo brought on by ‘things high up hanging from thin wires’. As he turned white and began to whimper, I distracted our son with plenty of oohs and aahs as we looked out of the window. A restorative cappuccino was supped at the top of the hill before we considered the return journey; in the end I accompanied my son in the cable car and we waved to the vertiginous one who fought his way through the scrub to descend the hill on foot.

Bang goes our future skiing holidays.

For a more relaxed day out Chatsworth House was also well within reach for a day trip; its house and gardens were quite spectacular. As Chatsworth had been used to represent Pemberley in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice I was rather hoping my husband would do the decent thing and leap into the lake, so he could come out all wet shirt and breeches like Mr Darcy in that infamous scene. Despite the fact that he was keen to appear macho after the debacle of the previous day, he refused, muttering something about not having a towel and it being a bit chilly.

Back at the apartment, an hour of lolling in front of the television before the nightly trip across the road to the pub. A pint of real ale, some rib-sticking hearty dishes and a log fire to sit beside. With ruddy cheeks and aching calves we stretched, yawned and headed back to bed.

It’s a long, tiring but enormously satisfying day when you’ve been to the Devil’s Arse and back.


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Crime and Punishment

What's the worst punishment you can remember a school dishing out to its pupils?

I ask this because a feature caught my eye in a magazine from my husband's old school, George Heriot's in Edinburgh.  The archive department is looking for material to complete a report on the school's history. They already have a fascinating collection such as Andy Irvine's Scottish cap from 1973, a pair of crumbling 'breeks' (trousers) from 1700 and a letter from Queen Anne asking the school for the sum of £200!

However the department is also on the look out for further information on events in the school's history where their collection is a little light. In this list they ask for more information about the school in the war years, request a copy of the film made by STV of the Duke of Edinburgh's visit in 1961 and they hope someone may have a recording of a televised school service broadcast from Greyfriars Kirk in 1962.

But I also spotted the following:

"The cancellation of the mid-term holiday in February 1964 because of the boys' bad behaviour"

What on earth did the naughty boys do in 1964 to cause such a blanket punishment to the whole school, as I'm assuming all primary and secondary pupils were included? It must have been pretty severe as surely teachers would have had their holidays cancelled too.  Can you imagine the uproar today if a school took such a stance? There'd be hell on. All those February skiing holidays booked?

I asked Dougie if he knew the reason but as he was born in 1964 he has no idea. I can't find any reference to it on the internet. I'll probably have to wait until the archive report is published to discover what heinous crime was committed. Rory thinks that as it was the 1960s it could be drugs, Dougie thinks it's more likely to have been a huge fight between rival schools.

 Does anyone out there know? Can anyone better this with an alternative school punishment?


Monday, 10 October 2011

Success for the Devil's Arse

A few weeks ago I entered the Beautiful Britain family travel writing competition on the website Have a Lovely Time. I found out on Friday that I had...erm...won! I had to keep it a secret until it had been announced on the website but was allowed to ring my family and shriek loudly down the phone.

The competition involved writing about a family travel experience in Britain. My entry was "This way to the Devil's Arse", about our trip to the Peak District, involving a visit to Peak Cavern (The Devil's Arse), Matlock Bath and Chatsworth House. I wasn't sure that having the word 'arse' in the title was a very clever idea, it being a family travel competition, but crossed my fingers, counted the permitted words and emailed it to the organisers who were judging all the entries anonymously.

If you'd like to read the entry, please have a look on this link: This way to the Devil's Arse

There is also a Readers' Choice prize for one of the 8 runners-up. If you'd like to read them and vote for your favourite, pop over HERE.

My prize? £200, a day pass for an English Heritage property of my choice and a copy of the judge's book, Travelling with Children (Catherine Cooper).

I have to say I'm so thrilled to have won. Really, really, really delighted.


Friday, 7 October 2011

#FriFotos - CAPITALS

I've recently been following a travel hashtag on Twitter, #FriFotos, where all the social media savvy travel gurus seem to congregate on a Friday (naturally) to share their photos on a weekly theme. A fortnight ago I dipped my toe in the water and tweeted a photo on the theme of 'stone'. There were dozens of fabulous pictures of ancient monuments and iconic buildings. Me, I posted a photo of yours truly standing next to a statue of a willy, outside the Penis Museum in Iceland. (see post, HERE, if you haven't had the pleasure)

As the theme this week is 'capitals' I couldn't decide which photo of which capital city, to submit to the esteemed gathering. So I decided to gather a photo from each city into one blog post. I've tried to find a photo which fully represents the spirit or history of each location. You've probably seen all the silly ones - the podgy Spiderman in Madrid and the perky bookshop sign in Copenhagen - so these are my sensible offerings. You'll notice I haven't included London or Edinbugh - can't find a decent photo of either, anywhere in my files. Hopeless!

You can follow the #FriFotos on Twitter yourself and see what other travellers have posted.

Retiro Park - Madrid

Nyhavn - Copenhagen

Brandenburg Gate - Berlin

Parliament Hill and Rideau Canal - Ottawa

My Boys outside Hallgrimskirkja - Reykjavik

Eiffel Tower at dusk - Paris

My boy in front of the Colosseum - Rome


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Holiday Plans for October Half Term

Old Swan and Minster Mill
After much deliberation as to what to do and where to go this half term, we have decided to stay in the UK and get cosy in the Cotswolds.

The last time we visited this neck of the woods Dougie and I went as a couple as Rory was away skiing with the school. We had a fabulous time at Barnsley House, where, if you remember, there was a huge bath at the bottom of the bed. Now this was all very well for a romantic few days a deux but when you've got a 15 year old lad in tow, it doesn't bear thinking about.

So I did some searching on t'internet and I have found this gem, the Old Swan and Minster Mill, a gorgeous inn  and country house set in 65 acres of meadows and gardens on the River Windrush. It is owned by the de Savary family and has undergone a multimillion pound refurbishment. It's not cheap but it is beautiful.

The reason it ticks all the boxes for a family break is mainly the fact that it has inter-connecting rooms. I had a bit of a rant about the scarcity of these in a recent post.  We have booked two rooms in the more modern Minster Mill block and they have discounted the second room, which is a big bonus.

The hotel does seem to understand what makes for a family holiday experience, albeit at the top end of the market. As well as family rooms and connecting rooms, it is dog-friendly (not that we've got one!) and has activities available for all ages including nature walks, archery, petting farm, duck races (?), fishing, table tennis, table football and arts/crafts. We even received a phone call asking if Rory would like to go to the children's Halloween Party at the hotel during the week we are staying. I declined on his behalf as he would rather stick a hot poker in his eye, quite frankly, but we appreciated the offer nonetheless. Free wi-fi and a great pub menu were of more interest.

So, readers, I need some advice as to where to go for days out while we are there. We are sort of equidistant from Cheltenham (Dougie and I visited there last time), Cirencester and Oxford. I'd love a day in Oxford but, being a Cambridge girl, am a bit clueless as to what will be of interest for all of us. One good thing is that Rory now enjoys shopping (hoorah) and we've pencilled in a trip to Bicester Village for some discount bargain-hunting.

Let me know if you have any suggestions and, while you're at it, tell me where you're off to, if at all, with the kids this half term.


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Back in the Saddle

Me as Katie Brown in Calamity Jane, 2008

I opened my mouth, took a deep breath and the words came tumbling out in a river of pure musical theatre schmaltz.

It's been a year since I've done any singing, having decided to take a break from my local am-dram society. "I'm resting, darling" has a deliciously diva-esque ring to it, don't you think?

I've been involved with the Spalding Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (SADOS...and yes, we probably are) since 2002 and this was the first year I wasn't involved in their Spring musical. Yes, I've been enjoying the break from organising publicity, line-learning and the stomach-churning angst of preparing for a show. But, truth be told, a life without any jitters, panic and stress can be a little bland. Plus I've missed my friends; the silly giggles, the goofing around, the "we'll never be ready in time" hyperbole which is a permanent feature of every show we do.

So, last night, I popped along to rehearsals for a concert which is being performed at the end of October. It's not going to be a full-blown production at the theatre but it's a small  injection of musical adrenalin I think I need.  What's rather daft is that I'm not even going to be available on the night in question. However, the same set will be performed at another 'gig' we have, two short stints in the town centre for the Christmas light switch-on in early December, and I'm around that weekend.

The pressure is off because, as I'm not going to be there for the first performance, I will just be singing in the chorus. With that in mind, I happily took my seat last night, after the obligatory luvvie hugs, and warbled along in the ensemble.

I didn't quite anticipate what would happen as I started to sing some of the 'old favourites'. Tunes and lyrics came flooding back to me. The harmony for The Black Hills of Dakota (Calamity Jane) came bubbling up, unannounced, from the far recess of my mind and I was transported back to 2008 where I had played Katie Brown, the frightened phoney actress from Chicagy, singing Keep it Under Your Hat intentionally off-key. For some reason I remembered the first night when Calamity and I were singing A Woman's Touch; someone had covered the tablecloth with too much muck so when we lifted it at both corners to shake it out, we were covered in dust and could hardly breathe, never mind sing.

The title song from Anything Goes; as I sang the words "In olden days a glimpse of stocking"  I was there in 2003 for my first speaking role with the society. I was the purser of the ship, a role normally taken by a man but we were short of fellas that year so I got my chance to march about in a bossy fashion and even tap dance, dressed in an extremely thick, fetid, wool suit during an unbearably hot week in June.

At home today I've rooted around to find all my mementos from previous shows: photographs, good luck cards, newspaper clippings. Plus I am annoying the family immensely by playing all the CDs from the musicals. I've discovered this new kitchen of mine, with its tiled floor, is bloody ace to sing in....LOUDLY!