Portrait Of My Aunt

IMG_0002

Miriam Wilkinson nee Hickling:  21st February 1914 – 17th March 2003

*

There was only one thing my aunt loved more than her Devon garden, and that was the Derbyshire Peak District – the lanes round Bradwell, Ashford and Hathersage, the byways of Fox and Bennett family forebears. To a child brought up in the suburbs of Manchester, the Peak District of spring and summer holidays seemed like heaven.

For most of her married life, Miriam was a nomad – living in 42 different rented flats. Each one she tried to make home, and always with much flair and limited funds, as she followed her engineer husband from one telephone exchange to another, whenever and wherever he was dispatched to oversee the upgrade of Britain’s telecommunications. They had married at the start of World War 2, and the header photo probably dates from around this time. After a makeshift marriage whither my grandmother had arrived wearing only her shopping clothes since she looked down on the whole affair, Miriam had been left married, but stranded with her unsympathetic parents while my uncle was posted off to West Africa.

Looking back, he must have been helping to provide British navel and military intelligence with radio surveillance capability since he had no service rank as far as I know. He apparently lived in some style out in Africa. But it was all change a year later when he was posted to Coventry during the Blitz, presumably to work on restoring bombed out telephone connections. And this is where married life actually began, in a dismal rent room smelling of boiled cabbage and with Luftwaffe bombs raining down.

My uncle did not cope well with either the bombing or the war-time privations. Miriam had to keep him together on all fronts, while she went to work in a munitions factory. I cannot imagine what it was really like for her. She had lived a life of quiet and modest gentility, though always within the orbit of rich relatives. She had endured her mother’s spirit-crushing jibes while doting on a father who, in her hearing, had once described her to a family friend as ‘a dud’. Neither her mother or father had the faintest idea about parenting or how to prepare their two daughters for adult life.

My grandmother had been mostly brought up by a housemaid and a slightly dotty aunt as her own twice widowed mother drifted around in black silk dresses, taking covert sips of gin, while presiding over a Cheshire Inn. Grandfather had been abandoned by his own mother, who apparently fled merchant-class respectability and ran off to be an actress. She deposited grandfather with his dour Victorian Hickling grandparents, though returned in later life from time to time, wafting in at the family firm for a cash injection from ‘master Georgie’.

You can well see how lives of ‘quiet desperation’ get handed on from generation to generation.

Miriam had a talent for drawing and writing but even this outlet was denied. She had poor eyesight and had terrible headaches, but my grandfather would not let her have spectacles. No visible signs of imperfection would be tolerated. She told me how once, when returning from a childhood trip to Derbyshire by train, she had developed a rash on her face. Her parents being highly alarmed, took themselves off to another carriage to complete the journey to Manchester leaving Miriam alone in a state of disgrace. By the time she was fourteen she had suffered four nervous breakdowns and had to be taken out of school. Both she and my mother, who was eight years younger, were sent to small private schools. My mother was not allowed take up a place at a prestigious girls’ high school despite gaining a scholarship. My grandfather would have no ‘blue stockings’ in his family. He had some notion that providential husbands would somehow materialise: both his daughters would ‘marry well’ and thus be taken care of.

They did not and they were not. But each in their own very different ways made the best of very bad jobs, though in my mother’s case her methods of choice were destructive and damaging to others. Miriam remained stalwart, loyal to a man whose nerves were fragile, and who, in extremis, once attempted to strangle her as she slept.

010

My mother, Peggy, probably sixteen years old, Miriam around the time of her marriage circa 1939. Both stepping out with so much intention.

*

Miriam did not have a home of her own until the mid-1960s. It was on top of the hill in Pinhoe, near Exeter. There she made a garden that was filled with wildflower reminders of girlhood Derbyshire holidays – dame’s violets, bloody cranesbill, saxifrage, cowslips, primroses, the wild yellow pansies of the limestone uplands.  In their latter years, she and my uncle took to having an annual spring holiday in the Derbyshire Peak District. It was a source of great joy to both of them. Sometime later I took her ashes there.

IMG_0012 (2)

Miriam around 4 years old c 1918. The first time she met her father was when he returned from France at the end of the Great War. He had been an ambulance driver, and came home with gas-damaged lungs, which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It left him the poorer too with years of medical bills to meet.  He said wearing a gas mask got in the way when he was trying to pick up the wounded.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Daily Prompt: constant

Out In The Field With Runaway Crocus

IMG_6717a

Several things spurred me to the allotment on Saturday – sun, dryness under foot, onion sets in the post, and the need to get a 2” covering of compost onto the raised beds as per the ‘no dig’ methodology, a job I had forgotten to do in the autumn.

