musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

The Musings Advent Calender 2017

I started this in 2015, so this is really the 3rd year in a row I have done it. Hopefully some of the pics will not have been seen before. The snow that we had on the 10th really left me many opportunities to get stunning images, and these will probably dominate the calender for a few days.

12 December

11 December

10 December 

Yep, we had snow. Image opens in the snowy blogpost

09 December

I headed to our local cemetery to see whether it was affected by the frost, and it was only really affected where there were no overhanging trees.

Tewkesbury Abbey

Cemetery Chapel

 

On 8 December we had snow in Tewkesbury although I missed seeing most of it as I was at work, and the pics from my camera do not show very much. However the temperatures are low and it is predicted that we will have snow/sleet on the 10th. The pics I took for 8 and 9 December will be weather related as a result.

Sunrise, the field is really covered in frost.

 

07 December

Fountain in Cheltenham

6 December

Roof in Birminham

5 December

Spotted in a church in Weymouth.

4 December

Shop window in Poole

3 December

Seen in Hythe near the Hovercraft Monument

2 December

Spotted in East Cowes, Isle of Wight in 2013. Explanation on the right

1 December

Donkeys at the seaside in Weymouth

 

© DRW 2017. Created between 01 and 24 December 2017. 

Updated: 12/12/2017 — 19:37

Cemetery in the snow 2017

In 2015 while I was in Basingstoke we had an overnight snowfall and I headed off to my local graveyard for some photography. That was quite a large cemetery and I spent a lot of time in it. Tewkesbury Cemetery is on the opposite end of town from where I live so any excursion to it in snowy weather on foot was not really a clever idea. However, apart from the churchyard of the abbey the closest cemetery was technically the old Baptist Chapel, which is literally over the road from the abbey. Unfortunately I can never remember where it is so had to backtrack a bit to find it. In fact, this post is going to backtrack all the way back to 2015 when I first arrived in Tewkesbury, because I have never done a post about the chapel before. This post covers the chapel and it’s associated burial ground and I am using a mix of images from my other visits as well as my Dec 2017 visit.

Situated at the end of one of the many alleyways in the town, it is one of those places you could miss unless you were actually looking for it.

The alley leads into The Old Baptist Chapel Court and the chapel is situated to the right in the image, while the burial ground is just past the building. A sign above the entrance to the court gives a brief history of what is within this small space.

I was fortunate enough to get a “tour” on my one visit so at least I know what it is like on the inside. The history of the chapel is quite interesting too.  

The old Baptist Chapel started out in the mid 15th century as a Medieval hall house and it is thought that by the mid 1700’s it was the meeting place for the Baptists, who were another of the many non-conformist groups who held clandestine meetings of their faith. In the 18th century it was transformed into a simply decorated chapel with a pulpit, baptistery and pastor’s room.

The trapdoor on the right is the Baptistery, and water was presumably  led or carried from the river at the bottom of the court. Prior to 1689, Baptists were persecuted by the authorities leading them to perform baptisms in secret at the nearby Mill Avon. The Baptistery was installed once the persecution ceased. 

However, the property is much higher than the river, so I do not know how they got water to it. Although who knows what it was like 2 or even 3 centuries ago.  

Most of the images were taken from the mezzanine level around the chapel and I seem to recall that there was a bricked up window that has a long story behind it. Unfortunately I no longer remember what it was  (stare too long at the window and you loose your memory perhaps?). 

In 1805 a new chapel was built and the old chapel was subdivided into two cottages with the remains of the chapel in the middle. The chapel may be amongst the earliest Baptist chapels in existence in the UK, and it was restored in the 1970’s to look as it did around 1720. It is almost impossible to get an exterior view of the building due to the narrowness of the alley at that point.  

This is really the best that you can do. The chapel is the timber framed building.  

The burial ground.

Layout by Tewkesbury Heritage (1024×252)

The earliest identified memorial in the burial ground is that of Mary Cowell and is dated 1689, with the newest dating from 1911. 

That is the extent of the burial ground, it is not a large area at all, and is hemmed in by houses on either side and the river beyond the trees. 

The Shakespeare Connection.

One of the more  interesting burials in it is that of Joan Shakespeare, who was William Shakespeare’s younger sister. She married into the Hart family, and one of the Hart descendants moved to Tewkesbury. John Hart was a chairmaker, and so was his son, and there are two Shakespeare Hart burials in this tiny plot.

Thomas Shakespeare

Will Shakespeare Hart

Somewhere amongst my photographs is a sign that pointed to a boat builder called Shakespeare in Tewkesbury but naturally I cannot find it at this point in time. A list of the interments in the burial ground may be found at the Gravestone Photographic Resource,  (and I believe there are records in the chapel too). According to that list the oldest identifiable headstone dates from 1777 and they identify 11 graves with 23 individuals. I doubt whether that list is complete.

Generally speaking many of the headstones are in a remarkable condition, and there are some very fine examples with intricate carving on them.​

 

If you stood at the river end of the court and looked towards  the chapel you can get a much better idea of the crowded area. The entrance would be on the top right of the image.

It is amazing to see how different the same space looks when it is blanketed by snow.  

And having revisited the burial ground it was time to head off home. It had been an interesting visit, and at some point I must compare the images that I have with what is on that list. And of course find that sign from the boat builder. I will return here again one day to have a look at those registers because I would like to document the individual graves. My existing images are from 3 different dates and they really show how a relatively undisturbed plot of ground does change with the seasons, although Winter left its mark on this chilly day and of course there was however one occupant that I did not see on this visit, but I expect he is curled up somewhere warm.

