Thursday, 29 September 2016

Sissinghurst in July

I know I've mentioned being in Germany recently, and I will try to blog about that eventually, but first I hope to catch up (chance would be a fine thing) with earlier travel this year.

Almost immediately after Sarah's wedding Bill's sister and brother-in-law went home to Australia and we took off for the South of England. 

One could write forever about the North-South divide in Britain and it is all quite sad to me. 

The main resentment seems to be about economics, but I could cheerfully hate all English Southerners (not really) just because they more often experience summer.

Love the stripey lawns. No idea how they do that.

That weather, and the fact that it had been over a decade since we visited London, was our primary reason for going, I thought. 

I hadn't really appreciated that Bill had a long list of National Trust properties lined up to visit! The first was Sissinghurst.

The famous white garden.

I think I may have heard that name in passing back when I lived in the States, but I'm pretty sure I never heard of Vita Sackville-West. 

Learning about this startling woman was one of my early wonders learning about my new homeland. If you don't know about her already, I'll wait now, while you go read about her here

What the rich and titled get up to, eh? When I try to think of American counterparts, I can't come up with any. Maybe FDR and Eleanor, but strange as their lives were they stood for something altogether opposite so they aren't really the example I'm after.

You could also read about Vita's husband,
Harold Nicholson though his biography isn't littered with nearly as many interesting names as hers. I did recognize one, Sir Percy Loraine, whose family I've written about before.

So, people aside, what about this place? Wikipedia's entries refer to either the village of Sissinghurst or the Sissinghurst castle garden, so clearly the house itself is not the focus. That said, Wikipedia says this about 'Sissinghurst Castle':

The site is ancient; "hurst" is the Saxon term for an enclosed wood. A manor house with a three-armed moat was built here in the Middle Ages. In 1305, King Edward I spent a night here. It was long thought that in 1490 Thomas Baker, a man from Cranbrook, purchased Sissinghurst, although there is no evidence for it. What is certain is that the house was given a new brick gatehouse in the 1530s by Sir John Baker, one of Henry VIII's Privy Councillors, and greatly enlarged in the 1560s by his son Sir Richard Baker, when it became the centre of a 700-acre deer park. In August 1573, Queen Elizabeth I spent three nights at Sissinghurst.

I don't know about you, but the association of the place with three monarchs over nearly three centuries impresses me deeply. (Not that I'm royalist, but this is history!) Whatever it looked like back then, however, the house itself doesn't really look like a castle. There is a tower and a house the size of a Victorian terrace of houses (sorry, I know that won't mean much to American readers). It looks quite long but perhaps only one room deep, with lovely leaded windows. There are smaller buildings dotted around, including an oast house

It  was apparently called a 'ruined Elizabethan manor house' in 1930 when Vita bought it. I can't find a confirmation but I think I remember reading on this visit that it was her money that bought the house and that she paid £25,000 ($32,550) for it. Oh, to be a time traveller...

Of  course Sissinghurst was a substitute for the place Vita really wanted to own, the place where she grew up, Knole House. We also visited there and I very much preferred Sissinghurst, which may be testament to all the care and attention Vita and Harold gave to it.

We  got to tour the tower, but no photos were allowed inside, which was disappointing, particularly the room in which Vita Sackville-West did her writing. I guessed there would be other photos available, and I was right

The top of the tower of course gave a wonderful vantage for seeing the grounds and most of the photos here were taken from there. 

Oast house on the right.

The garden (gardens?) are of course the world famous feature. Bill and I felt that the extensive brick walls might have once been the walls of the castle. The other 'walls' that enclose areas into what feels like rooms are tall hedges. 

...6 full-time, 2 part-time, a student, 2 nursery (?), and lots of volunteers care for the garden...

I'm no gardener, sadly, but walking through Sissinghurst's garden rooms made me want to run back home and get to digging. If only I could have brought Kent's weather back with me...

I'm sure there are hundreds of books written about Sissinghurst and its people, so I'll stop here and go find some photos....I meant to only write one post about this place, but I can see I need another post to share all those details that so grabbed me, much like this one.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Charlotte's Birthday Party

Well, I had another cultural experience last weekend. Bill's granddaughter, Charlotte, turned 4 this month and we went over to Manchester to attend her party. We were lucky that the party had been planned for the middle of the month, as we were in Germany on her birthday.

