Saturday, 19 December 2009

Sepia Saturday: Julia

My grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, and many of his tales were rooted in his own upbringing. He often spoke affectionately about his mother, a soft and gentle woman, who had endured great hardship without complaint.

But beyond the funny anecdotes and hidden amidst the touching accounts of her struggles, were few details of her origins. When asked about his mother's birthplace, grandfather would make vague references to the Hampshire market town of Romsey. He knew little more than that, and there was no reason why he should have.

Some years after his death, I started to research the family history, and made the discovery that Julia Elizabeth Baker had, in fact, been born in a neighbouring village.

It was odd that we moved to our present location in 2000, not realising for one moment, that my great grandmother had started her life just two miles from our front door. What's more, her father, James Baker, was born, here in our village, as was his father and his father before. In fact, the Bakers have a history, right here, back to the late 1600s.

In 1896 Julia, aged 22, married my great grandfather, William George Gregory. Five years later they were living in Sway, in the New Forest, with their new daughter, my great aunt May. Six more children followed in the ensuing years, as the family moved about the county, taking up residence in a series of tied cottages. Agricultural work apparently lasted little more than a two year term with any one employer. Michaelmas seems to have been the point in the calendar when men openly declared themselves available for new work, usually by wearing an ear of wheat in their button-hole on market days.

Julia had a musical ear and taught herself to play the harmonium. Each week, the Sunday newspaper (I think it was the News of the World) printed the sheet music of a popular song of the day. Gathering around to listen and sing was the highlight of the week.

Having developed heart problems later in life, Julia died in 1940. William continued living on his own until ill health prompted my grandfather to take him in. The doctor gave him a few weeks at most. He recovered and stayed for nine years. There are no photographs of William but I have a clear mental image of him, thanks to family recollections. He wouldn't have his image 'taken'. I'm so glad that Julia took a different view.

More Sepia Saturday participants 

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sepia Saturday: Just William

My great grandfather, William Benjamin Butler was born in 1881 in Nutfield, Surrey, England. I know few details about him, other than what I've gleaned from various documents in the course of family history research. My grandmother had only vague memories of her father, and there was a level of reluctance to speak of him in conversation, for whatever reason.

I do know that, like his father before him, he was a groom, and my grandmother always maintained that she inherited his love of horses.

In 1901, he was living at 71, Lyall Mews West, London; a relatively short distance from where my great grandmother worked as a domestic servant in Bruton Street.

The circumstances of their courtship is unknown, but they were married in 1906 and five years later, they were living in a three room, tied house with their three year old daughter, Dorothy, in Kirk Langley, Derbyshire. William was now employed as a coachman.

In 1915, aged 34, William signed up to fight in the Great War. My grandmother and her twin brother were just two years old.

I've seen the beautifully embroidered postcards he sent back to his beloved Edith, from France, inscribed with sentimental longing. They are among my second cousin's most treasured possessions. I have a small shaving dish, passed to me by my grandmother, that is believed to have belonged to him during his time spent in the conflict.

In the photograph, taken on the Isle of Wight, William has the look of a confident young man. Dressed in, what is presumably, his groom's attire, he poses quite well for the camera of Mr Ernest A. Kime of 116, St James Street, Newport. Quite what he was doing on the Isle of Wight, is unclear. Even more of a mystery is why he would have had a studio photograph taken while dressed for work. Answers on a postcard?

He died in 1924. I haven't got around to buying a copy of his death certificate yet, but the family speculation is that he may have caught syphilis on his travels.

More Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Vaccinate or Procrastinate?

Apparently the swine flu vaccination for children under five is being put on hold because the British Medical Association and the government cannot agree a deal.

Excuse me, I thought, before reading the opening paragraph of the article once more, have I got this right? Doctors and politicians are arguing over contractual flexibility while that group of the population most likely to be hospitalised with swine flu is left to take its chances.

How can it be that the UK found itself at the head of the queue when the vaccine became available, managed to get the immunisation programme for other at-risk groups under-way quite easily, only to fail our young children?

