Sunday, 3 February 2019

Sad News

I'm returning here to report some sad news.  Our lovely dog, Ronan, who has featured in the blog many times, died last week.  It was a big shock to the whole family as it happened quite suddenly - just over a week ago he was able to go for a walk with me yet a few days later he was too weak even to go out to the garden.  He had probably been ill for a while and was hiding it well, the vet said.  After a week of treatment for vomiting and lethargy, they found a mass on his liver so said there was nothing they could do and advised us to end his suffering.  It was a very hard day.

It is very quiet at home now.  Coming back to the house after being out is worst as we are so used to him greeting us at the door, his tail wagging.  We are also missing walking him, something which  felt like a chore at times but was part of our normal routine. And it's hard to go for a walk on our usual routes as we see other regular dog walkers we know by sight and say hello to and I can't face telling them. It's hard to make the transition from being a dog owner to not being one: I still find myself closing gates and doors to stop his escape and moving plates with leftovers out of reach unnecessarily.

Kate is back at university so we had to tell her the news on the telephone.  She is also terribly upset as she has grown up with Ronan. She was only 8 when he arrived in 2007.  Here she is not too long after we got him, helping to train him.  He was very good at sitting and giving you his paw but only if he knew he would get a treat. In some ways I was glad she wasn't at home when he became ill as she will have only good memories of his final weeks.  He was generally ok over the Christmas holidays and she had spent a lot of time playing with him and had him sitting beside her at the table as she was revising for the exam she had this week. 

Back in 2007, I had serious doubts about getting a dog.  I'd not had a dog as a child - we always had cats -  I knew it would be hard work and a big commitment.  It was, but I hadn't realised what joy a dog like Ronan would bring to our lives and what a good companion he would be.  He was with us for nearly 12 years and had a good life.  Still we will miss him so much.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Happy Christmas

A brief post to wish any remaining readers a Happy Christmas. I haven't blogged for a while as I have been busy researching and writing a kind of family history book.  It is now finished and I've posted it off to family members in this country and to the cousins we have found in Canada as a result of my research. I plan to return to blogging more frequently in the new year.  In the meantime, I hope you have a peaceful and relaxing Christmas.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Remembering: The Big Penny

It is over 100 years since my great-uncle, Jim Ferguson, was killed in Belgium aged 21, just a over a month before the end of World War 1.

When I was a child I was fascinated by the big penny which was propped on the mantelpiece in my grandparents' bungalow. They told me about its significance; how these pennies were given to the families of solders killed in the war.

As I grew up I learnt more about the war and wore a poppy on Remembrance Day but didn’t really have much interest in the details.  Later after I became a teacher and married Paul I was asked to go on a school trip to visit the war graves in Flanders.  It was 1994 -  we were living in Norfolk at that stage and I was teaching in Costessey High School in Norwich.  Granda had died 8 years earlier but Granny was still alive.  I found the details of the location of Uncle James’s grave with the help of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  And so on the trip I visited the small graveyard in Dadizele, Belgium and used the map to find James Ferguson's grave among the identical headstones each planted up with colourful flowers.   It was peaceful there even with the coachload of schoolchildren who accompanied me; they were quiet and respectful.  My teacher friend took some photographs which I showed to Granny when I visited later that summer.  She was a little tearful and said that Granda would have been so pleased I’d visited. He’d never forgotten his younger brother who died with so many others in World War 1.

That was over 24 years ago and now the ‘Big Penny’ has been passed on to me. Inspired by the story of James Ferguson,  I've been doing some family history research this year and I have found out a bit more about him.  For a start he wasn't called James at home but 'Jim' like my dad who was named after him.  He was the youngest of 7 children and lived in Ballyronan, growing up in the same house as I did.  His father started off working for a local landowner but earned enough money to buy his own farm, and then eventually buying a second one nearby.  He was clearly an ambitious man but it appears he was rather hard on his family.  He quarrelled with his eldest son, John, who emigrated to Canada, followed by two more sisters Sarah and Minnie. Jim's mother died when he was 12 and by 14 he was working on the farms with his 18 year old brother, Sandy (Alexander), who is my grandfather.  This information is on the 1911 census. I suspect the family weren't very happy.  All of the girls had married and left home by 1915 leaving just Jim and Sandy with their father. When the war started, young men in Northern Ireland were encouraged to join up. So Jim entered active service with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the 25th September when he was just 18.  

I haven't found out much about Jim's experiences during the war as there are no individual records or photographs of him.  I do know that he returned home on leave at one point and went to Saltersland Church in his uniform as Granny says she remembers this.  His battalion was part of the 36th Ulster Division and were one of the few divisions to make significant gains on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  They attacked between Ancre and Theipval against a position known as Schwaben Redoubt.  It was apparently the only division to have achieved its objectives on the opening day of the battle.  Their attack was described by war correspondent Philip Gibbs as 'one of the finest displays of human courage in the world.'  but in two days of fighting 5,500 officers and enlisted men were killed, wounded or missing. 

When he joined he was in the 10th Battalion and the men were known as 'The Derrys'. But in February 1918 the British Army on the Western front was reorganised and the 10th Battalion and 11th Battalion were absorbed into the 1st and 2nd Battalions.  The War Diary of the 2nd Battalion is available so perhaps it gives us some insight into what the soldiers were doing though there is little detail about the horror as it is very factual. However, it stops in January 1918 before the 10th Battalion were absorbed so it is unlikely that Jim was involved in the action or the football match described below.

He was killed in the Hundred Days Offensive which ended the First World War.  The images below from the Imperial War  Museum show the troops of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 36th (Ulster) Division which included James's Battalion, advancing from Ravelsburg Ridge to the outskirts of Neuve Eglise on the 1st September 1918. According to the Cookstown War Dead, the 2nd Battalion had marched to fresh billets, skirting Courtrai to St. Anne where they were accommodated in and around a convent.  Jim was killed in action on Sunday 29th September 1918 along with 19 other men from the battalion.

He died in fighting near Dadizele which was in German controlled territory for much of the First World War until it was reached by the 36th Ulster Division and taken by the 9th Scottish Division on the 29th September. At the time he was buried in the local graveyard or on the battlefield.  However after the war in 1920 his body was moved with many others to Dadizele New British Cemetery.  The reference is 111.E. 13. Back in Northern Ireland John Ferguson was mourning the loss of his youngest son.  In 1920 he paid for an inscription to be added to his son's grave: 'Safe in the Arms of Jesus'. 

In 1921 he also erected a new gravestone for his wife Margaret and in memory or his son James at Salterland Church. He would be buried there himself. in 1928.  His son Sandy went on to live a long and happier life than his father, farming with his son who he called Jim in Ballyronan.  

This is the grave on the 22nd September 2018.  My cousin Doreen, Private James Ferguson's great-niece put these poppies on the grave 100 years since he died, aged 21, just a couple of months before the end of WW1.  

I'm not one for glorifying war but tomorrow I'll go along to the memorial parade in Chester and think about this young man who died with so many others in this terrible war. 

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Empty Nest

The birds had flown away before we discovered this nest when cutting our hedge a month or so ago.

It's four weeks now since we took Kate to Sheffield University where she is now studying History and Politics.  After a few days feeling a bit anxious, she has settled in well, making friends with the her flatmates and generally having a great time,  I'm probably getting an edited version of events too. She was stressing a bit about her first essay and adjusting to studying more independently but coping fairly well overall. She came home last weekend and already she seems more confident and less reliant on us to sort things our for her, though she did bring several loads of washing home.

We, on the other hand, are finding it harder to adjust.  I'd didn't cry on the day we drove her to Sheffield with an overflowing car boot of her belongings and uni 'essentials' (she says they have 8 cheese graters).  I'd already done that in the car park outside Debenham's a few weeks before when I had a row with Kate and she said that soon she'd be gone so I wouldn't have to take her shopping any more. So I had prepared myself and arranged lots of things that first week to keep me busy.  Paul hadn't really thought about it and has really missed her. The house is so quiet without her and her friends around; it's tidier; there's less washing; we don't need to buy so much food and I haven't had any shopping trips to Zara.  I don't like this at all.   And all the things I enjoyed doing with her aren't so much fun with Paul who isn't terribly keen on watching 'Bake Off' or 'Strictly' though he is trying. The dog isn't happy either, missing his main playmate. We listen out for the phone and put it on speaker so we can both hear her. Now she's has settled in she's not ringing so often though and I try to resist the urge to text her for updates.  After nearly nineteen years of watchfulness, not knowing anything about where she is, who she is with and what she is doing is hard.  It's not really that I'm worried - just interested really,  as my life seems rather dull in comparison to hers now.   I'm a bit envious to be honest.  I've heard others say that they wouldn't want to go back to being a teenager; I would!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

'Cool' Holidays

September comes round again and the long school holiday has come to an end. I've been back
at for over a week now and started to draft this post some time ago, getting distracted and never finishing it. For the record I'll finish it off now.

 After out main holiday in France I had a few shorter holidays away during August - several days in London, a visit to Market Harborough to visit my sister and a trip to Northern Ireland.

The London trip was a kind of reward for Kate for working so hard for her exams. We stayed in a great Airbnb place in Bloomsbury, just near the British Museum which was both convenient and quiet.  Not that we spent much time at the museum - we did go in but after seeing a few mummies and the Rosetta stone, we left, doing the whole thing in under an hour.  There were just too many tourists. Most of our time was spent exploring - she liked the trendy shops and bars in Soho though laughed at me for using the word 'trendy' rather than 'cool'.  She met an old school friend while I explored Somerset House, a recommendation from my blogger friend ganching who lives in London.  There were fewer tourists there - even though it's just of The Strand - just locals in the know. Parents picnicking while their kids raced around cooling off in the fountains designed for their entertainment. I met ganching for coffee on our final morning.  She grew up not too far from me in Co Antrim so we had plenty to talk about - I really enjoyed chatting to her.

We also spent a day with my sister who got the train in from Hurst Pierpoint and her daughter, who has just started her first job in London, working in Westminster on a graduate training scheme and living in a shared house near Clapham Common. I am a little envious - it seems only a few years ago since I was doing much the same thing in.....1982. With them we explored Borough Market and Shoreditch which is full of 'cool' bars where apparently you can play ping-pong or board games or jump about in one of those ball-pits you get in children's soft play areas. Perhaps young people are getting bored with their mobile phones and are looking for more real social interaction?  Anyway Shoreditch was a bit dead on a Wednesday lunchtime so we went back to St Paul's Cathedral; we viewed it from the adjacent shopping centre which has a convenient and free roof terrace.  Then we walked across 'The Apprentice' bridge or at least that is what my niece calls the pedestrian bridge by St Paul's as it is shown in the opening sequence of the programme. The rest of the day was spent exploring the South Bank, Westminster and St James's Park.

On our way back from London we stopped off in Market Harborough where my youngest sister and lives.  My cousin also lives there and so we had a night out catching up with her.  I was going to call it a 'girls' night out' but really we could hardly call it that since Kate is the only 'girl' and two of us are over 50.  The weather was still hot at that stage.  We went to a food festival in the park; visited my aunt; enjoyed a barbecue in the garden and played Uno with the kids.

I then travelled by myself to Northern Ireland for a long weekend to visit another sister - just needed a trip to NZ and I'd have seen them all. It was a bit cooler by then in Northern Ireland though still sunny most of the days I was there - the sort of weather I prefer.  I'm not that comfortable if the temperature goes much above 21 degrees. We went into Belfast on the Sunday afternoon and went to the Ulster Museum which I really liked.  There's big display about The Troubles - it was strange to see events that I remember presented as history like this.  Another big attraction for visitors is a huge tapestry, looking a bit like the Bayeux Tapestry but actually a recent work, which tells the story of The Game of Thrones, which was filmed in various locations in NI.  We also visited the Botantic Gardens - the new modern glasshouses as well as the old Victorian ones which I remembered.

On the Monday we called into The Home Place, the Seamus Heaney centre and had a look at the exhibition.  It's a brilliant place with information about the poet's life and recordings of him reading his poems as well as lots of interactive displays and things that would appeal to young people.  They have lots of school groups visiting - I'd love to take a group there.  I can't think of anything similar in England.

The final night of my trip was spent with my cousin near Ballyronan.  I had a lovely time catching up with her.  We visited some more of the family and I continued gathering more information on family history.  More of this in another post.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Hot Holiday

I've been away quite a lot recently, first on holiday in France and then on a mini break with Kate in London followed by a visit to my youngest sister and her family in Market Harborough.

