Posts filed under ‘great people’

a (would have been) 100th birthday

11-5-12 - Euan holding nan's hand* 4BWe would have been celebrating my Nan’s 100th birthday today if she were still with us. She died 4 years ago which seems a lifetime ago in terms of her absence from my childrens lives but is just a blink in terms of the miss from mine.  She was such a beautiful, funny, loving soul and my childhood is filled with memories, both momentous (taking the train to Weymouth to stay in a caravan two days ahead of my parents arrival!) and ordinary (the best maker of dippy eggs and soldiers and banana fritters).  If I close my eyes I can still hear her voice over the crackly intercom at her flat – ”oh it’s you Nic, I’ll buzz you up’‘ in her lovely Forest accent and with so much surprise and delight you’d have thought I hadn’t pre-arranged it at all.

2002 - Nan & Tom at Christmas  I wrote a little bit of Nan’s life story in a post to mark her 96th birthday, the first birthday we had without her.  She was born a triplet and one of 14 children so I’m sure life was challenging at times.  Yet she always responded to any suggestion of that with  ”we were lucky, there’s always someone worse off than you.  It was hard sometimes but we had a lot of fun too.  Mother always had a smile and joke so we did too”.  And then she’d cry laughing as she recalled stories of sleeping in the bath or 6 to a bed or scrumping apples in her knickers.

N&G 16-4-76 + nan & grandadEuan was 15 months old when Nan died and when we visit Gloucester Cathedral he always asks to light a candle to remember her.  When L is older we shall start to show him photos and videos of a very special person he never had the chance to meet.

Collage - E with Granny copy

September 23, 2017 at 6:23 am 2 comments

seasons of life

I really like looking at photos and exploring the sometimes hidden story they tell.  I’m full of curiosity about other people’s pictures and love how someone’s face can light up as they re-experience the sights and sounds of a single moment or point out some small detail barely noticeable in the background.  ”Goodness look at my hair, what was I thinking”.  ”He kissed me for the first time under that tree”. When I look at baby photos of my beloved boys it taps all my senses including reminders of milk coma smiles and that beautiful indescribable scent of a newborn baby’s head!

The photo above of a peacefully sleeping 5 day old baby Luca brings up all sorts of memories for me about the first week of his life, not least because I wasn’t actually there when it was taken. It’s titled ”Luca with Katherine while I was in hospital” on my laptop and was sent to me by a very special friend.

I didn’t realise the enormity of it all at the time.   I’d had a terrible night with my post-natal body cycling through fevers and chills and was almost relieved when my midwife said she needed to send me back to hospital to be checked out for a probable infection.  I felt wretched but found it a surprisingly easy decision to make. The phrase ”put your own oxygen mask on first’‘ sprang to mind and I understood for the first time what that really meant.  The best way to Mother my boys was to let someone else do it temporarily so I could focus on getting the medical attention I needed.  It was a decision made easier to bear knowing I had someone I totally trusted with the care of my newborn baby.  Luca would not go hungry as I was cup feeding him expressed milk due to his tongue tie.  Most importantly he would be held and loved and sung to by K while G took care of his brother.  Every Mum needs such a friend for the days when two hands and one heart just don’t seem enough!

So this is post is dedicated to all those beautiful people who step in just when we need them most.  The friends who are always pleased to hear from you even when it’s been a while and who never make you feel bad for asking for help so soon after your first ‘‘hello, how are you?”.  Katherine wrote a beautiful article about life on the other side of such friendships and as it was published a year ago today on it seemed a fitting time to share it here.  Katherine wrote:

“To you, with the children, who let me in.

Do you believe in seasons of life? I do.
So many articles these days are written by (and for) people in specific seasons of their lives. Some from Mums to other Mums, lamenting the sleepless nights and vomit in their hair. Others from single women to single women lamenting the loss of friends or irritation of endless baby photos on social media. Some also from women trying, but not able, to become a Mummy. Heartbreakingly honest letters of the raw grief and the painful jealousy that envelopes them when they see another scan photo of social media.

This, however, is a letter from me. Katherine. 32, single, no children. It’s not how I’d hoped I’d spend my 32nd year and certainly not what I’d planned, but I’m learning that it is what it is, my season of waiting.

My season of waiting
When your friends begin to have children it’s an exciting, amazing time. You wonder how you became old enough for this to be a reality, secretly glad that you aren’t the one staying up all night feeding yet still desperate for the first cuddle. When the next friend, the friend after that and the friend after her have a baby you begin to realise that this is your reality now. Your friends are settling down and starting their own families. This is a strange, limbo era for me. One which I trust will, as all seasons do, come to an end. But trusting in that hope, which for me comes from my faith, does not mean that it hurts less.

To the many I’ve drifted away from, it’s ok. I know that you exist in a strange new world now. One that terrifies and delights you in equal measure. Once someone carelessly uttered the phrase, ” you wouldn’t understand, you’re not a Mum.”
Do you know what? You’re right, I have no idea, but I pray every day that one day I will. They didn’t mean it with any malice intended but boy did it hurt. I’m fully aware that something untouchable now separates me from those who’ve started this wonderful and exhausting new journey and for some of those relationships the foundations weren’t there to sustain the difference. Thankfully, you are different.

Who is this ‘you’ I’m referring to? You are the women who let me in. You are the many women of my life who became Mothers before me and didn’t shut me out. You are the ones who shared your scan pictures with me, knowing that I would genuinely get joy from seeing your fuzzy little shadow of a tiny but perfect human. You are the ones who allowed me to rest my hand on your tummy knowing how excited I would be by a single kick. You are the ones who allowed me to visit the hospital in those first few precious days and spend time holding your pride and joy, breathing in the unbeatable smell of milky baby. In the early days I try not to interfere, afraid to intrude on this intense and wonderful time but you invite me in. You breastfeed on a rocking chair while I lie on the floor beside you chatting aimlessly. I listen, genuinely interested, to your stories of nappies and weaning and in turn you then listen patiently to the stories of my day. You don’t need to do that, you could make an excuse or yawn a lot and I would leave, but you don’t.

Mummy friends
We walk around parks and you manage to multitask, juggling a toddler, an ice cream, a stuffed rabbit and still holding a conversation with me. I know that your priorities have shifted but I don’t feel like a nuisance. As your children get older I delight in the school uniform pictures and the trips with you for school shoes. You don’t think twice about having me with you. You welcome me into your home wholeheartedly at the end of a long day. You are back at work, exhausted but you, your husband and your children behave as though I am meant to be there, part of the family. Birthdays, New Years Eves, holidays are no different, you share your family, your precious ones. You give me the honour of entrusting your child in my care, knowing that I will love every second of imagining, just for that evening, that I could do the immense job of motherhood.

“The problem with women having children much older…” My patient begins during a recent visit, I brace myself…..’‘Is that you can’t enjoy them as Grandparents, as much, when you’re older.”
I reflect for a moment, sad for my parents that they are still awaiting this joy and sad for myself that I’m the one responsible for withholding it. They will be wonderful Grandparents, I know they will.

Being on my own is the one part of my life that does not fulfil me. My friends, family, career, faith and home do and I’m proud of all that I’ve achieved but my ultimate goal is that of Motherhood, it’s yet to be reached and feels further and further away.

You have held me while I’ve cried for this missing part of myself and encouraged me in dating endeavours even when I’ve been less than enthusiastic. You have put up with me becoming periodically upset and lamenting the same point over and over without becoming short tempered with me. You have given up time that could have been spent with your husband or your children and spent it with me. For all of these reasons I love you, my Mummy friends.

Thank you for sharing the most precious people in your life with me.”


June 29, 2017 at 12:41 pm 2 comments

March memories

You may have come across a photographic scavenger hunt called 26 Things?
Kate in Brunei blogged her colourful results of the November challenge and I was intrigued by the concept of bloggers around the world snapping the same 26 words with such individual results.  November was too cold and grey in England to feel inspired but Kate’s 16 things challenge coincided with the first signs of Spring and a new resolve to go for a walk on my lunch breaks.  Perfect timing, thanks Kate.


”cat mum home with stuff for cat cake, now having a little cat party” wrote G.
 ‘you know how bonkers that makes us sound, don’t you?’  cat mum wrote back.
Making a cake to celebrate the cats birthday amounted to turning a tin of Sheba upside down on a plate and decorating it with treats to look like a cat face.   Weird 6 legged spider was more the effect we ended up with!  Nevertheless the cats loved it and we barely made it to the end of ‘Happy Birthday dear ‘  before they’d finished it.

STRIPEYGorgeous Smiley Stripes yarn bought using a voucher 2 years after I was given it! Casting on is a little overdue but in the next decade I hope to make one of these
EMPTY Can’t get enough of those crispy greens!  As well as Kale, Spring greens work well – less crispy, more chewy.

The ‘scrambled snake game’ as Tom and Kim call it.  We all love the story of the Gruffallo and played this board game during their visit to England last summer. They hadn’t come across snakes and ladders before and thought we were cheating when we told them snakes always meant slide down and not climb!
NEWA dedicated flower bed inspired by our visit to Durham’s Botanical Gardens last year.  Poppies, Cornflowers, Love-in-the-Mist and some scented flowers sown. Weeds and flowers emerging but I can’t yet tell what’s what at the moment!

I use Gloucestershire Car Share scheme to get to work.  My lift share partner had two weeks off in March and I got the bus instead.  The journey home begins here.
I planted some cuttings from Henri’s redcurrant bush in November.  They resembled dead twigs until March when the tiny buds that had formed started to open up.
HOME-MADEA naughty treat from my dear friend Mel who bought them from her church bake-a-thon.  The lady who made them is a lovely, sweet, scrummy character apparently, just like her cupcakes. They raised £1000 – that’s a lot of cupcakes!
My new favourite mug (another fab Mel gift). We don’t do small mugs in our house but this one’s jumbo even by our standards. 500mls in one very huggy mug
I’d happily cycle to work if there was a more pleasant, less hazardous route. Sadly this cycle route sign indicates the shared pathway that circles the business park.
It stops and starts at the bus stop on the main road. Boo.
Billy is our loyal evening companion and always sleeps like this to watch films with us (my outstretched legs are buried underneath him)
Last Summer I bought 100 flowers to knit and crochet. Unhappily for me all the small delicate flowers are crocheted not knitted and I can’t work out the patterns.  I browsed Ravelry instead for a knitted pattern and Julie’s strawberry flowers have been sitting at the top of my favourites list ever since!  By happy coincidence I was already following Julie’s Little Cotton Rabbit’s blog so it felt like bumping into a friend unexpectedly (Julie’s Hedgehog pattern never made it on to my needles either – shocking I know!)
Mikey loves sitting on the back wall:  the wheelie bin is his launchpad!
Yesterday, the last day of the challenge, coincided with a visit from Al and Rafferty. After lunch we raided the book box and settled down for some very cute story time.
My heart smiles every time I recall Raff’s ‘pink I think‘ answer to ‘What colour is Mikey?’ (our black cat).
A very generous hand-made gift from dear Bilbo for G’s music room.  I’m ashamed to admit we still haven’t hung it yet – bad little Hobbits!

Huge loud potential but actually G’s music room is a gently creative space where instruments are strummed, bashed and plonked with a delicate touch.

April 29, 2011 at 9:15 am 9 comments

bonfire night

pretty sparklers, lovely friends and Jenny’s apple crumble with custard. Perfect.

November 6, 2010 at 9:28 pm 13 comments

the place to bee – Durham’s Botanic Gardens

I’d never seen so many bees in one place – a veritable hive of activity in the lavender bed at The Botanic Gardens in Durham back in August.  We spent a peaceful morning strolling round woodland and bamboo groves with our dear friends Dan and Ruth and their lovely boys.  We spied on birds in hushed whispers from within the hide  and found art work* intermingled with plants and trees from around the world.
I loved the swathe of colour created in the wildflower beds and have seed packets at the ready to scatter in Spring for a Durham inspired wildflower corner at the plot.

My favourite part of the garden?   This grassy knoll for the squeals of delight it squeezed out of Rory as he hurtled down it!
* Botanic Gardens Artwork: Millennium Bug by local artists Graeme Hopper and David Buxton

September 29, 2010 at 9:30 am 9 comments

the ‘Ministry of Food’ exhibition part 2: Digging for Victory

…so you know I visited the Ministry of Food exhibition last week?  After catching a bus at stupid-o’clock I arrived on the steps of the Imperial War Museum snow flecked, cold and very early.  I was wondering how best to phrase a plea to let me in early when a member of staff arrived beside me swipe card in hand.  In a perfect moment of serendipity (making a fortunate discovery by accident) when I asked if she could let Lisa, the Press Officer, know I’d arrived she answered ‘I’m Lisa, come on in‘.

While Lisa and her colleagues made a few final preparations I introduced myself to another early bird called Steve.  We exchanged stories about how we came to be there and immediately I was struck by how many fascinating tales I’d be leaving London with.  This is Steve’s story (I hope I tell it as well as he did and rest assured Steve you didn’t bore me one bit!)

I’m no celebrity snapper:  Steve Thomas is not a household name but his great grandfather was during the Second World War.  Well not a household name exactly:  if you google William Henry McKie you won’t find any clues to his notoriety.  Steve’s great grandfather was the oldest member of the Acton Gardening Association in 1941 and very well known locally for the prizes, medals, firsts and specials awarded for his flowers and vegetables.  But it was being photographed driving a spade into the ground on his plot in Acton, West London that his legend was made.  W H McKie was the owner of the iconic booted ‘foot all the Nation knows‘ on the Ministry of Food’s ‘Dig for Victory‘ poster.

Thanks for sharing your great grandfather’s story so enthusiastically Steve and sending me the newspaper cutting below (tickled by that advert for the three piece suite too!).  Feel  free to add anything I missed in the comments!  (For readers who find the news print a little small to read click on the image to magnify it). 

The Acton Gazette, 7th February 1941

If you’re still undecided about whether the exhibition is worth the trip to London take a look at what some of today’s household names had to say about the exhibition on the opening night 

© Ministry of Food poster – Imperial War Musuem
See The Imperial War Museum’s YouTube channel for other interesting videos

February 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm 17 comments

keeping bees in the city

Jon’s an archeologist and a bit of a digging dynamo by all accounts.  I’ve heard he’s rarely happier than when he’s sifting through soil.  I’m not sure that’s entirely true these days having seen his face light up when talking about beekeeping.  His is a smile of sheer pleasure if ever I saw one. 

Jon collected 25-30lb of honey from his hive in the autumn.  He averaged 50lb per colony when he kept bees many years ago  and once had a bumper yield of over 100lb from a single colony.  With an average bee hive containing 50-60,000 bees in the summer space in a city garden is definitely an issue if you want to increase honey production so he just has one hive for now. 

I asked Jon a bunch of questions about beekeeping and collecting honey and I thought I’d share his answers with you.  Get comfy with a cuppa, it’s along one!

How do bees make honey?
Honey is basically concentrated nectar.  Bees collect nectar from plants (they suck it out of the flowers with their tongues and store it in a special stomach) and back at the hive they regurgitate it into one of the cells on the honey comb.  Nectar is much more liquid than honey so once the forager bees have made their deposit other bees fan the honey combs with their wings to create an airflow and draw the water out of the nectar making it more storeable and concentrating its food content.  When enough water has been removed the bees cap the honey filled cells with wax.  In this state the honey will store indefinitely and the bees only remove the wax capping when they want to eat it.  The flavour and consistency of the honey is determined by the nature of the plant nectar the bees have collected to create it.

How long does it take the bees to make honey?
Bees will begin foraging for nectar whenever there is any about but they are most active between April and September.  The time it takes them to make the honey will depend on the size of the colony and how warm the overall temperature is.  If there are lots of bees collecting nectar, lots of bees drying it out and it is warm outside the whole process  need only take a couple of days (or even less).  Fewer bees and colder climates makes the process slower.

How do you get the honey from the hives and into the jars?  How do you do it without annoying the bees?
The honey is ready when the bees have capped the cells with wax.  By the end of the season in September when the honeycombs are completely capped you remove them.  A bee hive consists of two parts: an upper box where the surplus honey is stored and a lower box which contains the queen, all the eggs and brood and some honey and pollen. The bees like to come into contact with the Queen every day so you contain the Queen bee in the lower box by placing a thin mesh on top.  You then place a board between the boxes which allows the worker bees through (they are smaller than the Queen bee) but only one way, from honey box to brood box.  The honey box will be clear in about 24 hours.

Once you have taken the honey bombs away from the bees you remove the wax capping with a knife and place the frames containing the honey combs in a honey spinner:  a large drum with a handle that turns the central cage  When you spin the cage the honey is forced out of the combs and drips down the inside of the drum. There is a wide tap at the bottom of the drum to let the honey out.  I pass it through a coarse sieve into another tank and leave it for a couple of days to allow any scum and inclusions float to the top.  This tank also has a tap on the bottom and once the honey has settled you can let it pour directly into the jars.

What does the Queen bee do?  How is she chosen?  What happens if she dies?
Pretty much all the queen does is lay eggs  (up to 5,000 a day in the height of  the season).  All other decisions within the hive seem to be made by the worker bees on a sort of collective action basis. The queen isn’t chosen on an individual basis; if they need a new queen the bees can raise one.  All worker bees are immature females and  queens are just ordinary bees who have been reared in a way which enables them to reach full maturity (from an ordinary fertilised egg that is given more space, more protein and more oxygen).  The bees don’t just wait for the old queen to die:  if she is failing in any way they will raise a new queen and then just kill the old one or divide the colony into two by swarming.  If the queen dies unexpectedly they can always raise a new one as long as there are fertilised eggs in the colony.  As queens tend to lay eggs in the spring and summer the death of the queen in winter is very serious as the colony would have no eggs to make a new queen from.

How do the worker bees find their way back to the hive?
They find their way back by remembering where the hive was in relation to the sun’s position in the sky when they left.  Pretty clever when you think how much the sun moves around the sky and isn’t always visible on cloudy days.

Do bees ever stop working or is the phrase ‘busy bee‘ entirely true?
Bees never stop working.  The jobs they do in the hive depends partly on circumstance but is also determined by age.  When they first emerge from the cells as adult bees they start to look after the brood (the immature eggs and grubs) and keep the hive tidy.  When they get older they go out and collect nectar and pollen and  the older bees tend to act as guards (which makes sense as bees die if they sting you).  The male drone bees don’t really do any work around the hive as there only job is to mate with a queen (not the one in the hive who is their mother)  and they die once that task is completed.  The queen mates with a number of drones in the brief period at the beginning of her life when she leaves the hive.  When she returns to the hive and she spends most of the rest of her life laying eggs

What do bees do when it rains and do they ever sleep?
Bees can carry on working in the rain although they stay in the hive if it’s torrential.  There are plenty of jobs to be done and they don’t ever sleep.

How can I identify a honeybee?  (I don’t usually hang around long enough to get a visual on the buzz just in case it’s a wasp!)
Honey bees are about the same size as a worker wasp and a similar shape.  But a honey bees body is less pointy and more furry (for collecting pollen).  They tend to be black and orange rather than black and yellow and they also have black heads.  They are not as round or as large as bumble bees.  Individual honey bees are usually too busy to bother people so if an insect is buzzing around your head in an annoying manner it’s unlikely to be a honey bee.

How long have you been beekeeping and where did you get your bees from?
I first started keeping bees about 20 years ago.  I’ve always liked insects but don’t particularly like gardening so bee keeping seemed a good way of masquerading as a self-sufficient son of the soil without having to grow things!  I had a break of several years but couldn’t bring myself to part with my equipment.  So when Pat and Robin asked me to remove a swarm of bees from their garden I fell happily back into it.  The laws governing ownership of swarms are medieval:  if you lose sight of your bees and someone else collects them then the rule of ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’ applies.

How did you learn about bee-keeping?   Where did you buy your equipment?
I went on a short course at Hartpury College and read a lot of books.  I used to be a member of Newent Beekeepers Association and and attended their meetings.

I bought my first stock of bees from Maisemore Apiaries, and then reared new colonies from those over time.  I’ve collected swarms on occasion and the bees I have currently started are third generation bees now.  I’ve tended to make most of the equipment.

Were you scared initially?
The first time I ever saw inside a bee hive I was on my own and had only read about what to expect (I did my evening class in winter so it wasn’t particularly hands on).  I don’t think I was scared but I was certainly a little anxious.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been scared of the bees but there have been times when I have been bee keeping and would rather have been doing something else!  I always treat bees with healthy caution and wear all the kit if I going to open a hive up.

How many times have you been stung and what was your worst sting?
I don’t honestly know.  I used to get stung a lot more often with the bees I had in the early days.  The bees I have now are very gentle or perhaps I’m better at it.  You are less likely to be stung if you make calm deliberate movements  and don’t just crash about with the hive.  Top tip: never combine beekeeping and alcohol!

If you keep bees you tend to build up an immunity to the stings so although it still feels like a pin prick you don’t get any of the swelling.   My worst stings were probably the early ones before I’d got used to it.  You can still get stung through protective clothing but the stings don’t penetrate as deep and are likely to fall out.  It’s important to remove the sting as soon as you can because the poison sack continues to pump poison into you after the initial sting.  Stings on exposed skin can penetrate quite deeply making them harder to remove and increasing the painful effects of the sting.

Where is the most likely place a bee will sting you?
If you open up a hive without  protective clothing the bees will go for your face.  Very nasty and why you should always wear a veil.  I’ve been around bad tempered bees in the past and even though you know they can’t get past your veil it’s a bit disconcerting knowing they’re trying.

The most likely place you’ll pick up a sting as a beekeeper is on your hands.  A bee sting can penetrate through leather gloves and many beekeepers don’t even wear any. I used to go bare handed too but tend to wear gloves now to keep my hands clean and to stop the bees crawling up my sleeves. 
‘Westgate Honey’ label designed by Cedric

January 29, 2010 at 10:17 am 24 comments

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