 

© DRW 2017. Created 10/12/2017. Some text originated from a Tewkesbury Heritage information board at the burial ground. 

Updated: 12/12/2017 — 19:34

Let there be snow!

Yes it is true, it is snowing outside. We had our first flakes on Friday but it was not a significant amount. But the weather forecast for the UK predicted snow wherever you go for today!

I woke at 7.30 but it was too dark to see much and I managed to bounce my flash off the flakes outside. It looked very promising and when I made my usual call home it was belting down outside. Here are some of my first pics. 

And yes, it is cold, and no I do not have snow boots and yes my hands are frozen. But… I am chuffed. I will periodically post new pics as I venture out. I am not likely to take a long trip because I do not want to get caught in it and it does appear that snow will be with us for most of the day.

11.55.

I went down to the Abbey to see what it was looking like, I was too wary to use the bike, and considering the slush on the roads I am glad I did not. Ugh, what a mess!​

 

The Abbey always presents interesting photographic opportunities, and just think how many snow storms it has seen during its long existence.​

 

My real aim was to do another “Cemetery in the snow” post, similar to the one I did in Basingstoke in 2015, but the cemetery is quite a long walk away and I was not going to tackle that! Instead I headed across to the old Baptist Chapel and its associated graveyard. I have not done a separate post on the chapel so will do that after I am finished playing in the snow.

11/11/2017

10/12/2017

And then it was time to wend my way home along the cycle path. It is hard to believe that this was once a railway line 

And that was the day, or should I say morning. It is still snowing outside although the weather forecast is for sun tomorrow. We will see when we get there. Will I use the bike tomorrow? probably not. I am not that confident with the inevitable slippery roads, and because of the low temperatures there is no way of knowing what conditions will be like out there in the morning, or in the evening. We will just have to wait and see.

Tuesday 12 December.

The leftover snow is still on the ground, the pavements are ice rinks, the temperatures are low but the light is fantastic. I took these on my way to work this morning.

And that concludes the weather. We now return to our regular programming. 

© DRW 2017. Created 10/12/2017

Updated: 12/12/2017 — 19:34

Armistice Day 11/11/2017

Somebody in the crowd remarked that it would have been considered a nice day in the trenches with its fine drizzle, grey sky and low temperature. But, it was not 1917, it was 2017 and we were all gathered at “The Cross” in Tewkesbury to commemorate the end of the First World War and the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Passchendaele. Today is Armistice Day while tomorrow is Remembrance Day.

The build up to the Remembrance Day commemoration has been very evident in Tewkesbury, and every other town and city in the UK. It is taken seriously in the United Kingdom because of the strong connection with this island and the many who are buried in foreign fields. The red, green and black of the Remembrance Poppy is to be seen everywhere, and the people wear theirs with pride. Unfortunately the PC mob is hell bent on destroying this tradition because somebody may be offended, but they can really take a running leap off a short cliff.

I was determined to be at the cross when the short service would be held, and I was not the only one.  

If you open the image above you can see the War Memorial that is the centre of the cross marked in red. If you close the streets leading to the memorial you effectively bring the town to a halt.  Unfortunately, as you can see the weather on this day was not as good as that in the image above. 

But, roughly 5 minutes from 11 am. The police blocked the roads and for these brief few minutes the town ground to a halt. Banners were raised and the ceremony commenced. 

There is a sequence of events for these commemorations:

  1. At 11am, the Last Post is played
  2. The exhortation is then read 
  3. The Two Minute Silence then begins
  4. The end of the silence is signalled by playing the Reveille

The Exhortation:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning 
We will remember them.”

Response: “We will remember them.”

Great Britain still believes strongly in remembering not only those who fought in the two World Wars, but also the more than 12,000 British Servicemen and women killed or injured since 1945, and I see that each year as I participate in the commemorations. Tomorrow the town will stop once again and many more people will gather to pay their respects, and I am proud to be a part of it. 

This year I was finally able to plant a poppy cross that I had been carrying since I arrived in the UK. The Field of Remembrance was not a large one, but that doesn’t really matter because the intention is what counts. 

South Africa is slowly reawakening to the importance of this Act of Remembrance, long after it was downplayed by the previous government.  It is up to the young to carry these acts of remembrance forward, and many are out there are the time of writing this, collecting for charity and wearing their poppy with pride 

Sunday 12/11/2017.

This morning when I got up it was seemingly clearing but not for long, and by the time I left home at 9.50 it was drizzling very softly.  Town was deserted but that could be because High Street was barricaded closed.

I headed down to the Abbey to waste some time and take a few pics and by the time the service was finishing the sun had arrived too and was shining brightly. It was however cold and I regretted not wearing my parka.  

The nice thing about the deserted streets was that you could get some pics of some of the buildings that were usually blocked out by cars.

I think we need to close off the roads more often so that we can just admire these old timber framed beauties from close up.

I started to head towards the War Memorial but ended up trying to help somebody that was hopelessly lost and trying to find their way to Swindon. Unfortunately that is almost impossible from Tewkesbury, unless you go via Cheltenham.  

By the time I was able to find a spot the crowd had swelled considerably, it was decidedly full! 

Last year I had sited myself on the left of this picture, but this year I had not been able to get there in time so took what I could get. The parade would enter from the left, encircle the memorial and then would start once the long crocodile had all arrived. There are a lot of people in that parade, ranging from old to very young. 

And then we were all there and the Service of Remembrance could start shortly before 11 am. I do not know how many people there had a connection to the military, but it did not really matter, the fact that there were so many is encouraging. The chilly weather did not help much and I know I was cold and some of those kids in the parade were probably even colder in their inadequate uniforms. The sun was behind me which does explain the heavy shadows. 

And then there was two minutes of silence and reflection, followed by the wreath laying.

Unfortunately a PA system was not in place so all we heard was a murmur in the distance and we sort of followed the proceedings as best we could. After the wreaths had been laid the parade marched back the way it had come, turned around and then headed back towards the memorial, passing it on the left and up towards the Town Hall where the Mayor would take the salute. 

We all stood on the sidelines watching the parade pass, doing an “eyes right” as they approached the memorial. Leading the parade was the Tewkesbury Town Band. Not only do we have a town band, we also have a Town Crier!

The column became more ragged as it neared the end as many service, civic and school groups were marching too, doing their level best to keep in some sort of step. And then the future of Remembrance made their approach. Many probably wished they were at home in bed, or elsewhere, and I am sure many did not realise the significance of what they were doing. But, the fact that they were here today was because of those who took up arms over 100 years ago. 

 

And then it was over and Tewkesbury returned to some sort of Sunday normality. I am always left looking at my photographs and trying to find ones that can really explain the importance of holding a Remembrance Day service, and it always comes down to 2 groups of people: the veterans and the young. When I grew up we were literally surrounded by men (and occasionally women) that had served in one of the World Wars and in my case it was my father and my grandfather. And we thought we knew the whole history and reasons behind the two wars. But looking back now we did not know them, or understand why our family members went to war. Eventually my brother and I would both do our national service and would join the brotherhood of those who took up arms. But, our service was regional, whereas the two world wars had a global reach, affecting the whole world and causing reverberations that we still feel today. But over the past 4 years in the United Kingdom I have come to realise that the war effected the United Kingdom much more deeply. In fact I doubt whether this island ever got over the slaughter of the trenches, and each time I see my images I can see that the wound will never heal, and every year they will continue to march and sell and wear a poppy in commemoration of those who were a part of the institutionalised slaughter of warfare. And if we could ask those gone before what lessons were there to be learnt? they would all reply: Never let it happen again. It is a pity our world leaders never seem to understand that, if they did we would not need to have a Remembrance Day in the first place.

 

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’

© DRW 2017. Created 11/11/2017 and 12/11/2017.

Updated: 24/11/2017 — 08:59

Pressing on to Prestbury

When I originally photographed Prestbury Cemetery in Cheltenham in 2015 I did some reading about it and one name popped up that I stashed away “just in case”. That name was the Prestbury War Memorial and it sort of became famous after it was bit by car! Unfortunately the opportunity to find it did not happen until today as I had business to attend to in Cheltenham, so could really kill 13 birds with two stones. Very close to the memorial is the Parish Church of St Mary’s, and I would be an idiot if I missed visiting it while I was in the area. 

From Clarence Street in Cheltenham I caught the “A” bus (gee, it is nice to have working bus services) that took me towards my destination, and the friendly bus driver set me off as close as he could to the church. That also happened to be next to the United Reformed Church which is a beauty in it’s own right.  

Being Autumn the light is beautiful, although it really depends on how cloudy it is. On this particular trip it alternated between overcast and sunny and by the time I headed off for home I was overheated in my lightweight hoodie.  

Left would take you to the church while right will take you into Prestbury village. I took the left path.

And there she is…

Like so many parish churches it is hard to date it because of the numerous restorations that have been done to the building, however the church appears to have been largely rebuilt in the 14th century when the north and south aisles were perhaps added to an earlier building. The church was so thoroughly restored in 1864–8 that the date of the medieval work is difficult to determine. (British History) . It is really very similar to many of the parish churches I have seen but it is no less beautiful. Fortunately I was able to access the church and my images do not really do it justice.

My camera tends to get confused with the available light so pics are usually hit or miss.

The Prestbury page at the Open Domesday Project may be found at  http://opendomesday.org/place/SO9723/prestbury/  and this is what the entry looks like: 

The war memorial inside the church is unlike any I have seen before, and it is really beautiful. 

Unfortunately it is difficult to photograph it because of ambient light but I am sure the gist is there. That memorial must have taken a long time to create.

The church has quite a large churchyard,  and there are six casualties buried in it,  and I managed to find 5.

There are a lot of these wooden crosses in the cemetery, and I always thought they were found more in Orthodox churches, but for some reason this seems to be a regional thing in the churchyard. Irrespective though, I could not help but think of a flock of birds when I first saw these.

The weight of ages is heavy in this churchyard, and who knows how old the earliest burial may date from. From what I can see the churchyard is in use for limited burials, and the lack of space is what would have brought Prestbury Cemetery into use.

I did the obligatory circuit of the graveyard, but could not really form any opinion as to what is the oldest grave in it. These churchyards hold more than what is visible on the surface. It however a very nice graveyard with some really beautiful headstones.   

Then it was time to leave this pretty place and head for the war memorial up the road.  Past the local with its fine views of the churchyard.

and finally…

As war memorials go it is not really a big or fancy one, but it does tell the story of how many men lost their lives from this area which makes it an important part of the village. And, I hope on 11 November the people of this village will pay their respects to those who never came home. There are a number of names that match the graves in the churchyard close by, and this memorial really provides something tangible to those who were never able to see where their loved ones were buried. 

The list of names may be found at Remembering.org.uk

Then it was time for me to head back to Prestbury Cemetery to try to find a grave that had evaded me the last time I had been there. It is a mere kilometre “down the road”, but that was much easier to deal with than my mammoth walk from Painswicke to Stroud last month. 