In France we stayed in Versailles for a few nights.  I'd visited there as a student and was so impressed by the gardens then that I wanted to return. But my heart sunk when I saw the huge queue of tourists waiting to get in - it was blazing hot too and we had no intention of standing in it. Luckily you didn't need to queue for the garden and it is so huge that the crowd dispersed so we were able to enjoy our walk, finding shade in the groves surrounding the castle.  What I like is the symmetry of the garden and the grand scale of it.  Eventually I managed a walk around the chateau itself later when the queues had disappeared though inside it was still busy.  It was just so opulent - room after room lavishly decorated with paintings and gold leaf, chandeliers, mirrors,- too much really - and, as Kate noted, obscene that one ruler should have so much wealth.  No wonder the people revolted.

We stayed in an apartment in Versailles which was in a quiet courtyard near the centre.  No aircon but a powerful fan and Paul spent his afternoon there watching the Tour de France.  In fact he spent most afternoons of the whole holiday watching the cycling - he is not a fan of heat or of sightseeing.

I was also fascinated by this shop which we passed every day in Versailles on our walk into the town from the apartment.  It was advertising pest control services and to attract customers it had a window display of stuffed animals including three rats which it claimed had been caught in the castle in 1971.

From there we drove to the west coast and had a few days there, spending most of our time in La Rochelle, a lively resort with plenty of restaurants and cafes overlooking the pretty harbour.  It was a bit cooler by the coast but still rather uncomfortable to sleep and our hotel was a bit cramped and noisy at night.  On our final day in France we drove north towards the Channel Tunnel staying in Montreuil where we had a really good meal in the hotel's shady courtyard.  Luckily we missed the chaos which hit the Channel Tunnel shortly after our trip.  All went to plan with our travel arrangements though we all agreed that we spent too much time in the car.  Now that Kate has passed her test she likes to give her dad driving advice - I'll leave you to imagine how that turned out...

Harbour in La Rochelle
That's it for today.  I'll write about the rest of our trips later in the week.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Holiday Catch up and Summer Races

It's been a long time since I posted here so a bit of a catch up.  School summer holidays now so no excuses.

I've been enjoying what seems like the first proper summer for years, though of course now that school holidays are eventually beginning it seems to be breaking down - it's cloudy here this morning and threatening rain. I think our terms dates are all wrong in England - most schools still have one more week so that it's nearly the end of July before they are on holiday.  In NI the school holidays begin at the end of June and it's the same in Scotland - better timing I think.  I'm not a huge fan of really hot weather, but the sunshine and blue skies have been a welcome treat and I have been enjoying sitting in my garden which is looking good despite the parched lawn.  Lots of watering to be done to keep my veg plants alive though.  The sun has meant that I have had lots of ripe tomatoes already as well as other veg.  The meal we cooked (well Paul cooked - I cleared up) on Saturday for my sister who who was visiting featured my tomatoes, little sweet yellow and red ones; new potatoes grown in a dustbin; and green beans which I had grown in pots - there were only enough of these for one meal but they did taste good.

Last weekend Kate and I completed the Chester Race for Life.  In the end we didn't really race but walked it.  I picked up an injury - pulled a ligament on the inside of my knee - so my Couch to 5k training had to stop - a pity as I'd got to week 4 and was doing ok.  To raise funds I had an afternoon tea party, making scones, carrot cake, lemon drizzle cake and millionaire's shortbread.  Unfortunately my party clashed with the England game last Saturday so I had a few cancellations but I sold remaining cakes in school and made £108 for Cancer Research.

Me looking glam after Race for Life.  Kate dis it too but wouldn't let me put her pic on here.

I've also had my sister and her husband from Northern Ireland staying for a few days and entertaining her has seemed like I've been on holiday as we've had some lovely outings.  Even though I've lived in Chester for 17 years, I'd never been to the races, being put off by the sight of drunken racegoers falling off their heels and out of their dresses on their way home.  So we thought we'd give it a try and avoided most of the drunks by going to an evening meeting.  I quite enjoyed it - especially when I won on my first horse: Rainbow Rebel, chosen because I like the name.  I won £6.50 and then lost most of it again on other races. It was a pleasant evening sipping Pimms from plastic glasses in the sunshine. I didn't fall off my heels being sensibly shod and Pimms too pricey to overindulge. We also had a day out in Wales visiting Llangollen, Betws-y-Coed and Llandudno, a lovely old Victorian seaside town. Sister was disappointed by the beach though - nowhere near as good as Portstewart with lots of seaweed and jellyfish making it too precarious to paddle.

By the river in Llangollen

That's it for now. Back soon