Friday, 7 March 2014

From China: Sepia Saturday 218

I was struggling to find a picture and a link to this weeks theme.

The picture shows " the areas in Sydney affected by the outbreak of Bubonic Plague in 1900" and the suggestions for a topic are " fences, back yards or bubonic plague." Well, I have no interesting pictures of backyards, or of fences and I didn't think I had anything I could connect to bubonic plague either. However, having always been interested in things medical, I started to research around the topic of bubonic plague, or 'The Black Death' .
According to research "The first outbreak of plague occurred in China more than 2,600 years ago before reaching Europe via Central Asia's "Silk Road" trade route" and then went on to kill around one third of the population of Europe in the middle ages.  It's a zoonotic disease, meaning it's caught from animals, and in this case rats and fleas. Without treatment, the bubonic plague kills about two thirds of infected humans within four days.
So here is my link to the old pictures of China, maybe with or without Bubonic Plague:
European Gardens Shanghai
I can't find any reference to these gardens in modern times and my guess is they were removed as part of the cultural revolution in China.
Hankow Road, Shanghai

However Hankow road still exists but looks rather different now!

Picture Wikki commons
A Chinese houseboat

And this Chinese houseboat may well have attracted the odd plague infected rat!
I learned about the Black death at school but thought it had died out, but apparently a case was reported as recently as 2012 in China, and also in parts of Africa and South America. I remember this nursery rhyme I learned at school
Ring a ring o' roses
A pocketful of posies
A tishoo A tishoo
We all fall down
We thought it was sweet but it is supposedly about the Black Death.
For more on this theme go to Sepia Saturday

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sepia Saturday 216: Three men - a mystery

This weeks prompt for Sepia Saturday is of three men in hats.

I couldn't find three men in suits but I did find a picture of three men in hats.

The picture was amongst the collection recovered from the house of Ian's neighbour. It's in poor condition but you can definitely see three men and by the looks of it they are in some kind of costume. Perhaps they are in a play or a charade of some sort? I hope that's what it was because if you look closer....

... you can see that one of them is pointing a gun at the other man. They don't look too worried however...

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Sky's on Fire

Last night's sky really looked like it was on fire.
View from the office window

Sky and clouds

Monday, 17 February 2014


Pingy is the name we give to the extending lead that we used when walking the dog when we don't want to let him run free but we want him to be able to sniff and explore things nearby. We use it when we are in parks, or out on long walks where we might come across other people or other dogs, or where we might go close to a road. It's a solid, professional standard lead, that extends to about 10 metres, but can quickly be pulled back in when we need to.

It's not that the dog doesn't understand 'come', and most of the time he is very obedient and does just that when called. It's just that he is a little wilful and if he is doing something interesting he will hesitate before returning. He also has a very high prey drive, and if he sees something fluffy or fast, such as deer or a sheep, a red mist descends and he becomes deaf and blind to anything else other than the chase. He will take off instantly and chase whatever it is he has seen until he has calmed down or lost the scent or until he remembers himself. This can take anything from two to thirty minutes.

Today we went for our evening walk and I noticed that our neighbours sheep were in our field, so we ventured out with pingy. For a while he didn't notice the sheep, but then he got a scent and got exited. He still didn't see them, but then as we came over the hill they were there. I thought I had the lead locked short but it must have slipped, so he took off at full pelt. Realising that when he got to the end of the lead I was either going to dislocate my shoulder or he was going to strangle himself I had no option but to let go.

I watched the stinky dog charge 100 or so metres with the extending lead flying behind him. I watched the sheep run through the hole in the fence from whence they came, and I watched him jump over the fence trailing pingy behind him, getting it caught in the fence for a while and then pulling it free. Dog and sheep disappeared.

I ran over quickly calling him all the time, worried that he had gone down into the woods with the lead trailing behind him; imaging him hanging from a branch or tree, with the sheep gloating in glee at the bottom.

I got round the corner and saw him wandering back, lead still there, looking annoyed that he had been hampered in his sheep chasing activities. Panic over!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Floods and Eggs

I have been watching the news reports of the extreme weather in Britain, with storms, gales, tidal surges and flooding and actually feeling rather glad that I am not trying to get to work or travel anywhere as I can imagine the sense of panic and the disruption that would permeate everywhere. Of course the sense of catastrophe always seems worse for those of us that are not actually there, whereas if I was 'in the thick of it' I would just be getting on with it and probably wondering what all the fuss is about.