It sounds like the whole month has been pretty special for the birthday girl. On the actual day she got to choose the restaurant for their evening meal. Turns out that was a pub at the bottom of their street that serves food. They went camping a couple of weekends (though that may not have been about her birthday). Her mother started making fancy foods out of this book. The first effort was a red-headed mermaid, but I witnessed the creation of this masterpiece. 

Bread and chicken slices cut into a circle, the 4 is cucumber peel, the candles are carrot sticks and flame-shaped bits of cheese slices, all surrounded with half-grapes. 

I think it's all a bit mental, but Helen seems to enjoy doing it. 

The party was held at the Atherton Cricket Club for the event, the same place we went after Charlotte's christening a few years ago.

Helen made (regular) sandwiches and, after removing the crusts, cut them into rectangles and triangles. She then put together a prototype for the plates and had Martin take a photo with his phone, so he could put together the other 10 or 11 plates at the party. 

He did this while I put table cloths on the tables, secured with Blu-tack (something like chewing gum used to stick things on surfaces without damaging paint, only not as sticky and therefore useful; I'm not a fan of the stuff, but it is widely used over here). Helen issued orders about table arrangements and reminded Charlotte to greet her guests. 

Most were brought by mothers but there were actually a few dads in attendance; I don't remember dads at the parties I attended as a child, do you? When the plates were assembled Martin and I covered them with cling-film (what I used to call Saran wrap). 

A stack of Disney DVDs played as background music. I was quite nostalgic about those from Mary Poppins and Snow White. It's impressive how many dads know all the moves to the song Let It Go.

A mini-bouncy castle was set up, an automatic bubble blowing machine was put to work outside and a dozen or so blown-up balloons were scattered around the place. 

A face-painting lady set up her kit in one corner. 

As the guests arrived they just naturally kicked off their shoes and jumped in the bouncy castle, under Bill's watchful eye. Or they grabbed a balloon and batted it about the room. Or they ran in groups around the cricket ground, or gathered around the bubble machine to try to catch or pop bubbles. Bread sticks were available for snacks. The kids absolutely inhaled them.

Chicken sandwiches, sausages, cheese, cucumber & carrots; how healthy can you get?

One by one they were invited to go have their faces painted and soon they were all decked out, not just in party clothes, but with various emblems or masks ranging from a cupcake to a butterfly to a tiger face and all sorts of fairy-like designs as well. I've never seen 4-year-old's sit so still.

My little pony?

After they ran around for about an hour, they were invited in for lunch and the plates were presented along with Disney napkins and orange or red coloured drinks, whatever is the British version of Kool-Aid. 

Then plates of chocolate and icing covered biscuits (that I still call cookies). 

And then an amazing multi-layered cake, also made by a pro.

After cake came a couple of games, led by Helen (who is, after all a professional herself, being a primary school teacher and a Brownie leader). One was 'Pass the Parcel'. This involves a present wrapped in multiple layers. Helen alternated between gift wrap and newspaper. 

The parcel was passed around the children sitting in a circle to accompanying music. When the music stopped the child holding the parcel unwrapped a layer. Then it continued on its journey around the circle until the music stopped and the next layer was removed. I gather from conversations since that some small sweet would be found between layers so that each child got a little something until the main prize was opened by the final winner (a box full of colouring tools, I think it was). Also that there should be as many layers as there were children so that each child got something (because the music was carefully timed). I'm not sure if that's what happened, but it all seemed to go brilliantly anyhow. I didn't realize that there were multiple layers and Bill remarked that he'd forgotten I was 'foreign' else I would know this. Or is it about my age instead of citizenship?

If there was anything that marred the perfection of this party it was dog poo. I saw at least 3-4 moms headed for the loo with a wrinkled nose and a shoe in hand. I still love dogs, but I'm not sure I like dog owners much these days.

The next game was described as a 'dance contest' but it was actually more about being still: when the music stopped everyone had to 'freeze'. Anyone who moved was kicked out of the game (and joyfully ran out doors to run around some more). 

We  left about then since we had a long drive ahead. Fortunately Charlotte had already been kicked out and we could say good bye to the birthday girl.

I'm not good with kids, having been an only child and, for over a decade, an only grandchild and never having any children of my own. I can just about interact with Charlotte if I'm patient - or probably it's really if she's patient. Anyhow, I was thinking that a room full of 4-year-old children was probably my definition of hell; instead it turned out to be quite fun to watch.

And several G&T's helped a bit...

Monday, 19 September 2016

100 Hats

Our knitting group is loosely affiliated with Age UK, a charity for older persons. We used to meet twice a month at the Age UK centre in Whitley Bay, but then it shut down. So now we meet in the Comrades Club, a pub run by a group to do with veteran soldiers. Interestingly, I just learned that it opened in 1920, to help survivors of WWI.

Following the carnage of World War 1 many of the survivors of that conflict hoped to preserve the unique spirit of friendship forged during the years of privation and danger. In themonths that followed the Armistice, Comrades Clubs began to be established throughout the Nation by British Servicemen.  
Here on North Tyneside the Whitley Bay and Monkseaton Comrades of the Great War Club was formed and its doors were first opened in 1920 when the first members entered what was a converted private dwelling house at 14 The Links, Whitley Bay on the seafront.

But like many community groups, they sometimes struggle financially and so welcome other groups to use their facilities and pay some rent. 

We meet in the 'snug' at the back. A snug is usually a smaller seating area and perhaps a separate bar. They were often designated for the use of women, back in the day when women weren't allowed in the men's area, even with their husbands. Amazing what used to go on in ordinary society. Anyhow, the staff are lovely and helpful and we've landed on our feet thanks to Meriel, the lady who runs our group.

We still knit these little hats for Age UK. A company that makes fruit smoothie drinks called Innocence Smoothies has a thing (I'm not sure if it's advertising or fund-raising; I'll let you decide) where one month of the year in Sainsbury's (a national supermarket chain) all their bottles have little hats on them. Each year our group is contacted to let us know our 'quota', that is how many little hats the company will pay us to knit. 

For each hat we give them they give something like 25p to Age UK. It works out to a ridiculous hourly 'wage' but that matters nought as we enjoy keeping our hands busy and I particularly love using up tiny bits of yarn. There is probably a mental diagnosis for my obsession with small bits of textiles and yarn, but never mind.

I set myself the goal of knitting 100 hats, a good, finite number. It helps a lot to know when I can stop! Otherwise it could go on forever, so 100 it was. We always meet our quota (something like 2500 this year) with several hundred left over, so I'm happy with only making a small contribution to the effort. 

Only I miscounted. I thought I had 100, but then when I put them into rows and columns to photograph there were only 99. So I sat down and knitted another. 

And the pink one makes 100!

And you know what happened.

The lost hat, now 101

I found that 100th hat hiding in another I had 101 hats. I also made extra pom poms as many of the little old ladies in the group aren't fond of making them (and many don't like the sewing up process either; neither do I but I crochet them together which makes it a bit easier). I sat down and made 100 pom poms while we were on holiday as well. I'm pretty good at pom poms these days, if I do say so myself.

And then you know what happened? When we got home and sat down in front of the telly after dinner to catch up on various history programmes, I found 8 more hats sitting on the bookcase next to my I'll be turning in 109 hats.

I'm not even going to count those pom poms again.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Grandma's Birthday

In The Netherlands now, on our way back to the ferry at Amsterdam that takes us about 10  minutes from our front door. Am so ready to be home!  Today is Grandma B's birthday. She was born in 1890. Funny how quickly you can get back to the Victorian age!

Grandma, like Grandpa, was of German descent. I grew up thinking I was, too, but then a few years ago I discovered my Dad had been adopted, though they never told him. My DNA test has since informed me that my Dad was half Norwegian, which has been fun. My Dad wasn't put into the orphanage until he was 11 months old, so I'm thinking there is a story there about his birth family.

However, whatever I find out about my dad's original family, my Grandparents will alwayss be my Grandparents. I couldn't possibly have had better.

So I wanted to remember Grandma on her birthday. (She has more posts under her listing in the index on the right!)

Monday, 12 September 2016

Rita's Birthday

Still in Germany just now, but today is my Aunt Rita's birthday. With such  limited internet - this is my first session in over a week - I've caught up on magazine reading, list making and scribbling down ideas. I almost feel as though the creative blood is trying to flow back into a deadened limb, having bee cut off by Ancestry addiction!

So it has been good having this break from the screen.

Hard to believe Rita's been gone 9 years already. She would have been 72 today. I know she'd tell me that though family is important, so is sewing! So I'm determined to get back to it more regularly...and I'll be thinking of Rita when I do!

She doesn't have her own listing in the index, but her other posts can be found under Remembering or Mom's family.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Grandpa's Birthday

I'm in Germany just now, with limited internet and - even worse - only my tablet to peck on. In spite of this, I've been thinking about Grandpa, who was of German ancestry, and wanted to remember his special day. He has been gone 40+ years, but he is far from forgotten.

You can read more about him by clicking on Grandpa B in the index on the right.