The Smallest House in Great Britain

P1070718

This tiny, quirky, bright red house is wedged into the walls of Conwy in North Wales. It’s been a tourist attraction for as long as I can remember and I went into it many years ago when my children were small. On this occasion, I was there with grandchildren who decided they didn’t want to go in (there was a queue) but went up to inspect it so they could see just how small it is.

I have vague recollections of how poky and gloomy it was inside the two small rooms – one up, one down. It was built in the 16th century. In 1900 it was occupied by a tenant, a 6ft. 3in, tall fisherman, who eventually had to move out ( perhaps he kept banging his head on the ceiling?!). It’s still owned by the same family and is open in the summer season as a tourist attraction.

There is always a lady in traditional Welsh costume on duty to take the entry fee and sell a small selection of souvenirs.

Street musician, Lincoln

This cool older guy was at one with his saxophone and lost in his music in Lincoln’s busy highP1010462 street. On a sunny day, there were  plenty of people about and, as someone who has been occasionally visiting Lincoln over the years, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the city has come on and is more in step with the times.

Lincoln has always been dominated by its huge spectacular cathedral. The ascent up the cobbled and appropriately-named Steep Hill to reach the cathedral on foot is part of the visit. It can be a challenging walk!

It’s a lovely place to visit, especially now it attracts a lot of tourists. When I first went there in the late 60s, it was a bit of a dull and proper city, compared with swinging London, where I grew up.

When the university was set up in the city, it breathed new, young life into the place, making it a livelier destination than it ever was when I first went there.

The freedom bug

I’ve been a motorhomer or 20 years. I love the freedom, flexibility and sheer joy of being on the road. I wouldn’t swap van trips for package holidays, and I reckon it all started when I was sat on the back seat of my dad’s black Ford Anglia. Here’s how.

We were following our brand new Connaught Cruiser caravan which was being towed from the deConnaught Cruiseraler’s in Ilford to a campsite near the Essex coast. It was 1950, I was 5 years old and completely innocent – I had no idea that the “freedom” bug would bite me hard as soon as we started taking holidays in that caravan. A magical exploration of seaside and countryside opened up. There were sand pies, Punch and Judy shows, dens to be made in undergrowth, and a stream to be paddled and fished in. Then there were the birds, butterflies and wild flowers to spot and tick off in “I-Spy” books, and long grasses to lie in watching bugs and insects of all kinds at close quarters.

The freedom bug that bit me continued to nibble away contently. In my 20’s, as a young mum, we took our 6 month old son on his first camping holiday in France. This was the 1970’s and there was a horrified reaction from family and friends to taking a baby abroad, let alone go camping with him. “You can’t do that!” they said. Fortunately, I’d married someone who was quite happy to go along with my passion for the freedom, fresh air and flexibility that camping offers. He’d never had holidays like it and he’s probably just a tad more enthusiastic about the freedom and flexibility thing than I am, having not grown up with it and coming to it later in life, so to speak.

We graduated from holidays in hired tents to owning our own but for years there had been a background yearning, a constant inner gnawing at us by the freedom bug, to have our own motorcaravan. In the 1980’s we nurtured a pipe dream of taking the children to the United States, hiring an RV and having the holiday of a lifetime; the dream dissipated when we did the sums. Practically, this wasn’t going to work as we simply couldn’t afford it. But the open road still beckoned along with the attraction of having a home on wheels.

Continue reading

To the manor born

Hazelwood - I was born here!I was born in a castle – a real castle with lots of history steeped into its walls and surroundings, and a mention in the Domesday Book. The castle is Hazlewood Castle near Tadcaster in Yorkshire. It was owned by barons and dukes for 900 years, and in 1461 a battle in the Wars of the Roses took place on the adjacent moor. It has priest holes and underground passages, and its own chapel. It is now a rather classy country hotel but it retains most of its original features.

Between 1939 and 1953 the castle was requisitioned as a maternity hospital and my mum was booked in to Hazlewood for my birth in September 1945. She left heavily blitzed London for Yorkshire and going north must have felt like going to a foreign land for her; she was a Londoner through and through.

Her stories about the castle as a maternity home included a description of the large Norman Hall as the lying-in ward, where the expectant mums stayed. Babies were born in a separate, adjacent room where Queen Victoria is supposed to have once stayed. It has a huge stone fireplace with ornate chimney breast and is now used as the room where weddings take place.

 The Norman Hall used as the lying-in ward.      The impressive birthing room

During the time that Hazlewood was used as a maternity home, over 2,500 babies were born there. I’ve made a couple of nostalgic visits which brought my mum’s stories to life. Especially moving was to stand in that grand room where I was born.

My dad travelled from London to see me as a new-born. The bus dropped him off at the end of the castle drive and he walked for what seemed nearly a mile between huge rhododendron bushes. When he arrived, the matron told all the ladies in the ward to smarten themselves up as the King had come to visit. Then in walked my dad! It was a story that used to come out at family gatherings, as did the fact that there were not enough cots for all the babies, so a bed was made for me in a large drawer.

In the courtyard

D-Day: a personal 75th anniversary commemoration

I grew up with the photograph on the left in a frame on top of our piano. My mum told me it was my cousin Bertie, who was killed by a sniper along the Rhine, a month before WW2 ended. That’s pretty much all I knew for many years and I didn’t think much about it until I was contacted several years ago by a cousin, Bertie’s sister, who was asking for family stories as she was putting together a family tree.

I’d not seen her for years so I called her to pass on a few details for her project. We talked about the family, which for me was a treat because I’m an only child and very much the baby of the entire family; everyone was and is a lot older than me. I remembered Bertie’s photo and asked about him, and discovered the very dramatic true story of the experiences of this young man who I never knew. He was 23 when he was killed, and he is buried in Hanover War Cemetery.

Bertie was a member of “A” Company of the 8th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment ACC and he was parachuted into France as part of the D-Day operations on 6th June 1944. The weather was bad and the paras, dropping from the gliders which carried them, were blown off course from their target. Bertie, in a group of 40 paras, was found by 17 year old Gaston le Baron who was helping the resistance, and had gone into the marshes near the River Dives to search for the paras who he hoped would help liberate France. Continue reading

Before and After

We have a free glossy magazine  – In Cheshire – delivered to our door once a month, and although it’s usually full of things which are not of great interest to me, I always browse through just to see what’s afoot in our neck of the Cheshire woods.

There are short items on charity and fund-raising events, along with lots of photos of those attending. A vet writes a column which, as a dog owner, is interesting to scan through. A regular 2 page fashion article is always worth a quick read (just to keep my finger on the style pulse, you understand). An actor from the TV soap Hollyoaks, who lives in our town, writes each month about date nights with his TV presenter wife at the local eateries. (Confession: I’ve never watched Hollyoaks or seen her on Good Morning Britain).

There are ads for houses, private schools, solicitors specialising in divorce, gardening services, teeth whitening and personal trainers, but by far my favourite is the regular 2 page ad, in full colour, of the spa clinic which offers special skin tightening procedures.

A whole page, in colour, shows before and after pictures of eye contours, chins and jawlines, torsos, tummies, knees and upper arms. It brings out the child in me. I used to like those “Spot the Difference” pictures in comics, and I happily inspect the gallery of photographed body parts, trying to see how each “before” shot has progressed in the “after” image. Heaven knows how much the procedures cost – they won’t be cheap!

The photographs above are of myself and my daughter in the famous Café Landtmann in Vienna, frequented by Freud and Mahler over a century ago. The first (specially posed of course) is before we had coffee and cake; the second is after we’d had coffee and cake.

Mark Twain said, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been”. That coffee and cake treatment was very good value.

It’s beginning to look a lot like that time of year again….

IMG_0547

I’ve just put our very ancient vintage Christmas tree up. It’s an artificial one, made of plastic (shock horror – but it’s not as bad as it sounds). I bought it long long ago – so long ago I can’t remember when, and certainly when excessive use of plastic wasn’t a known problem –  but it was probably sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s. It cost £17, which was quite expensive at that time.

Daughter, who was at primary school when we got this tree, recently sent a link to a short video outlining the pros and cons of plastic v. real Christmas trees. Watching this with the 30+ years of annual outings our tree has had in mind, I know its carbon footprint debt was paid off long ago. We did have a real tree for several years before we went plastic; at the time it seemed more sustainable to have an artificial, reusable tree than to “kill off” a real one every year.

Our trusty tree looks surprisingly good and passably realistic (if you ignore the brown plastic trunk and branches), especially when the lights and baubles are in place hiding the more naff details. It has its own peculiar cachet.IMG_0507

Comparing it with artificial trees in garden centres, it can certainly hold its own, and doesn’t appear too dated. Of course it’s a bit of joke in the family as it has been around for so long, but when grandchildren stayed last year they thought it was pretty good and there were no complaints. Nine-year-old granddaughter’s eyes might have widened a little though, when we told her how old the tree was!

This year, with an 11 month-old-puppy now part of our household, we’ve decided to introduce it gradually to keep the excitement and potential destructive chewing under some kind of control. I put it together in another part of the house, added the lights, then brought it into the room where it now stands, as yet untrimmed. There was interest, sniffing, a quick grab at the festive “skirt” I’d put around the base, which he sank his fangs into immediately. That won’t be going back! Then said puppy, curiosity satisfied for the time being, settled down to snooze beside the tree. Maybe that’s a good sign.

As long as he realises it’s not a pee post!