If we're to believe what we read, politicians are stubbornly refusing to give doctors any latitude during this time of crisis; while doctors consider our little ones time-consuming and fear that the vaccination of three million children, under their present contract, would leave them out of pocket.

So instead of concentrating on breaking the impasse, the government will try to get around the problem by roping in other health workers to administer the jabs. Just a hole or two in that plan. First, the Health Secretary is talking about 'local' plans and 'local' agreements with health authorities, which could surely result in another postcode lottery. Secondly, many of the health workers would need extra training, as they will not have had any previous experience of vaccinating. How much will this cost?

The hope is to get things going before Christmas. Well, that's alright then. Some infants can look forward to receiving the gift of immunisation while others will have to be satisfied with what they get from the lucky dip.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Monday, 7 December 2009

Pink Stinks?

I was listening to an item on the radio this morning, about the 'pinkstinks' campaign. The pinkstinks website sums up the agenda neatly with this  statement, “PinkStinks is a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls' lives.”

I feel bound to say I have some sympathy, and I speak from our experiences with Speckly-Woo! She is a beautiful, bright, blonde three year old, and while her favourite colour is pink, an affinity for all things fluffy is conspicuous by its absence. She chose a wooden train set for her birthday present, and is in her element reconstructing episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine. She clings to my hands, scales my frame and demonstrates amazing powers of balance as she waves wildly from the summit of my shoulders.

She loves to paint and glue and make extraordinary meals from play-doh. Her best friend is Mary, a rag doll with striped legs and mad hair, who gets into any number of scrapes...and out again, courtesy of the Speckly-Woo! rescue service.

Speckly-Woo! is a happy little girl, finding her way in the world. She knows what she likes and we applaud her mum and dad for respecting her development without steering her into stereotypical territory.

She is happy with princesses and the like, but very selective. Her current favourites are Princess Fiona from Shrek and the hilarious Little Princess (see clip below).

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Our eldest granddaughter, aka Speckly-Woo! celebrated her 3rd birthday today. Things got off to a good start with her having a CBeebies presenter offer birthday greetings whilst holding up our daughter's card-making handiwork for all to see. Obviously a proud moment for us, on two fronts.

Then came the news that the poor little soul was running a high temperature and not showing any sign of the good appetite she normally has.

When we arrived for her birthday tea, complete with great grandmother, Speckly-Woo! had been asleep on the settee for over an hour, pale and limp, having sent the electronic thermometer into a red light reading.

After ten minutes or so, she stirred to life and eventually sat up, cross legged and wearily surveying her birthday visitors. Then she rallied a little and had a stab at unwrapping gifts, with intermittent cuddles from mummy.

We recalled a time when our own daughter was about two years old. It was mid-winter and we were living in a small Cornish cottage, built around 1860, with no heating in the upstairs rooms. At two in the morning we entered our little girl's bedroom to find her burning up, switching her head from side to side, hair saturated, muttering deliriously. Mags comforted her while I telephoned our doctor (yes, you could still call your duty doctor at any time out of hours then). It seemed like an age, but eventually he answered the call at his house, somewhere in the remote wilds of Bodmin Moor.

He listened intently as I gabbled the symptoms and requested a home visit, before advising me to calm down. So, I calmed down and listened.

“Place a cold compress on her forehead and try to get her to take some fluids,” he said.

I listened for further instructions but none came. “But she's delirious,” I explained.

“Of course she's delirious,” he answered, “you'd probably be delirious if you were running a high temperature.” He refrained to comment on the fact that I sounded far from lucid in any case.

He went on, “If there's no change in a couple of hours, call me again and I'll be straight out to you.”

The following two hours seemed like an eternity but, as is often the case with children, the fever subsided almost as quickly as it came. We never did make that second call.

The fact is, there's nothing like a sick child for bringing on a sense of helplessness in us. We'd rather be ill ourselves than see the little ones suffering. But these moments have a positive, and that is the reminder, if ever we needed one, of how so very precious our children and grandchildren are. We love you Speckly-Woo! Happy Birthday and get well soon.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges