‘May I have your autograph?’

I have another blog apart from this one. My other site records some of my family’s history, in a rather anecdotal fashion. Its readers are mainly not the same people as those who read this one. So just for once, I’m going to share a post from ‘Notes on a family’. I love my Great Aunt Blanche’s autograph album from 1903. I think you might too.

Notes on a family

Blanche Pickard in about 1903. Blanche Pickard in about 1903.

Among my family treasures is an autograph book, dating from about 1903.  It has no signatures from the famous, or even local notables.  Instead, it’s a record of young people enjoying themselves at the turn of the 20th century.

The book belonged to my grandmother’s sister, Blanche.  In 1903 her father Arthur was a clothier’s salesman, and she was a tailoress, a machinist.  Most of their friends worked in the textile industry in some capacity.  They were ordinary working people, and not educated to a high level – though she and her sister were still at school at the ages of 12 and 14, according to the 1891 census.

Blanche and her friends had autograph books.  They sometimes amused themselves in their spare time by filling the pages of each others’ volumes.  Here’s hers.  I’ve left out all the pages that simply had improving quotations from…

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What’s in a name?

Look! Here is a post of mine from more than three years ago. It could have been written to fulfil this weeks’s WordPress photo challenge: Names

From Pyrenees to Pennines

When I was at school, my French text books were peopled by characters such as Jean-Claude, Jean-Charles, Jean-Paul, Jacques and Georges.  There were Marie, Marie-France, Marianne, Jeanne and Jeanette.
My own classmates answered to names such as Valerie, Jean, Judith, Janet and Mary while the boys’ school along the road had types like Alan, Norman, Brian, Keith, and inevitably, John.
These names identify us firmly as children of the 1940’s and ’50’s.
So over the last week, on our journey through France, I’ve had fun looking for evidence of the latest trends in French first names, via Coca-cola’s latest marketing scheme of personalising drinks bottles with the current most popular given-names.

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The pirates return

It’s time to leave Phil Sayer in peace. My daughter gave him a glorious send-off last Monday, with a funeral attended by nearly 400 people, celebrating his life with tears certainly, but also, nostalgia, humour and even laugh-out-loud moments. When were you last at a funeral which began with Monty Python’s ‘Galaxy Song’? Just before we try to resume normal service, here’s a post I wrote two years ago, celebrating Phil’s time on the pirate ship Radio Caroline.

Rest in peace, Phil.

From Pyrenees to Pennines

Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship. Alex and Ben rush down the gangplank of the pirate ship.

This post probably won’t make much sense if you’re not from the UK.  It won’t make sense even if you’re British if you’re not at least in your mid- 50’s.  You won’t know of a world where your radio listening choices were limited to the Home Service (much like Radio 4), the Light Programme (much like  Radio 2) and the Third Programme ( much like…. yes, Radio 3).  What’s missing from this list?  Yes, indeed, Radio One.

If you were a teenager before the mid 1960s, you weren’t going to get much joy listening out for a diet of pop music by choosing the BBC.  The only option was to tune in to the commercial Radio Luxembourg.  The amount of music it offered grew rapidly throughout the ’60s, but anyone from my generation will remember the commercials too…

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‘Rain, rain, go to Spain….’

I was out walking near Ripon this morning. For once it’s not raining – and it has been, more often than not, for days and days. But the river, viewed on a gusty but mild Autumnal morning, offered proof of all that recent rain. The Ure raged and surged at the bridges. Every bank had been breached, and trees were paddling in several feet of water. Impromptu lakes formed in fields and too-close-for-comfort to urban streets. Riverside paths, usually solid affairs of beaten earth, were slick and slippery with sludge: or worse, deeply hidden under soft ribbons of oozy mud. How very like an English November, I thought.

But then I remembered a November in France, only two years ago. It made our current Autumn weather look rather OK, especially as it’s unseasonably mild: 16 degrees today. Nobody’s talking about snow …… yet.

From Pyrenees to Pennines

Bridge over the River Touyre Bridge over the River Touyre

I think we’ve had enough.  When I last posted  – three days ago – we’d already had a week of rain.  It’s barely stopped since.  During the night, we can hear dull thudding as the roof tiles take another sodden pounding.  We get up in the morning, raise the shutters, and immediately the rain batters the windows.  Going for the breakfast loaf, usually a good way to begin the day, seems unattractive.  We make a comforting pan of porridge instead.  And so the day wears on.  We go out when we have to, but there’s no pleasure to be had in scurrying down the street, heads down, coats spattered by any passing car.  And I don’t know when we’ll ever have a country walk again.  The fields are waterlogged, the paths sticky and slippery with thick deep mud.

This was the River Touyre this morning…

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Daffodils in the Dolomies

Anyone who knows me even a little bit must be aware that I consider daffodils to be the main reason to be in England in the spring. We have wild daffodils of course. Think Wordsworth tramping through fields of flowers in the Lake District: think Farndale’s charming walk through the daffodils crowded along the River Dove in Yorkshire. But it’s the vibrant displays planted along roadside verges, in urban parks and on village greens, in garden tubs and along dual carriageways that grab my attention, every day.

Today though, I was thinking of a walk in France, just two years ago, to see the astonishing display of wild daffodils, in hills not so far from Foix. I thought you might like to remember it too.

From Pyrenees to Pennines

Yesterday, we walked in Les Dolomies, which you could confuse with the Dolomites with its craggy pillars and rocky outcrops: though actually it’s a small area between Lavelanet and Foix, just along from Roquefixade.  After a few days of hot sun and blue skies, it was disappointing to have the threat of rain, but the slight mistiness brought its own beauty to the landscape, softening the distant views, and enhancing the vibrant greens of the springtime meadows. Everywhere, blossom and flowers.

We walked upwards through the woods.  Anny and Maguy had a surprise for us.  And quite suddenly, there they were.  Daffodils.  Thousands and thousands of them, extending upwards over the hillside, tumbling over rocks, leaving not an inch of path for us to walk along.  The weather cleared. The sun came out.  We were entirely happy.

Come and share the walk with us, along blossom-laden paths, through the daffodil…

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Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Today is the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day. This year has been the one in which we’ve all been encouraged to focus on the horrible loss of life in the First World War: a war in which there were 16 million military deaths worldwide and 20 million casualties.

‘Casualties’ sounds such a, well, casual word. In fact many of these ‘casualties’ were unable any longer to work, to form sustained relationships, or in any way able to re-join normal life. And the communities from which the dead and injured came were also maimed, losing many or in some cases all of their young men. The way of life in such communities changed forever.

The most telling way of appreciating the scale of this loss, for me, has been the sea of poppies at the Tower of London. I’ve been unable to witness it in person, but this blog, which I came by thanks to fellow blogger KerryCan, brings the whole project to life in a most moving way. Thank you,  Silver Voice from Ireland.  Here is your post:


I have just returned from a short trip to London, England,where we  lived for almost two decades before returning to Ireland. London is a city that I love and I look forward to each return visit. This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War which has been commemorated in the most astonishing way at the historic Tower of London.

image The ‘Weeping Window’ the source of the wave of poppies that will fill the moat

Some decades ago, when I worked  in the banking area in the City of London, summer lunchtime would be spent sitting on the grass looking down at the Tower and enjoying the sunshine. We happily munched on our ham and mustard  or cheese and pickle sandwiches while enjoying the historic view and discussing the gruesome executions that took place just yards from where we dined! The Tower itself dates back to…

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