Here we have also had unseasonable weather. This winter we haven't had more than about 5 frosts, and none of them have been severe. Instead we have had day after to day of heavy rain. The ground is now waterlogged, every time the dog goes outside for a wee he brings in more mud, my coat is covered in mud, my wellies are just about holding up and the grass is growing but too wet to cut! We have had our own flood to deal with. Our house and garage are on a slope and the garage is lower than the house. We have always had problems with run-off from the fields when the ground is saturated. It used to hit the rock below the cellar and then sit there. This was solved by building a moat style drain in front of the house and installing a pump. However, we made a beginner's error when the electric and water supply were laid going down to the garage.

We laid the conduit for the pipes but failed to realise that when it rains they become a channel for the water and take the water straight down the pipes and up into the floor of the garage. Ian spent a week out there in the rain, digging and laying another drain to divert the water away from the garage, and we had to unpack everything, check it, dry it all out and put it back afterwards. It wasn't really a problem we wanted to have to sort out, but at least it was something that we could solve, unlike the people living by the River Thames, who can only wait for dry weather and the waters to subside.

Closer to home, the Gironde flooded in Bordeaux a couple of weeks ago, and the left bank and Bastide area was under half a metre of water. The towns of Marmande and Tonniens in the Lot et Garronne were also affected.

So.. what has this to do with eggs? Well apparently the chickens like the milder weather and our local farmer friend in currently getting a dozen eggs a day. He has been giving them to us at the rate of 2 dozen a week! We pass some on to other neighbours but I am running out of ideas of things to do with eggs! I think we will having quiche tonight!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Master Tom Welch, Comedian: Sepia Saturday 214


The prompt for Sepia Saturday this week is of a couple around a piano. It is an upright piano and similar to the one owned by my grandfather. One of my fondest memories of summer holidays as a child was listening to him playing the piano. He lived near the seaside and when we were younger the entire family descended on him and my grandmother for two weeks, staying with them in their small bungalow. The upright piano was in the sitting room; the sitting room that smelled slightly of pipe tobacco, mints, polished wood and musty music. In the evenings we could sometimes persuade Tom to open the piano, take out his songbook and tinkle on the keys. We were enchanted as we watched him loose himself in the songs.

My grandmother told us that Tom could play anything, that he learned most songs by ear, and that often he would just sit and play for the sheer pleasure of doing so, and maybe for the memories.

When they were younger my grandparents used to take part in music hall. I wouldn't imagine this was the music hall of the grand old type, but rather smaller, local events put on for and by communities across London. In the days before cinema and television live entertainment was more commonplace.

Tom started early. Amongst his memorabilia I found the remains of this programme dated April
1913, from the Hemmingford St John football club annual concert and dance

Add caption

On the first page  just before the presentation of the swimming awards, you can see that the 'act' is Master Tom Welch, who was billed as a Comedian and was performing 'Yiddle on your fiddle' maybe sounding something like  this and 'I don't care what becomes of me'.  Tom would have been around 13 years old at the time of this performance.

Fifteen years later, at the age of 28,  Tom was still performing but this time he had a more sedate roll as the pianist at the 'Grand Smoking Concert' held after the final and semi finals of the Domino Championship, hosted by the ECDO sorters (the post office sorting department). (He worked for The Royal Mail for most of his life).


This time he was the opening act for both parts of the evening and the accompanist.

Tom also played the piano accordion, and my grandmother sang with him as a soprano. She once told me that she deeply regretted not following her desire to become a professional singer and have her voice properly trained.

In his later years Tom would occasionally play the piano at the local old folks home and day centres. When he died none of us had room in our small houses and apartments for the piano and my grandmother couldn't bear to look at it so she gave it to the church.

Tom and Dorothy


Saturday, 1 February 2014

China and other stories: Sepia Saturday 213

I'm afraid there is a bit of tenuous link to the theme this week of holidays and suitcases, but I feel that now the time is right to share my secret 'treasure trove' of sepia with my fellow Sepians, and I can't wait for a more relevant prompt.


 I have to start with a bit of background information... Ian's mother used to live next door to two elderly ladies in South East London. They were sisters and shared a large Victorian House until they were both too old and frail. They never married and Ian's mum used to help them our from time to time. When they died she helped to clear their house and acquired a large wooden chest of drawers. When they finally got to look inside, tucked at the back was a collection of old photos. Most of them are on the original glass plates, there are a few negatives and a small collection of prints. Most of them are in poor condition.