Prestbury Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery to visit, it too is full of the history of this area and the people and families that lived nearby, and I am happy to say I found the grave I was missing, although it was quite a search. The one memorial in the cemetery that is really outstanding is the Gloucesters Memorial that is made up of the battlefield crosses from the graves of those who are buried in foreign fields. It is a very unique tribute that is in dire need of restoration. 

 

And then it was time to head to town to deal with the business I had to attend to. It was a long day and I covered a lot of ground. Many of my goals were achieved, and others were not. But Prestbury is in the bag, but who knows whether I will ever go their again.

© DRW 2017. Created 03/11/2017.  Domesday Book entry courtesy of the Open Domesday Project, under the CC-BY-SA licence, with credit to  Professor John Palmer and George Slater. 

Updated: 12/11/2017 — 16:09

Connections: It’s a record!

As I said in a post awhile ago, “connections” is all about how things connect to form a link between one action and a result. It can be fascinating to work your way through a series and to tie it all together. I have been looking for a nice set of connections and today I found one. I call it “It’s a Record” and it is about gramophones, records and popular music.

This morning I was discussing something with the one manager and somehow we ended up talking about gramophones,  and he mentioned that he had a record from 1908 that he can play on his vintage gramophone but was not too sure about what it was about,  but he could make out something about “bells bells bells”. When I returned to my desk my brain would not let this go because in my music collection there is also a song about bells. Could it be a newer iteration of an old theme? Unfortunately the track I was after is not on my MP3 player but I know enough to be able to tie this into that most famous of poets Edgar Allan Poe.

I have read some Poe, and always found it somewhat dark and dreary to ponder this long forgotten pile of ancient lore, but I also have on my MP3 player an LP by one of my favourite groups: The Alan Parsons Project. The Project released a studio album in 1976 entitled “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”. To quoth the blurb at Wikipedia “The lyrical and musical themes of the album, are retellings of horror stories and poetry by Edgar Allan Poe.  The title of the album is taken from the title of a collection of Poe’s macabre stories of the same name, Tales of Mystery & Imagination, first published in 1908″.  This date is important, keep it in mind.

Now I have been listening to Parsons since 1981 after I was introduced to the music by some of the guys in our infantry company and I was hooked, and over the years bought the LP’s as they came out. But then the CD came into being and the record stopped being the dominant way to own music, and the CD took centre stage. I never liked how they foisted the CD onto us so I stopped buying music, instead I would listen to my old LP’s on my hifi until that was stolen in a series of burglaries in 1999.

I rediscovered The Alan Parsons Project in 2004 and found out that they had a whole wodge of stuff I had never heard before and I gradually acquired it all on MP3 and occasionally CD. Something however was missing from the official releases that I knew about and here my information is a bit uncertain. One of the original members of APP was Eric Woolfson,  who was executive producer, pianist, and co-creator of the Project. He was an accomplished musician in his own right, and somewhere along the line I heard about a project that he was involved in called “Poe: More Tales of Mystery and Imagination“. I heard snippets of it and started to hunt down a copy, but alas trying to find something as obscure in South Africa was incredibly difficult due to monopolies in the retail music trade, the exchange rate and the lack of suppliers. I eventually managed to pick up one track at a time from various sources, and some were totally amazing (“Tiny Star”, “Immortal” and “Wings of Eagles” comes to mind almost immediately), others were strictly of the “listen to once, never again” class of music. One of the tracks on this LP that did not exist was called “The Bells” (see where we are going yet?).

When I heard those words this morning I thought of this piece of music, it is not one of my favourites because it is so strange, however, the LP is about the works of Edgar Allan Poe, could this be the same one? A quick Google and voila! The mystery is solved. 

It turns out that our 1908 recording of “The Bells” is a reading of the poem by Canon Fleming of London, who seems to have been quite a regular performer of poetry readings that ended up on those new fangled gramophone records like the original 1908 record in the image below.  It is very possible that this was released to tie in with the first publication of Tales of Mystery & Imagination in 1908!  

Unfortunately we do not have a handy gramophone at work, but a quick look found renditions of it available on Youtube. And, I rate it on the same scale of strangeness as hearing “Be British” sung by by Stanley Kirkby in 1912 following the sinking of the Titanic. These are really voices from the past of people long gone and an era that is very different from the one that we live in now.

Canon Fleming died in 1908, but his voice still exists on that round disk with a hole in the centre, and while his rendition of “The Bells” is somewhat melodramatic it really has to be taken in the context of the media that it was on. Families owned gramophones and would spend an evening listening to music or poetry readings on the gramophones (while their Fox Terriers listened at the bell end). I am currently reading Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, penned by the war poet Siegfried Sassoon and in it he describes how they used to listen to the gramophone in their dugout, and how they had a stash of records that were played over and over. We did a similar thing when I was doing my national service, only our gramophone was now a tape recorder or a portable radio. We certainly did have much more variety than those who rode out their time underground in the bunkers of WW1, and of course modern soldiers probably carry MP3 players or their music on their cellphones. The enjoyment of recorded media is common to us all. 

So, where did this all tie in together? It was really the remembering of that obscure piece on “More Takes of Mystery and Imagination” that rang the bells in my head, and of course had I not read Poe I would not have made the connection to the Alan Parsons Project, which I started to explore while in the army, listening to music to break the monotony, much like soldiers did in the trenches of battle. There you have it, another nice set of connections. 

As an aside  I really want to explore the portable music theme by finally posting images of two of the record players I have spotted locally in the one charity shop where I live. 

These are standalone record players that were used without a hifi or an amplifier. They usually had their own speaker attached, and most of the time that was in the detachable lid. 

