Tag Archives: Photography

Garden Visitor, The Sparrowhawk


When I put some nesting boxes in the garden I was hoping for a Robin or a Blue Tit!

The Sparrowhawk as well as being a magnificent bird is a ruthless killer and designed to hunt expertly from the air.  It tracks at great speed, darting out of cover with extreme dexterity combined with deadly accuracy to kill its prey.   It doesn’t hover, like the Kestrel or the Hawk, but relies on pace, momentum and surprise to catch its food and for this it is well designed with long slim legs, large sharp talons and a very efficient hooked beak that it uses for piercing and tearing up its prey.

The male Sparrowhawk was formerly called a musket, and the gun was named after the bird which perhaps gives a clue as to just how deadly they can be.  They are expert hunters and very fast fliers, and often make quick dashes over hedgerows or along the ground when chasing prey, which is often spectacularly captured using a downward plummet from the sky with closed wings.

Each adult Sparrowhawk will kill and consume a couple of small birds a day for themselves and when they are breeding a pair needs to catch another ten or so just to feed the chicks.  According to the RSPB there are forty thousand breeding pairs in the United Kingdom so by my calculation that is twenty thousand nests with an average of three chicks each so to feed themselves and their offspring this means three hundred thousand murders a day.  As Thomas Hobbes said in his philosophical treatise, Leviathan, ‘Life (in the state of nature) is nasty, brutish and short”.

Sparrowhawk kill 05

Scrap Book Project – Spalding Flower Parade

In the late 1970s my first job in Local Government was in the Finance Department at Rugby Borough Council and I worked in a small office of six people one of whom was a man called Ron Lindley (in the picture on the left).

Ron was in his late fifties and had previously served in the army and had worked for a long time at British Leyland in Coventry and, I’m afraid this has to be said –  he was a bit boring.  He had a lifetime full of stories about serving in India and production line techniques and if Ron caught you for a chat you’d really want to make sure you were the one nearest the door.

Anyway, one Monday morning in about 1978 Ron came to work after a week off and I made the mistake of asking him what he had been doing.  He told me he had been to Spalding to the Flower Parade and would I like to see some pictures.  I didn’t even know where Spalding was but it was rude to say no so I said that I would love to.  To my horror Ron produced five ‘Photo express’ packs of thirty-six photographs each and proceeded to go through each one with an explanation and a commentary.

This took some time I can tell you, and by the end I was close to using the office stapler on my leg to keep me conscious but eventually it came to an end and I mention all of this because when it was all over I clearly remember saying to myself, “Andrew, whatever you do in life, make sure you never go the Spalding Flower Parade!”

The history of the Spalding Flower Parade stretches back to the 1920s when the sheer number and variety of tulip bulbs grown throughout the area surrounding the market town became an annual feast of colour.

The crowds that came in created many problems for the town and coaches and cars caused chaos on the narrow lanes around the fields and this continued to happen until in 1948, the Growers’ Association became involved in organising a Tulip Week.  With the help of the Royal Automobile Club, a twenty-five mile tour through villages and country lanes was planned to show the best fields.

So successful was the attraction that by 1950, Tulip Week had become Tulip Time.  A Tulip Queen competition was organised and the crowning of the Queen was performed just before the start of Tulip Time.  The Queen and her two attendants had to be employed in the flower bulb industry and were selected at competitions held at village dances.

A deluge of visitors created an opportunity and an idea to put on an attraction to publicise the bulb industry.  A few experiments with decorated cars showed that the tulip heads could be made into garlands and pinned onto backing materials in colourful designs and would still hold their colour for a few days at that time of year.

To ensure that there would always be tulips on display, even if they might not be in the fields, from the many millions of tulip flower heads removed it was decided that keep some available for decorative purposes, firstly for static displays and some selected carts and vehicles, and these eventually started to drive around the town until, in 1959, the first Spalding Tulip Parade took place.

Building of the floats began with an intricate outline of steel tracery welded on a base carefully measured to fit a tractor underneath it. The initial form and steel skeleton of each float was  constructed into the outline shape of the subject and then the steel work was covered with a special straw matting to form a base to which the tulip heads could be attached.

Teams of up to two hundred people then worked throughout the two days before the Parade using up to one million tulip heads and pinning each one onto the floats in the colours and patterns required until all the floats were covered with tulips.  A single float, which can be as much as fifteen metres in length was decorated by as many as a hundred thousand tulip heads.

The first Parade was described as ‘a floral pageantry a mile long’.  There were just eight floats but it became an event not to be missed – twenty special trains came from all over England to the sidings at Spalding station.  Temporary caravan villages sprang up and two hundred thousand people would watch the spectacle. The success of the Tulip Parade, the only display of floral floats in the world using just tulips, brought Spalding and its horticultural industry to the notice of the country.

Within only three years, the Parade had become so famous that a quarter of a million people were coming to Spalding on Parade Day to line the four mile route around the town.

Fast Forward…

In August 2000 I had a change of job and went to work for South Holland District Council and over the next few months I became aware of preparations for the 2001 Flower Parade and it seemed that as part of the duties of the job I had a part in all of this.  Even then I had forgotten about Ron’s boring story and just made my contribution.

On Saturday May 6th I got up for a day at work and travelled to Spalding and spent the morning making sure everything was in place for the event and still my memory wasn’t nudged in any way until the Parade came into view and started to pass by.

It seemed to take forever and suddenly it came to me, my words from 1977, “Andrew, whatever you do in life, make sure you never go the Spalding Flower Parade!”

This goes to prove that we really need to be careful what we say because our words can come back to haunt us.  Over the years I went to ten Spalding Flower Parades, each one has long and tedious as the first, each one just as mind numbingly boring as Ron’s never ending packs of photographs.

I left Rugby in 1980 and never saw Ron again, he died a few years later but I will never forget his Flower parade photographs.

Unfortunately the glory days of hundreds of acres of tulip fields have disappeared, we only have the photographs to remind us of the magnificent and memorable floats of the parades.  I wonder what happened to Ron’s photographs?

International Women’s Day

On a visit to Riga and the Hotel Latvia in March in addition to enjoying the Skyline cocktail bar we decided to eat there as well.

The food was excellent and there was a reasonably priced self-service buffet but what was especially good about his meal was that it happened to coincide with ‘International Woman’s Day’ and there were free cocktails for all of us and flowers for the girls.

To be honest I had never heard of ‘International Woman’s Day’ before, it certainly isn’t that big in the United Kingdom, and to be honest I have to say that I thought it was a bit odd to have it on a Saturday, which is a day really reserved for sport, but it turns out that this was just an unhappy coincidence because IWD is held every year on March 8th and is a day of day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.

It all started in New York when in 1908 fifteen thousand women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

Then, in 1917, with two million soldiers dead in the war, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February to strike for ‘bread and peace’. This turned out to be hugely significant and a contribution to the overthrow of the Romanovs and four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.  That historic Sunday fell on 23rd February on the Julian calendar, then in use in Russia, but on 8th March on the Gregorian calendar that was in use elsewhere.

It has since become very important in Eastern Europe after a 1965 decree of the USSR Presidium that International Women’s Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR “in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace.”

Another interesting thing is that although Latvia doesn’t care to remember or celebrate much about the Russian occupation they seem happy enough to continue with this day off from work arrangement.

In these days of equality it is important to be fair of course and I am pleased to say that ‘International Men’s Day’ is an international holiday, celebrated on the first Saturday of November.  It was first suggested by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1999 and was supported fully by the United Nations.

Scrap Book Project – NALGO Holiday Camp Croyde Bay

On April 11th 1936 Billy Butlin opened his first Holiday Camp at Skegness in Lincolnshire and although I worked there one summer season in 1973 I have never stayed at Butlins as a holiday maker I have, on family holidays, stayed several times at the NALGO Holiday Camp at Croyde Bay in Devon.

NALGO stood for National Association of Local Government Officers, a white collar Trade Union that along with Cayton Bay in Scarborough owned and operated Croyde Bay Holiday Camp for its members.  Dad was branch secretary of the Rugby Rural District Branch so I suppose it was inevitable that we would holiday there and we went for the first time after he had learned to drive and had his first car in 1964.

It was a long drive from Rugby to Devon and without motorways this meant an early start.  Dad didn’t like stopping much once he had got going but I am fairly certain at some point he would have been required to pull up by the side of the road so that we could have the obligatory picnic.  Mum had prepared the spam sandwiches the night before and we were going to eat them whether anyone wanted them or not!

The old Austin couldn’t go very fast and this combined with dad’s steady driving meant a journey that today would take no more than three hours would take five or six squashed in the back seat with my brother and sister and grandparents, because they generally came along on family holidays as well.  Naturally therefore we were all thoroughly relieved when shortly after passing through Barnstable we could see the signs for Croyde Bay and we were really glad when we pulled into the camp off Croyde Road and dad went to the office to register our arrival and be allocated our holiday chalets, which would be home for the next week.

The cost of a chalet for a week in the late 1960s was about £14 which was not an inconsiderable sum and probably just about a week’s wages for my dad.

There were approximately one hundred and fifty semi-detached chalets, all pebble-dashed and painted green and white, each having its own tidy front garden full of rose bushes and standing in neat regimented rows around the various open green spaces.  Inside they were sparsely furnished with none of the facilities that today would be regarded as basic essentials.  Floral curtains at the windows and two single beds, a wardrobe and a bedside table was just about it but they did have a separate bathroom so at least it wasn’t like caravanning with communal wash rooms and toilets.

The camp was nicely laid out with a big central green area where all the events were carried out – sports day, Miss Croyde Bay competition (my sister won the competition in 1972), knobbly knees and so on.  The prizes weren’t very thrilling – vouchers that had to be spent in the camp shop.  Later on they built an outdoor swimming poll in one corner but it wasn’t there the first time that we stayed.  In other parts of the grounds there were grass tennis courts (later converted to clay), mini clock golf and a bowling green exclusively for adults.

The main communal areas were basically a series of wooden huts and here was  the dining room and the concert hall where there was a full programme of events, a couple of dances, a camp concert and a cinema evening.  There was no bar (until 1971) so if adults wanted a drink they had to walk to the village which is where my granddad disappeared to most days.

The Camp of course had its own Ted Bovis (Hi-de-Hi) who had the nickname ‘Sporty’ and his job was to provide all of the non stop entertainment for the week.  This must have been a tedious ‘groundhog day’ sort of job going through the same routine week after week after week.  Actually everyone was obliged to have a camp nickname which had to be written on a cardboard badge and pinned on our shirts and blouses.

All of the guests were allocated duties to help the camp run smoothly and every day began at some ungodly hour when someone with the ‘wakey wakey bel’l walked along the rows of chalets with an early morning alarm call.

Breakfast and evening meal was served in the dining room where everyone sat in rows at wooden tables with plastic table cloths and selected from the menu (take it or leave it) and I don’t remember it being a fine dining experience! You didn’t want to be  late for dinner either because whenever anyone entered the dining room late everyone shouted “BOX” at them as a reminder of the late fine and they had to put some change in the box that hung on the door.  Dinner was a secular arrangement without grace but I  remember everyone singing out loud the song “always eat when you are hungry” every meal time.   Not sure who started it off each day!

The events started soon after parents had put the children to bed and this was a bizarre thing that I couldn’t imagine happening now but people volunteered to do baby listening patrols and parents were entirely comfortable with this arrangement.  I mean these people hadn’t had CRB checks or anything to confirm their suitability for such responsibility.  They would walk around the camp with a wooden baton as a symbol of their responsibility and if they heard a baby cry or came across a distressed child they would run back to the concert hall and chalk a message on a blackboard to alert the party going parents.


The best thing about Croyde Bay was the location squeezed in between a pretty Devonshire village and a magnificent crescent shaped sandy beach.  In the village there were quaint houses and cream tea shops and on the beach the sea rolled in and crashed onto the sand in big Atlantic breakers.  A path from the camp led down past the tennis courts and through sand dunes, across permanently soft dry sand above the high tide line and then an endless stretch of hard wet sand that was just perfect for beach cricket and football, flying kites and making sand castles.

There wasn’t really any need to leave the camp so the car stayed locked up resting in the car park while we spent sunny days on the beach or wet ones being entertained in the concert hall.  Most people joined in on sports day and there was a prize giving night sometime towards the end of the  week.  I liked going to Croyde Bay Holiday Camp and it was a good job I did because we returned several times over the next few years in 1967, 1972 when I met and fell in love with a girl from Edinburgh, Jackie Grieg, and finally in 1974 when I was really too old to be hanging about with my parents on a holiday camp vacation.  In between we went to Cayton Bay in 1970 but I didn’t like it there quite so much.

Croyde Bay Holiday Camp is still there but it has been reinvented as Croyde Bay Holiday Village, my Mum went there a couple of years ago and she said that it hadn’t changed very much at all.  I thanked her for the tip off and went to the Ryanair site to look for a cheap air flight to somewhere exciting in Europe.

Postcard at the top of the post courtesy of –



Scrap Book Project – Great Grandparents

I sometimes wonder just how many photographs there might be of me – probably thousands!  When I was a boy my dad had a camera and recorded all the big family moments, Christmases, birthdays, holidays and so on, later I became interested in photography and had a succession of cameras as I was constantly updating and improving my photographic equipment and these days there are digital cameras and mobile phones taking millions of images every day.

There are now so many images that we discard many, delete them and simply throw them away.

It wasn’t always like this and I have some precious old photographs of my family, my parents, grandparents and great-great grandparents which tell a different sort of photographic story.  There aren’t hundreds of pointless snaps of them but instead just one or two which give an insight into who they might have been and my family heritage.  Why did they take these pictures?  They couldn’t post them on Facebook or share them through a blogging site – they were taken as personal mementos for themselves and their close families.  So what might they think now when they are uploaded onto the internet for the whole world to see, which is a place that they were never meant to be.

My great grandfather Charles Edward Petcher was the fourth of seven children born in 1884 to Francis and Ellen Petcher and he had three brothers and three sisters.  He married Maria Weston and they had two children, my grandfather Lawrence Edward Petcher in 1909 and a daughter, Mary, who died of tuberculosis at the age of about twenty.  In the picture above he looks old and worn down but he was probably no more than forty-five years old sitting in his deck chair and enjoying his back garden.

Charles was a coal miner who worked for the Desford Coal Mining Company at the Desford colliery which was part of the North Warwickshire coalfields and the closest pit to the city of Leicester.  It was a relatively modern mine that had only began production in 1902 so, and I am guessing here of course, it is likely that he started work here when he was about eighteen years old.  I don’t know exactly how long he was a miner for but certainly later on he was a policeman in the city of Leicester. My dad’s brother and my uncle Peter was inspired by that to later become a Leicestershire policeman himself.  Desford colliery closed in 1984.

Charles and Maria lived in Desford in the early part of the twentieth century and would probably struggle to recognise it a hundred years later.  They would have been most familiar with the old part of the village consisting of High Street, Church Lane, Main Street, Chapel Lane, Cottage Lane and part of Newbold Road but not the modern developments all around it.  Desford had a hosiery industry and in this picture of Maria at the garden gate I wonder if those wrinkled woollen stockings were made in a local factory?

Desford has both an industrial and an agricultural heritage and the great majority of villagers were engaged in agriculture until at least 1700, farming arable strips in four Open Fields of the parish, and pasturing their animals on the low lying meadows by the streams. In 1760, however, by private Act of Parliament, the thousand acres of the Open Fields were enclosed, and the new fields hedged and farmed separately.

Some of these new large farms were owned and farmed by the Hill family and this is where my family history finds its way in because Florence Lillian Hill was my Great Grandmother, mother to Dorothy who married Lawrence Edward Petcher in the late 1920s.

Scrap Book Project – Ivan Petcher, Sports Reporter

Dad used to like to keep scrap books and journals and although I don’t have the first two volumes I do have volume three of his book of footballers that was started on 7th March 1947.

Dad was keen on all forms of sport and I have been looking through the old school magazines from Wellingborough Grammar School to see if I could find any reference to him in the sporting sections because he was a keen sportsman and a follower of all types of sport.  I was slightly surprised to find no reference to him at all because I know that he was an especially keen cricketer and a cross-country runner.

His favourite sport was football but Wellingborough being a grammar school didn’t encourage soccer and concentrated instead on rugby or rugger as they preferred to call it.  I can’t imagine that he would have liked rugby because he was small and lightweight and not built for the game at all.  I can sympathise with that because I had to endure the same fate, going to school as I did in Rugby, and I didn’t enjoy it at all.

I know that he was playing football because for the season 1948-49 he was keeping a journal of the matches of his team the Higham Swifts for whom he was a regular, playing on either the left or right wing.  The records show that he was on the selection committee so I suppose he had some sort of choice about his position.

In this journal he wrote match reports that give an insight into the team and its players, how well or badly they played and his own personal contribution.  In that season they played eleven matches, won seven and lost six and scored forty-six goals and dad bagged eight of them.  The reports are eloquent and imaginative, his use of English is immaculate with perfect grammar and no spelling mistakes and with this impressive writing skill it surprises me even more that he left school without his passing out certificate.

These are some of my favourite extracts from the reports:

11.12.1948, “Late in the match the Swifts tried hard and had an apparently good goal by Petcher disallowed on the grounds of hands” – Surely he knew if he handled it or not!

6.11.1948, This was really serious stuff, “A Pasilow was transferred today from Higham Juniours to Higham Swifts and will play on Saturday in the outside left position” –  The fee was not disclosed.

18.12.1948, “Knifton had a grand game but had little support from Petcher who was injured and remained a passenger for most of the game”

no date, “Higham swifts were humiliated by Rushden St Mary’s by 14 goals to 2, in the squelching mud of the home teams ground, a sticky mess of a pitch which resembled a glue pot”, a fairly emphatic defeat by the sounds of it and a lot of excuses!  But let’s not forget that by playing on mud was exactly how Derby County won the 1st division title twice in the 1970’s.

12.2.1949, “The Swifts fielding once again their strongest team we saw football at its best “ – self praise indeed

He was also playing cricket and between 1947 and 1949 he maintained a similar journal for ‘The Bats Cricket Club’ and here he did even better because he was the club captain (he was probably on the selection committee as well).  He liked cricket and later on was always in the Council twenty overs side that played regular cricket during the summers.  He was a good all rounder who batted left hand and bowled with his right, which was a bit surprising because he was a total left hander.

He is the one in the middle at the front, I am sitting next to him.

Later on he continued to keep a sports journal for the County Offices Football Club for the seasons 1953-54, 1954-55 and 1955-56 and then they stop.  Again he wrote passionate match reports and here are some of my favourite extracts:

10.10.1953,  “Late changes in the County offices Team when Petcher was forced to retire with a cold” – what a wimp he might have at least called it man flu!

31.10.1953, “Petcher missed a glorious opportunity when perfectly placed at less than three yards he failed completely to connect and the ball rolled by”

5th December 1953 a hat trick against Brighton Rovers

January 1954 – Injury crisis: “Hubbard, Baxter and Petcher all declared fit.  Willis out for the season. Parker now visiting infirmary for treatment.  Landon has decided to hang up his boots.  Howes and Topliss unfit for at least a week.  Bodicoat should be alright for Saturday (cold).  Henson still has slight limp.  Gardner’s leg giving trouble.”  – These must have been awfully tough matches!

6th January 1954,  “an entertaining match marred only when County Offices new goalkeeper was carried off with a broken nose” –  See what I mean!

13th January 1954, a 13-0 thumping, brother Peter in the team, Dad playing in defence; “Poor Petcher for the 3rd week running put through his own goal”. …Better to go back to the forwards then.

20th February 1954, “Although the ground was half under water the referee decided play was possible” – I’d liked to have seen that!

17th September 1955, in a match they won 6-0 “what a pity the office team became over confident and fiddled and fuddled about in the last fifteen minutes.  They ought to have had a bucket full!”

Although I regularly played cricket with him I don’t remember him playing football except on one occasion in about 1978 when at work the Finance Department (my team) played the Planners (his) in a friendly and he found his old fashioned boots at the back of the garage and although he was forty-six and certainly not match fit he filled his favourite position on the wing and showed glimpses of the talent that he had when he was a young man.  I played full back for Finance and I know he gave me the run around a few times!

Scrap Book Project – School Pals

Ivan Petcher and School Pals

This is a picture of my dad with two of his school pals in about 1946.  I don’t know who they are but it reminded me of my own best friends when I was a boy.

One thing that I am really bad at is remembering people’s birthdays and every year it is a certainty that I will offend someone by forgetting to send a card.  It is a little strange then that although I haven’t seen him for about thirty-five years or so I still remember that March 6th was the birthday of my school pal David Newman.  Along with Tony Gibbard, David was my best pal and we used to spend long days playing and getting into mischief together in Hillmorton, which was the village where we lived.

The house we lived in was built on an old tip and over the back was a big hole perfect for sifting through and finding old junk and behind that was ‘The Bank’,which was a strip of trees and dense undergrowth that was good for playing jungle war games.  A narrow path ran from Sandy Lane to Tony’s garden at no. 37 where two trees, one large and one small, were converted into tree houses and frequently doubled up as a Lancaster bomber and a Spitfire fighter.  You certainly had to have a vivid imagination to achieve this childhood fantasy transformation.

What is now Featherbed Lane used to be Sandy Lane, which was an unpaved track and in the adjacent trees was a long abandoned car that in our imagination we converted into a Churchill Tank.  Beyond Sandy Lane was the ‘Sand Pit’, which was a bit of a forbidden zone on account of the large number of rats that lived there.  Mum didn’t like us going there and with her exaggerated warnings of how they would either dash up your trouser leg and chew your penis off or alternatively take a flying leap and rip your throat out was enough to make you think twice about venturing too far inside.  A few years later they built some houses on the sand pit and a lot of them fell down quite soon after because of inadequate foundations in the soft sand.

Further down the road there were some derelict old terraced houses that had been condemned by the Local Authority that we convinced ourselves were haunted, they were knocked down a few years later and some Council flats built there to replace them.  We used to go inside and frighten ourselves half to death exploring the empty rooms looking for their secrets.

On the road down to the Locks and the canal there was the site of the old Hillmorton Manor House that lay in ruins surrounded by dense undergrowth of trees and vegetation.  This is where Constable Road is now.   Around the Manor House the bigger boys in the village had constructed a scramble track (a sort of pre-BMX thing) where we had bike races and pretended to be the Brandon Bees motorcyclists.

This wasn’t my favourite game I have to say because I used to prefer to go down to the canal and mess about on the locks.  This is where David lived and his parents allowed us to build a camp in an old outbuilding in the garden.  The canal was an incredibly dangerous place really but of course we didn’t realise that at the time.  During the summer we used to wait at top lock and offer to open and close the locks for passing canal craft in the hope that we would receive a few pennies for our labours.

School was about three hundred metres away and to get there we had to pass what was euphemistically called the ‘corn field’.  There never actually was any corn in it of course it was just a piece of uncultivated land with long grass that was waiting to be developed and it wasn’t long before the Council built a clinic and some houses on it and took away another useful recreation site.  At the back of the school was the Elder Forest, which wasn’t a forest at all just an area of overgrown vegetation with a predominance of Elder Trees.  That’s all been grubbed up and built on as well of course now.

David and I went to Dunsmore school together but in 1970 I went on top sixth form and David left to go to work.  A couple of years later I went to University and David joined the army so naturally we drifted apart and I never saw him again.

Tony Gibbard’s birthday was the 17th May.

Scrap Book Project – William Shakespeare

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.  This belief was based on supposed historical evidence dating back to the 18th century, when a historian unearthed records of the Arden family in Wilmcote who made the connection with the property based on the rather flimsy fact that Mary’s father, Robert was a wealthy farmer who lived in the village.

For many years after that the Trust proudly showed thousands of tourists and school children around the beautiful half timbered house facing the road in leafy Wilmcote, telling people all about the time when Mary Arden lived there in the sixteenth century.  The image of the lovely house (top of page) was on chocolate box lids, tea towels and postcards and tourists bought dozens of mementoes of Mary Arden’s House to take home with them.  This for example was a jigsaw puzzle box lid from the 1940s:

My first visit to the house was on a school trip from the Hillmorton County School near Rugby, also in Warwickshire, on a day visiting Shakespeare’s town of Stratford sometime in the 1960s.  I don’t have any real recollection of that trip because it was over forty years ago but I do remember visiting with French town twinning guests from Evreux  in 1977 and later taking visitors there when I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986 to 1987 on every occasion sticking to the official Mary Arden Story.

On 12th February 1995 I took my ten year old daughter Sally to visit Stratford and naturally included a visit to Mary Arden’s House which by this time was also a countryside and agricultural heritage museum and inside the house Trust members were on hand to provide a comprehensive historical narrative.  A very comprehensive narrative indeed by an elderly gentleman and one that went on at great length about Tudor life and how Mary Arden had sat in front of the fire in the Great Hall, helped prepare food in the kitchen and had slept in one of the bedrooms on the first floor.  It was all very interesting information but it subsequently turned out to be a lot of old nonsense!

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the timber used to construct the house was dated too late to be linked to Mary Arden’s early life and this couldn’t therefore be her house after all, she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen and further historical research revealed that the large house actually belonged to a family called Palmer, and had to be promptly re-named Palmer’s Farm.

For a while it was thought that Mary Arden’s family home was lost to history and the Trust had lost a valuable asset and tourist trap.  Lucky for them then that another small house on the estate which they had purchased in 1968 with a view of demolition and close to Palmer’s Farm, was also wood tested and technology was able to pin point the time the wood in this house was cut. The Birthplace Trust declared this to be the Spring of the year 1514, the dates tallied with Mary Arden and the members of the Trust breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.

This time the Trust carried out more thorough research and what the records revealed was that Shakespeare’s grandfather, Robert Arden, had bought the land in Wilmcote in 1514 and built the house that had sat next to Palmer’s Farm,  The house that for hundreds of years was largely overlooked and ignored because it was considerably less interesting than the farm house.  Mary Arden’s house had been there in Wilmcote all the time, smaller and more modest than anyone had thought.

The last time I visited Mary Arden’s house (the real one that is) was in 2010 and as I paid my admission charge I was minded to ask for a refund on all the previous visits on the basis that I had been seriously misled and provided with false information on several previous visits.  Sadly however, although the Birthplace Trust itself is now clear about which house belonged to who many other tourist web sites still show a picture of Palmer’s Farm instead of Mary Arden’s house because it is significantly more picturesque and interesting.

The End of the Year and the Start of a New Blogging Project

New Light Through Old Windows

And so 2012 and another blogging year comes to an end and thank you to everyone who visited, passed by or just dropped in by accident when looking for something else and increased my page hits by 87% from 100,671 views in 2011 to 188,500 in 2012.

Throughout the year I have been reviewing old posts and reblogging and in that time I have managed a post a day for the entire year.  I have added new pictures, corrected mistakes and changed some text in response to feedback.

But I cannot do that again next year so I have identified a new project.

When my dad died I took possession of a box of papers and mementos which included a scrap book and several exercise books with yellowing dog-eared pages which included notes and stories of things that were important to him and what he liked to write about and keep a record of.

This box of old books is now one of my most treasured possessions and I return to it regularly for inspiration.  It is a record of his life that he recorded and archived and I feel privileged to possess this box of history.

It occurred to me one time that if my dad had had access to the internet and to the opportunity to share these things with others through a wider medium then he would surely have been a blogger and because I hoped that in twenty or thirty year’s time my own children might like to know about me in the same way – but I don’t want to keep scrap books or written journals – then I decided that the appropriate modern equivalent to the scrap book would be through blog posts.

In keeping with my theme of ‘New Light Through Old Windows” I have decided that my project for 2013 will be to take a page at a time and find a memory story that leaps from the page.  I am not going to post every day because that becomes a bit of a chore just now and again when I am satisfied that I have a story.  Sometimes these will be revisited and recycled and sometimes they will be new.

I hope that readers will still continue to drop by?

Dad's Scrap Book

Zorba The Greek

A couple of weeks away in Greece are just not complete without going to a traditional Greek food and entertainment night and this really must include participative Greek dancing.  A real enthusiast will prepare for such an evening by purchasing a CD of Greek music to practice beforehand but this is not strictly necessary and all you really need to be able to do is to recognise the opening chords of ‘Zorba’. made famous by the film ‘Zorba The Greek’, which was released on 7th December 1964.

In ancient Greece, dancing was believed to be the gift of the gods. Sacred dances were held as offerings to the deities, as commemorations of key events, and as a way of keeping communities together. Dancing was also taught to soldiers as a crucial part of their military training, especially in Athens and Sparta.

Proper Greek nights will have real musicians with bouzouki and accordion players as these will play the best music and the ones to be avoided are those with electric organs because these are simply not authentic.

Most Greek dances are danced in a line and the line moves generally to the right and the person on the end with their right hand free is the leader.  Everyone else follows the leader who calls the steps that can be quite complicated.  Beginners are supposed to join the line at the end and it is considered bad manners to barge into the middle.  One of the most common dances at Greek party night is called the Zembekiko, or drunkard’s dance. This one is easy because it has no specific steps and involves stumbling around precariously to the rhythm of the music. In the Zembekiko there are several dancers down on one knee clapping around a particular dancer, and then they’ll swap places now and again. There are no rules. You can dance alone or join the clapping for someone else. As long as people are having fun, that is just fine.

Greek Dancing

The best Greek night that I have been to was in Mykonos in 2005, which was held in a rustic bar in a village in the hills and as well as the food and the wine and the dancing also had table dancing, setting fire to the floor with lighter fuel dancing and plate smashing.  Breaking plates is linked with the Greek concept of kefi, which is the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, or frenzy.  Some say that it wards off evil spirits. Others maintain that breaking plates symbolises good luck (especially for potters I should imagine).  Whatever it means it is a lot of good fun.

Breaking plates like this is now considered a dangerous practice due to flying shards, and perhaps also because of intoxicated tourists who have poor aim and may hit innocent bystanders. It is officially discouraged and in Greece, as well as in the United Kingdom, a bar or restaurant that wants to do it requires a license.   Tucked away in the hills, I doubt if this place had a license but it didn’t last long and they very quickly substituted the plates with paper napkins to throw around.  Mind you if you think plate smashing is dangerous in the old days they used to throw knives at the dancers feet as a sign of respect and manhood.  This was a bit reckless and not surprisingly, due to countless injuries, that tradition gradually changed to the present-day flower throwing alternative, which is a bit pansy but a whole lot safer.