No one has ever known what to do with them. The women's father was a Captain A Edwards and I think at one time he had some kind of ambassadorial role in China and/or Japan. The photographs must be from around the early 1900s and as such must have some historical value. In our hurry to move to France we just packed them up and brought them with us and they have remained in the boxes until now, when we have finally managed to unpack a few.

Amongst other things, the photographs seem to be of life in China and the day to day life of these two sisters, who we think were the photographers. So, I suppose the link is to one great big voyage that needed more than one or two suitcases.

The writing on the back of this picture says it was taken in China but that's all I know.  We would like to be able to recover the images from the glass plates, so if any fellow Sepians have any ideas as to how that could be done we would be most grateful.  Until we can find a home for them where they will be appreciated we will continue to be their guardians and maybe share a few more along the way.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Making Progress

This week I had one of those moments where I suddenly felt all those weeks of French lessons, all the headaches, all the hours spent feeling like my head was going to explode, are beginning to pay off. The occasion was a meal at the home of some French friends. They are a lovely  couple, who are interesting and interested in the world around them. Now retired, they were teachers and have travelled extensively. They also speak very good, clear French and are prepared to be patient with people who are making an effort to communicate.

When we go out with English friends Ian is normally the quieter of the two of us, preferring to limit his discussions to technical bits and pieces. I have always enjoyed a more in depth debate about things and the ability to be able to do more than just talk, but to express my ideas, ask questions and discuss current issues, is really important to me. My aim for my French was to be able to speak it well enough that I was able also to express a little of my personality and humour. Up until now, although I have been able to get by in most everyday situations this aspect has alluded me and when we are out with French people Ian has taken the lead in conversation, with me chipping in, if and when I was able to follow what was being said.

My French had sort of reached a plateau over the past year or so and I hadn't felt I had made much improvement. Fortunately I found a new more advanced class and got back into the studying in September. I hadn't really noticed much progress for a while but last week I spent three days in Bordeaux and suddenly found that I didn't have to think all the time to communicate and that I could make jokes with the students in French that made them laugh (and not just because of my accent!) The meal last week marked a turning point as for the first time Ian was silenced and I was able to talk!

For anyone who thinks that you can come to France and 'be fluent in two years'.. it's taken me 6 years of lessons to get this far!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Sepia Saturday: Tom's war

 So, it's 100 years since the outbreak of the first world war. This is a picture of my grandfather Tom. I would guess from this he was around 13 years old. He was born in 1899, so this would perhaps have been taken in 1912 or 1913, just before the outbreak of the war.

Fortunately for us he would have been too young to be conscripted in the first or second wave but  he was not immune to the wave of jingoistic patriotism that made young boys feel they were cowardly if they did not do their bit. From what I remember of the story he was keen to join up as soon as he could but somehow chose or was guided in the direction of the Navy rather than the Army.. another stroke of good fortune as it turned out. Like a lot of young boys he lied on his application and at the age of 15 or 16 spent two years on board ship as a communications officer. I like to think that somehow it was realised that he was just a child dressed up in uniform and someone tried to make sure that he was assigned  to roles where he was less likely to get killed. That's what I would have done if I had been there.
I don't really know how much this experience affected him except that he always loved the sea and  eventually retired to live near Portsmouth. He came back from sea after the war, and although he had known my grandmother as a childhood friend they didn't marry for another 8 years.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

New Year

I won't bore you with a list of reasons as to why I have not written anything since September as none of them are very interesting and it would just read like a list of excuses! The only comment I will make is that I am well, all is well and life continues. Progress has occurred on the house in that one room has been finished, but there is still much more to do.. the dog continues to be a work in progress, the cat is still alive and we are still enjoying things and so far have not regretted our decision.

We managed a week away in the Alps over the New Year but how times change, as we decided that we were not fit enough to ski and such a decision would invariably lead to injury and thus even more delay with the house. Instead, we went walking with the dog and had a go at snow shoeing, or raquettes as it is called here. That was all going well except for the fact that the very day we needed the snow shoes we didn't have them, and ended up trying to walk thorough snow thigh deep in places. One kilometre has never seemed so long as it did on that day!

I do love the mountains even though I find the air a bit 'brutal'. At the end of the 5 days we were just ready for another week to really enjoy our improved fitness.. except it was time to go home! Here are some pictures taken from the balcony of my brother's chalet.

watching the skiers come home

morning on the mountain

After the snow (for sepia friends)

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Service will resume as soon as possible

I realise I have been very poor with my blog this year but I really want to do better in 2014. Here's hoping!