The humble gramophone is a very nice collectable, and having a selection of records to go with it, whether they are tinplate, shellac or vinyl makes it a wonderful conversation piece, because most of us can relate to it from our past. Those odd crackly clicks and hisses from the speaker or horn gave those records an additional richness that is lacking in the digital reproductions of today. I know amongst my MP3 collection I had an MP3 that had been created from an audio recording of a vinyl record, complete with the attendant snaps and crackles from the original. There is something about that first touch of a stylus on a record that is missing from the MP3’s of today, not to mention that short burst of static that was a precursor to the actual music.  

Canon Fleming is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London which ties into my own visits to the cemetery in 2013 and 2016, although I was unaware of him at the time (writes note to self to find grave next time). As for “Be British”; many years back when I was still interested in the Titanic I bought a set of items from the UK (and it was one heck of a rigmarole to do), and part of it was an audio tape that had some of the period tie ins to the disaster. “Be British” really stood out because it personified the arrogance of those who decided that a ship was unsinkable, and would only carry enough boats for its size and not for the amount of people it carried. 

And that more or less concludes this post about connections. I hope to find more in the future because they are always around us if we only just stop and join the dots. 

© DRW 2017. Created 30/10/2017

Updated: 12/11/2017 — 16:21

Real writing

Yesterday I was working on allatsea and in particular I was adding to a page about my childhood in SA, and it was all about writing. By writing I mean the physical act of forming words using a pen or pencil (or a quill or even a hammer and chisel). I learnt how to “write” in my third year of primary school (Std 1 for those who come from my generation), at least I learnt how to do what they called “real writing”, or, as it is better known “cursive script“.

I knew more or less how to write (print) by the time I hit school anyway, but this new fangled skill was one that was taught way back then to almost every child in the country, doing real writing set you apart from your fellows in the junior classes and meant that there was one more thing for teachers to nit pick and to warm the rear end/knuckles/legs or wherever they preferred to use the wooden spoon or ruler. We had specially ruled exercise books with the normal lines and an extra line above and below it. It looked similar to the pic below; the green lines being the extra lines.  

Technically these spaces were where the ascenders and descenders would go so that they were all the same size. Heaven help you if those ascenders and descenders were not of the same height or depth, you would have to do it again until you caught the hint. Of course all slopes had to be at the same angle too, and I think we would have initially practised individual letters until we had more or less got the hang of our P’s and Q’s. Remember that there are upper and lower case versions of each letter of the alphabet and they all had to join up somehow.

All of this new fangled stuff was crammed into our heads and we had to stop using printing and start using cursive or else! (slitting of throat motion with finger).

I was one of those thousands of school children all over the world that had an awful handwriting, even I admit that I cannot read it, although the scrawl I use today bears little resemblance to the scrawl I had way back in the late 1960’s.  I am not quite sure who decided to make school children miserable by imposing the restrictions of cursive script in our lives, it was not as if we had a gazillion other things to worry about. Cursive is supposed to speed up your handwriting by eliminating the constant pen raising that printing imposes, although I was always much quicker printing than writing cursive. In fact today I use a mix of both, joining 2 or 3 letters into one and printing others, although my handwriting has really developed and changed as I became more or a keyboard user. Everybody does agree that only pharmacists can read what I write and it usually will result in a box of green pills, a cough mixture and a very large spiked suppository.

Lucida Handwriting font

Back in school we would labour over our exercises all under the watchful gaze of Mrs Shirmer who seemingly created perfect letters on the board which looked nothing like the labourious creations that we struggled with. As far as we were concerned she was never satisfied, and a glare from Miss Shirmer could  chase a lion away. 

As the years passed so we got better at it, considering how much practise we had, although every one of us had a different style of writing, some were neater than others (girls mostly) and some looked like drunken spiders had done a waltz down the page. 

When we hit high school we were introduced to a new subject called “Technical Drawing” and our first week or so was spent relearning how to print! Mr Van Der Merwe would tell us to fill a page with A’s or B’s or C’s depending on his mood and how bad we were unlearning cursive. In technical drawing everything is printed, cursive is not used! neatness was imperative and stencils were not allowed. I think tech drawing was one subject I really found interesting because it gave me a whole new world to explore, and while I was not brilliant at it I was that interested in it that after I had left school I bought a drawing board, and used to draw isometric and perspective drawings of ships and aircraft.   I probably still use the skills I learnt in that class today, and while I can’t remember how to draw an ellipse I at least know what an ellipse is. 

Back at the normal school desk we were now much faster at taking notes, and often had to translate from Afrikaans to English on the fly while scribbling at a rate of knots and naturally I drew comments about my scrawl.  

Not much has changed except that nowadays I do not need to use cursive anymore, In fact while thinking about this blogpost I tried my hand at writing the alphabet in cursive, and it was not good! However, there is no teacher leaning over me and making suggestive motions with the cane or wooden spoon. I can write as untidy as I want to and nobody can tell me otherwise. There appears to be a movement afoot to stop the teaching of cursive script in schools and I am ambivalent about that, I do think that it is a skill to acquire although not much use in a modern world where keyboards dominate and most teens can do things with their thumbs and cellphones that I won’t even attempt. It would really be a shame to scrap the skill because it is considered archaic and of no real use, if anything it should be taught because sometimes you just need to sit down and write a decent letter to the bank manager or your sweetheart. Alas  nobody writes letters anymore and that personal touch is gone.  

As somebody that dabbles in history it is inevitable that I will encounter documents from an era when cursive was extensively used, and trying to decipher that writing can be really difficult, so maybe being able to write cursive does make sense.

The example above I found in an archive and it was a petition to Paul Kruger for a pardon, although it was very legible in spite of it being over 100 years old. 

I used to have a number of penfriends over the years, and we used to scrawl our way back and forth on a regular basis, and of course when we were in the army letter writing was a regular occupation. Somehow sending an email home just lacks that touch that a much thumbed letter holds. Letters were things to keep and reread when it got quiet and you longed for home, and of course many soldiers would lovingly sniff the pink pages that their girlfriends would send them, and that would cause them to perform many pushups. A printed love letter just does not cut it!  

So pick up your pen and relearn cursive, it may come in handy one day!

Yours sincerely,

© DRW 2017.  

Updated: 25/11/2017 — 16:46

Lost at Sea: HMY Iolaire

This past month I have been busy with shipping disasters that tie into the First World War, and this post is about one of them. This particular tragedy occurred on the 1st of January 1919 and concerns HM Yacht Iolaire.

During the past month while adding information to Lives of the First World War I encountered the grave of a crewman from HMY Iolaire that went down in the early hours of New Years Day 1919. I had bumped into the name of this vessel before so I decided to do some looking further and I was shocked by what I found.

The Iolaire was former private yacht that had been pressed into naval service in the Outer Hebrides, and on old years eve 1918 she was hurriedly loaded with over 200 members of the Royal Naval Reserve to take them to the Island of Lewis.  That passage is fraught with danger for those who do not know these waters; rough seas, an unforgiving coastline and submerged reefs are all just waiting for the right moment to spring their deadly trap. The RNR men were all inhabitants from this area, most had served and survived through the war years, often serving in minelayers or small craft that performed a very necessary function, but without the glitz and glamour associated with a much larger vessel. Their own knowledge of the sea meant that these experienced seamen were much in demand by the Royal Navy, and they performed admirably in the roles they filled. It was almost the beginning of a new year and they had survived the war and the flu epidemic and Hogmanay was looming. The Iolaire would take them home to waiting families, and there were more men than spaces on that ill-fated vessel.  Crowded with happy reservists she would sail into destiny from the pier at  Kyle of Lochalsh. 

Back home on Lewis; mothers, wives and children were preparing to welcome home their men, it would be a festive occasion because Hogmanay is very much an important part of the people around Scotland and these islands. Some of the men had not been home in a long time, and with the war over all that was left was demobilisation and a return home. There were brothers and neighbours on that ship from a small community that worked hard and who lived an often precarious existence. On board the yacht some of the men slept, some talked, others swapped yarns and compared their military service with men that they did not know. The master of the vessel was Commander Richard Gordon Mason and once they had sailed the commander went below, presumably to sleep, leaving  Lieutenant Leonard Edmund Cotter in charge. These were not amateur seamen but experienced men who knew how to handle ships. 

The Beasts of Holm is a rocky outcrop near the harbour and Iolaire was driving towards it, with seemingly nobody in charge attempting to rectify the situation.  To make matters worse the weather was starting to get rough, and the darkness compounded the problem.  It also emerged that there was no lookout stationed in the bows of the vessel, although given the darkness and how little time there would be to make course corrections it was really a moot point. 

Below the men had no way of knowing the calamity to come, and when the ship struck the rocks they were all in immediate danger. The chances are that many died almost immediately, but for others it was the beginning of a life or death struggle. Many were encumbered by their heavy uniforms and unfamiliarity with the ship, To make matters worse she did not have life-saving equipment for them all, the lifeboats were few, and in the heaving seas trying to launch them successfully would be almost impossible as the ship plunged and ground her iron plates on the rocks. There was also a lack of guidance coming from the bridge although Lt Cotter remained on it and very little is known of the whereabouts of Commander Mason.

The tragedy was unfolding almost 20 yards from land, but nobody on land was aware that a ship was dieing on their doorstep, and that the men had very few minutes to save themselves. Some tried to swim for safety but in the cold wild waters almost none would make it. One brave man managed to get ashore with a rope and a hand over hand crossing was established, but the sea would clear that vital rope of its cargo on more than one occasion, but men were getting ashore,  often battered and bleeding but alive.

On the bridge rockets were being fired but these lacked the percussive element that would alert the people on the land, the rockets that were fired from the ship were taken as part of the celebration of the first year of peace, and a lookout on land reported a blue light as a “request for a pilot”. There were really many things that went wrong on that night and the end result would devastate the small community of Lewis

Once the alarm had been sounded on land things moved at a frustratingly slow pace; people had to be woken up, keys had to be found, horses found, cars hired and so on. By the time all of it had been coordinated it was too late, the ship had gone down, those who could reach safety had, although one man still clung to the mast. The morning light revealed the carnage, dead men washed up on the shore, or drifting in the sea, exhausted survivors looking for help and trying to find their friends or family that may have survived. The full horror was still to come as the islanders tried to take stock of what had happened. Isolated families were notified and the festivities of Hogmanay would be forgotten as married women found that they were now widows while their children were unable to understand the magnitude of the tragedy that was unfolding around them.

Aftermath.

The dead were gradually gathered in and taken to a hastily evacuated ammunition store that now served as a mortuary. Small boats scoured the area looking for and recovering bodies, while parties on shore walked the jagged coastline, hoping to find survivors, but the sea had not given up all of it’s dead.  Of the ship there was little trace, and a number of bodies were invariably trapped within its flooded compartments.

The community where this disaster had unfolded was never the same again, families would grieve for many years, while those who had lived through it would suffer from “survivors guilt”. A commission of inquiry was set up but it could find no real reason for why the ship ended up on the Beasts of Holm in the first place. There was nobody alive who could explain the sequence of events that had led to the ship hitting the rocks, and naturally scapegoats would be sought so as not to throw the spotlight on high ranking officers or the Admiralty. 

A further inquiry was launched to establish more facts and possibly apportion blame, and generally it seemed to do a reasonable job given the difficulties involved, but no real reason behind the accident was ever found. Those that knew went down with the ship.  

The dead are buried in many places. I found a crewman buried in Portsmouth while a search at CWGC under 01/01/1919 will bring up a long list of men who are buried in a number of cemeteries in the community and surrounding settlements, while some are commemorated on the Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham Naval Memorials. There is a memorial to those who lost their lives on the Island of Lewis, but is is a rarely visited memorial because the story is almost forgotten.

The Iolaire Memorial, Holm Point, near Stornoway, Lewis

Young children would grow and watch as the world plunged once again into a mad war, some would following in the footsteps of the previous generation and serve their country, and once again women would mourn those who never returned. The story of the sinking of the Iolaire is more than a story about a small ship foundering, it is about complacency and negligence and about a community ripped apart in the early morning of a new year. 

Sadly the men of the Iolaire are mostly forgotten now, occasionally someone like me will stumble on the story and ask the same questions that were asked almost 100 years ago. We will not find any answers either. Unfortunately a number of difficulties facing anybody who is researching the disaster is trying to make sense of the Scottish naming conventions that often leave a researcher with multiple occurrences of the same name. There is also a lack of information in general as to the men who served in the Merchant Navy as well as the Royal Navy Reserve,  most of these me were members of the latter. Fortunately somebody has done the work for me and there is a Roll of Honour that I found very useful. 

There is not a lot of information out there. A good place to start is the The sinking of H.M.Y. Iolaire – 1 January 1919 page, as well as the Wikipedia page and of course the relevant CWGC pages for individual casualties. I bought a very good book called: “When I Heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire” by John MacLeod (Edinburgh: Birlinn Press. ISBN 978-1-84158-858-2.), and it went into aspects that I had not even considered before. 

The Iolaire was built in 1881 by Ferguson of Leith. (634 tons) and her original name was Iolanthe. This was later changed to Mione, and later, to Amalthaea. She is however not to be confused with the  Iolaire that was owned by Sir Donald Currie. In 1915, the luxury sailing yacht Amalthaea was commandeered by the Admiralty and converted and armed for anti-submarine warfare and coastal patrols. Her owner was Mr Michael Duff-Assheton Smith, who later became Sir Michael Duff. He had bought her from the Duke of Westminster.

I am not finished with the Iolaire tragedy, so I do not consider this page as completed. There is still so much to find out, but even if I do not complete it be rest assured that the story of the loss of the Iolaire will remain with me for a long time.

© DRW 2017. Created 21/07/2017. Image of Iolaire Memorial is © Stephen Branley and is being used under the the Creative Commons  Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Image has been cropped, darkened  and resized. 

Updated: 24/10/2017 — 12:29

Losing a pet

Yesterday when I got home I had a message from my brother telling me that one of his dogs had passed away. This dog that went by the moniker “Ladybird”, was one of two that he got from the local SPCA many years ago and they were both probably about 4-5 years old at the time, although I always suspected that she was a bit older. She certainly had that grey look that an old dog has, and suffered from fits and was partly deaf, but that did not prevent her from squirming her way into his affections, just like the dog he had before, and the one before. And, when each one passed away he was left devastated. Such is the love that an owner has for their pets.

I never really bonded with her, although when I was looking after the house when he was in hospital I was her best friend because I wielded the tin opener, and I ended up having to deal with her fits. There isn’t much that you can do except make sure she doesn’t fall off the couch or injure herself as the fit happens. It was not a pleasant thing to experience, and I am sure that it was even worse for her. My brother did not use that as an excuse to have her put down, instead he kept her safe as she would have her fits and then made sure she had come out it properly. They were very attached and he will miss her terribly. Like so many dogs she would follow him around, and in spite of her deafness could sense the opening of a tin or the slight rustle of a packet from a mile away. She was not a picky eater and would gobble her food as well as the other dogs food and then still wander around looking hungry. I remember when he got her how thin she was, and after a few months she had definitely become more rotund around the midriff. When I saw her earlier this year she had taken to wandering around the kitchen in circles, in one door, out the other. She was however looking her age, which was over 10 years, possibly closer to 15.

Ladybird (L) and Teddy Bear (R)

They say that your pets wait for you at the place where you go when you die, in fact most people bank on that and I know it will be disappointing if it does not happen, because whether we like it or not pets give us a glimpse of unconditional love unlike many human relationships.

The other dog remaining is somewhat of a loner, he preferred corners or being underneath items of furniture, and it often made us speculate on his former owners treatment of him. But, he loved a good scratch, sleep and fart and was not that obsessed with food, instead he tended to nibble, but his partner would gulp it all down while he chewed thoughtfully. Unfortunately he is partly blind now, and I expect he will miss his companion, even though they were never really close. I hate to say this but think his time is not that far away either.

I have never had a dog of my own, although I was very attached to our first dog from when I was very young. That dog was the one that cured my phobia for dogs, and when he was killed I was devastated. I have however enjoyed the company of other people’s dogs and cats and most have left my life just that little bit richer, and sadder when they left after a long and fruitful life.

Ladybird may not have been a beacon of light in the world, but she was my brothers beacon of light and he will miss her terribly, This is the third dog that he has seen leave him, and each parting has been difficult. But, she will live on in his memories and in mine, just like Nelson and Skipper do, and she will not be forgotten.

Update. 25/11/2017

This morning I saw one of the locals that lived in my area walking up the road, usually she doesn’t go anywhere without her little King Charles spaniel and will walk it many times during the day. I asked her about her little dog and she tearfully told me that she had to have him put down as he was suffering from what sounded like dementia and was unable to function. She was devastated, and I could see that she did not want to talk because of the anguish she was going through. I asked her whether she would get another dog and she replied, “I am old, there was only the two of us”. Her life has literally been turned upside down, and I felt very sad to see this woman in this state. The loss of that dog was traumatic for her, it gave her a reason to get out of the house in all weather and multiple times of the day. That reason no longer exists for her. Her life has become empty without her pet and I sincerely hope that one day I will bump into her walking another dog,

I enjoy seeing all the dogs in my area, and watching them chase balls in the field, they enrich our lives, and when they pass on they leave a large hole in our hearts; ask anybody that lost their pet, and they will agree completely. Dogs may be animals, but I would rather know some dogs than some people.  

© DRW 2017. Created 18/10/2017

Updated: 25/11/2017 — 16:34

Striding out to Stroud (2)

Having left Painswick in the dust I was now in Stroud. My goals were many, I had planned a possible visit to the war memorial, St Laurence Church, a hobby shop and of course the local cemetery. It really depended on time and weather and energy levels. Unfortunately my energy levels had taken a knock as a result of the unexpected detour. The sad thing is that had I stayed at Cheltenham and caught the 10H01 train I would have arrived here at the same time as I did after my extended walk from Painswick!  

You can read about Stroud on the usual wikipedia page.

Because I had not arrived by train I had entered the city close to St Laurence Church, and it was easy to find, just look for the spire.

The weather had not eased either, but I had come very far and was not going to give up that easily. Unfortunately seeing a spire and finding it are 2 different things altogether and I ended up passing a number of odd places on the way.  This handy map came in useful at a point, but unfortunately it is only useful when you are standing in front of it. I had wanted to start off with a visit to the tourist information office but that was based on me arriving by train. 

St Laurence Church was within reach and it too dates from many years ago, although as usual various parts date from different eras but it was mostly rebuilt by the Victorians. There is an extensive history of the church at http://www.stlaurencefuture.org.uk/the-original-church.html. Unfortunately, like so many churches it is very difficult to photograph the complete building.  

Neither did the weather help very much. The church was open and I was able to investigate it further. Unfortunately it has lost its pews and while it is still very beautiful it has lost its “character”.

It also has some very nice wall memorials but they are much too high to photograph. 

The War Memorial was surprisingly legible and I had to get a pic of it.

Unfortunately the churchyard was not accessible so I could only shoot over the fence.

Then it was time to head into High Street to find my next destination, a hobby shop where I was hoping to buy some ships. Unfortunately I did not have a good experience at the shop, they were not even interested in my purchases. Guess what guys, you lost a customer!

Parts of the town were jam packed as there was a Saturday market on the go so photography was not easy. But, after finding the loo I was confident that my next destination was do-able and I headed off in what I hoped was the right direction. Compared to my earlier walk this one was much shorter, although the hills were killers. Stroud has a lot of hills and I do not envy those who have to park in some areas. 

At some point I came to the Holy Trinity Church and my goal was just a bit further on.

Stroud Old Cemetery has 17 CWGC graves in it, they were not really my priority but I would photograph any that I saw.  When I arrived at the cemetery I was in for a shock. Not only was there a signing warning of Adders, but it was a regular jungle!  

The chapel is perched on a hill and that was a seriously steep hill too. So I chose a lower path to start with. I could make no sense of this cemetery at all, it just did not fit into anything I had seen before. Apart from the potential of meeting a snake with a calculator my biggest fear was taking a fall, the overgrown graves were positively hazardous.

As much as I hated to admit it, I was tired. My hips and legs were painful and my one sock kept on disappearing inside my shoe! I was not going to spend a lot of time here, because rationally there was not much to see. There were no real headstones that caught my eye, in fact headstones were very sparse. Grabbing pics of CWGC stones where I saw them I worked my way across the cemetery and probably got 13 of them. I am glad I had not made a commitment to photograph the graves here. A private memorial would be almost impossible to find. The view from the cemetery is quite spectacular, it is just a pity that the sun was still not out.

Then I had had enough and left the cemetery and headed back to town.

This was not a cemetery I will remember easily. 

I took a a different gate to exit and walked down a street of row houses, coming to the Holy Trinity Church once more. It was open so I took a quick pic and left.

There is a very nice old school building in the area and it has a very interesting clock and bell installed.

Town was still full of people and I threaded my way through the throngs, looking for photographables.

Stroud was “in the bag”. One of the attractions of the town was the colour of the buildings, the stone being quarried locally. It reminded me a lot of Bath Spa, but without the many attractions of that town. Make no mistake, parts of Stroud are very pretty, but I had not seen too many of them. The weather and time constraints had pretty much dictated my visit, and of course my unexpected detour from Painswick did tire me out prematurely. I would have liked to have spent more time here, but the trains were a worry. 

I believe the station is a Brunel creation, but it did not have that grandness of some of his work.

I was fortunate that I did catch the train when I did because the next one was canceled and that would have left a 2 hour wait. It was not one of my better train trip days that’s for sure. Oddly enough I did not have to wait too long for a bus from Cheltenham and was home earlier than I expected. Unfortunately I am positively bushed. 

Would I go back? maybe. There is a war memorial that I did not get and I would like to look around the town more, but the cemetery is not even worth considering. However, I wouldn’t mind revisiting Painswick, it was stunning.  

And that was my day. Pass the painkillers.

© DRW 2017. Created 23/09/2017

Updated: 26/09/2017 — 12:45
DR Walker © 2014 -2017. Frontier Theme