For once the field path was not all of a slither, and along the way I found these crocus (tiny in real life). Clearly they had grown bored with the confining domesticity of suburban flower beds, and so taken off over the garden hedges to try things on the wild side.

Breaking bounds with a flourish – one could learn a few things here…

IMG_6721

Cee’s Flower Of The Day

All Of A Twitter ~ Yesterday In The Garden

It is one of those sudden joys. You can be staring out at a bleak winter garden, all dormant stems and leafless, when whoosh – like darts of light – the gloom is fragmented by a little host of twittering, darting long-tailed tits. Their dashing habit of course makes them hard to photograph, and their livery – all the colours of a winter landscape – adds to the general elusiveness. They are tiny too. And they rarely stay for more than a few moments before taking off again on the great insect hunt. When they have gone, the garden is bereft, but you are left with the feeling that someone just gave you a perfect small gift. You can conjure it again at any time, in your mind’s eye, that moment when a flock of tiny beings flew in and lit up the day.

P1040271

P1040273

Long-tailed tit Go here to find out more about them and for far better images than I managed here.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Much Wenlock As Seen On TV!

P1060826

This view of the town is the one I see as I head to the allotment. I have captured it in many seasons. Today I’m posting it because it features one of the town’s oldest and most notable landmarks at the heart of our town – Holy Trinity Church which dates from the early Middle Ages and was once part of an impressive priory complex. And the reason for doing that is because its current vicar, Matthew Stafford, also known as ‘the mad vicar’ is featured in a 4-part BBC series A Vicar’s Life. The programmes follow the parish duties of three vicars in the rural Hereford diocese (of which Much Wenlock is a part although in Shropshire) over a one year period.

I adhere to no church or dogma, but I do have a lot of time for Matthew Stafford and the work he does in the community. If you watch only the first four minutes of this first episode you will perhaps see why. You will also be treated to bird’s eye views of Wenlock and see Matthew out and about in the town, as well as arranging a marriage at my local hairdressers.

Daily Post: Tour-guide

Dandelion Dreams ~ A Bit Of Magic On Monday

dandelion clocks

These dandelion ‘clocks’ are putting on their own firework display. If I had my gardener’s head  on, the sight of so much imminent seed shedding would cause me much frustration. Fury even.  I have spent hours, days and weeks of my life trying to keep my allotment plots and paths free of them. I have even tried seeing their good side: cropping them for their young salad leaves, making dandelion tea, roasting their roots to make coffee (very good for the liver). I also know their long tap roots release nutrients locked deep in the soil. And sometimes a field full of dandelions can look, well, beautiful.

Which brings me to the image above. I clearly had my photographer’s head on when I snapped it, and with the camera in dynamic monochrome setting. And then I edited it a little, and so emerged these magical structures. And there we have the top and bottom of it. Once we stop fighting the natural world, we can see how very wonderful it is. Or at least some of us can. This does not appear to apply to the corporate strains of our species.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: patterns

Three Hippopotamuses Or Should That Be Hippopotami? Either Way, It’s Hard To Type ~ Thursday’s Special

Scan-130716-0011 (3) b

Hippos can be very disagreeable at the best of times, and downright murderous if you upset them. They are probably at their most peaceable in the water, but that does not mean that they may not capsize a  passing boat if they’ve a mind to. They spend the night hours grazing on shore, and consume huge quantities of grass, around 100lb (45kg) a night.

These Lake Naivasha hippos especially like the close-cropped lawns of the lakeside hotels, so it’s not good idea for guests to go wandering around the gardens after dark. The hazard reduces towards daybreak when the grazers usually return to the water, not liking to be caught out in the sun despite having their own in-built skin care product – a red oily secretion that protects them from dehydrating and overheating.

Once when we were Zambia, on a guided walk in the Luangwa Valley, we encountered a huge bull who was late returning to the river, and couldn’t find an accessible way down a steeply shelving bank to the water. He was so furious he decided to charge us.  (See Grouchy Hippo, Laid Out Lions.) And this is perhaps one of the most surprising things about hippos, given their bulk and tonnage – their land speed capability. They can clock 18 mph at the gallop and easily outrun a human over short distances.

As to good points – they do go in for much companionable honking and grunting when a group is submerged together for the day’s wallowing. It is one of those Africa sounds that imprint on the consciousness – once heard, never forgotten.

Thursday’s Special: trio Now go head over to Paula’s to see her unforgettable puffin trio.

P.S. Hippopotamus – the name is derived from the Greek meaning river horse. Hippos have no horse connections but are distantly related to pigs.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell