Hello, Grandfather!

If he was still alive, my maternal grandfather would have been 116 years old.

However, he died from tuberculosis in November, 1932 at the very young age of 34 and long before I was born. Consequently, I never knew him, and what I knew about him was very, very little.

That he was an American serviceman, that he and my grandmother married in London in 1918, and that they had one child, a daughter, my mother. They moved to his home in America, but the marriage failed and my grandmother returned to England with my mother, still a baby.

This is all I knew from my grandmother who rarely mentioned him. From the little she said, I had a mental image of a feckless, scruffy individual, stocky, with a thick mop of unruly hair.

With a surname like Kelly, trying to find more information about him through the genealogy sites was extremely difficult, and consuming time that I had to dedicate elsewhere, so I had relegated it to the bottom of other projects. But I had always wanted to know more about him. A friend who really knows her way around genealogy offered to do some research for me, and within an hour I was looking at his photograph and knew a lot more about him that I ever expected.

Here he is:

Vincent Allen Kelly

Vincent Allen Kelly

It was an emotional moment, and revealed nothing like the villainous scamp I imagined. I think he’s a handsome devil, mature for a 22-year-old, looks very Irish, and reminds me of Jeremy Paxman and Sean Penn.

I’m so grateful to the lovely Jenny Warren for the effort she has put into this.

And there may yet be more to come about Vincent Kelly, or should I say Frederick Mannering? 😉

Slumming by choice

The recent news about the hotel in Blackpool that fined a couple £100 for leaving a negative review started me thinking.

Over the years we have been fortunate to stay in some of the world’s top-class hotels and luxury resorts, and only one has left any lasting memory.

That was at the Dorchester many years ago, at a company function. We were booked into a large suite. I woke in the middle of the night, disorientated and needing the bathroom. But I couldn’t find a bedside light, and the thick curtains blocked out any ambient light from the road. There was not a glimmer anywhere. I climbed out of bed and began tapping my way around the walls, trying to find a light switch, panic growing by the second. I ran my hands up and down, from left to right, round in circles, patting and panting, until I found a door handle. Ah! I turned the handle. The door stayed shut. I groped for a key. There was no key. I tried the handle again. Nothing. (By the way, all this time TOH was sleeping like a baby.)

Hysteria replaced panic. I shook, kicked and pounded on the door with my fists, screaming: “Let me OUT, you bastards. Let me OUT!”

A slice of light appeared around the edge of the door, and a voice shouted: “Shut up and go to sleep, you bloody stupid woman.” The door I had found communicated not with the corridor, but with the adjoining suite. dorchester

TOH finally woke up, switched on the bedside light, and steered me back to bed, where I slept with the light on for the rest of the night.

There was also the unfortunate incident at the Gatwick Hilton where TOH locked himself out of the room stark naked, in a brightly-lit corridor overlooking the atrium, but I wouldn’t describe the Gatwick Hilton as a luxury hotel, so it doesn’t count.

But in general, my only recollections of luxury holidays is that they were luxurious. Clean bed linen. Comfy furniture. On the other hand, we’ve stayed in some pretty slummy places, and can still look back and remember the experiences with amusement. When travelling I’m wanting lasting experiences, not ethereal moments that are soon forgotten.

At a small hotel somewhere in Wales, many years ago, the bed was more like a hammock, with a huge dip in the middle, so we had to tip the bed on its side to leave space to put the mattress onto the floor.

In a shabby hotel in Andorra the bed was similarly saggy, so we took the doors off the wardrobe and put them under the mattress to give it some rigidity. The hotel had assured us they catered for vegetarians, and served us hard-boiled eggs for every meal, for 10 days, culminating in the New Year’s Eve special – a vast bowl of mashed potato with six eggs sticking up out of it. For each of us. 😀 The same hotel’s floors were bare concrete and children ran up and down shrieking from the early hours of the morning until TOH leapt out of bed and shouted at them, leading to their parents glaring at us and emanating hostility for the next week.

Driving through France at night many years ago on our way back from Spain, we came off the motorway in search of somewhere to stay the night. After following a road for several miles, we saw a sign indicating ‘chambres‘ eight miles further on. We arrived in a small and dismal village, where the only sign of life was a somewhat grubby little bar/café. We asked the tired-faced and wild-haired lady behind the counter if she knew where we could find a room for the night. She took a key from a shelf and beckoned us to follow her up some dingy stairs. She trudged down a narrow corridor and pushed open a door into a room that contained a double bed, a mirror, and a bidet with a sliver of soap perched on the edge. We looked in dismay, but as it was almost midnight we knew that we would not find anywhere else out here in the middle of nowhere. At least the sheets were clean.

I asked if there was a bathroom. She nodded and led us up another flight of stairs. On the way up we met a cheery man coming down who winked and clicked his tongue as he passed. The bathroom was spotless and gave no indication that it had ever been used.

In the far-ago days when TOH used to race his airplane, we were staying on the Isle of Wight for the Schneider Trophy race. Normally for these weekends accommodation was arranged for competitors, crew and committee in quality hotels, but there was nowhere large enough to accommodate everybody together on the island except for the local holiday camp, where the pimply lad on reception greeted an Air Vice-Marshall with “Hello mate, what can I do for you?” 😀

Breakfast had to be ordered at dinner time the previous evening. Dinner was served at 6.30pm. Our quarters were a tiny room, where the kettle was perched on top of a wardrobe and you had to stand on the bed to reach it. We had been asked by the media to take our dogs with us for a documentary they were filming. Our dogs were extremely well-behaved and quiet. Unfortunately there was a difficult person staying nearby who was offended that the camp’s “No dogs” rule was being flouted, albeit with the prior agreement of the camp. This wretched little man complained continually until the staff were forced to try to evict us just before midnight.

First came the receptionist, then the manager, and when we still refused to vacate our miserable little box, the police arrived. They said they would take the dogs to the police compound for the night, and loaded them into their van. The dogs promptly leapt into the front seat, while TOH had a stand-up row with management and police, and insisted on removing the dogs from the van. Had the horrible little man only gone back to his room, we could have quietly returned to ours and had a few hours sleep. But no, he stood his ground and would not be swayed. The rules said “No dogs”, and he wasn’t going to bed until the dogs were removed from the premises.

Eventually a compromise was reached. We were re-located for the remains of the night from the box to one of the new bungalows that had not yet been open for the public.  So ya boo sucks, Mr Misery. Next day we were rehomed in a small hotel where we were given a four-poster bed and the staff looked after the dogs while we went out for dinner.

On a package holiday to one of the Greek islands, the guests in the adjoining room were Italians who returned in the early hours and stood talking and laughing in the corridor. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that one of them had put the key into the lock of their door. The key had a tennis ball sized wooden knob on it. While they talked and laughed, the keyholder turned the key backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, with the wooden knob banging rhythmically on the door in time to the key clicking in the lock. After 20 minutes of this, TOH had had enough. Springing naked from bed and launching himself into the corridor, he yelled at them to “SHUT UP!” Silence fell, and they all tiptoed into their rooms. And for the rest of our stay we could hear them coming back every night, whispering and tiptoeing. 😀

Don’t for a moment think I don’t enjoy a little luxury from time to time. I do! But all I’ll remember is yes, it was lovely and the food was great. I won’t recall what we ate, but I’ll always remember those Andorran hard-boiled eggs. 😀

An antidote to grimness

I’ve just finished reading Paris Trout by Pete Dexter, winner of the 1988 National Book Award. It’s a bleak story of a wealthy man without a conscience, who murders a little black girl and abuses his wife, and believes that his money can buy him out of trouble. The tension builds slowly but steadily. There’s a constant hint of a forthcoming cataclysm, but it’s a long time coming. Paris Trout is one of the least likeable fictional characters I’ve come across, but I found the story compulsive and read it over four nights. The shocking ending left me gloomily satisfied.

For a change of tone, I began reading Confessions of a Turtle Wife by Anita Salzberg. Since buying a Kindle I’ve become ruthless with my reading choices. Once I would plod through a paperback because having bought it I felt I should finish it. Now, with 751 titles loaded on the Kindle and the knowledge I will never be able to read them all (particularly as I continue adding to them), if I’m not enjoying them pretty quickly, ping, button pressed, title deleted. Life is too short to finish a book you are not enjoying. Discarded titles lie in a virtual heap all over the floor.

Before getting up this morning, I flicked open the Turtle Wife intending to read the first few paragraphs to see whether it was destined for a ping or not. It was only the insistent moans of Tommy and the clicking of his claws on the tiles an hour later that dragged me downstairs to feed him, by which time I was a quarter of a way through the book and laughing out loud non-stop.


It is the matter of fact, deadpan narrative that makes this such a funny read. As Anita’s new husband Allen the turtleholic acquires ever more turtle-friends, Anita takes it all in her stride. Turtles in the kitchen; turtles in the bath; turtles trundle free-ranging around the apartment laying eggs and small smelly deposits on the carpet. Twenty-gallon tanks and associated maintenance equipment occupy the kitchen shelves. Astroturf is laid in the apartment for the comfort of the turtles. People turn up day and night with unwanted or injured turtles as Allen takes on the job of Turtle Adoption Committee representative for New York.

They visit a man who has more than 1,000 turtles, and whose basement is ‘to turtle people what Canterbury was to Chaucer’s pilgrims,’ and his imperturbable wife ‘the Mother Teresa of turtle wives.’

Going on vacation is always a problem. Some turtles can go with them (yes!), but those left behind need a level of attention that would challenge an Intensive Care Unit. Turtles know what they want and how to get it. Tulip, the Malayan box turtle won’t eat unless she’s wrapped in a towel and sung to while being rocked in a rocking chair for half an hour. It looks as if tiny Omni has been eaten by the cat.

Then there’s the Turtle Roundup and the Turtle Show where eccentric turtle-owners bring their pets in a variety of strange clothing ranging from sombreros to suspenders.

For a turtleholic, nothing is too much trouble to ensure the care and comfort of their charges. ‘…  it went everywhere in its own customized traveling bag, complete with indoor-outdoor carpeting, hot water bottle, miniature sleeping bag and mini heating pad.’ One owner played thunderstorm tapes for her box turtle, one bought a miniature Christmas tree each year for hers. And so on.

There’s also the more serious aspect of illicit importation of turtles, their welfare, and the destruction of turtle habitat.

Well, from this you may be able to guess that I am totally hooked on this book! So it’s bye for now while I dive back into the world of turtlemania. And no, I do not plan on getting a turtle, before you ask.

PS. Many years ago I kept two small terrapins. My mother-in-law at the time was highly critical in case the children swallowed one because, she said, there had been a recent report in an Italian newspaper of a child who had swallowed a terrapin that lived in its stomach, and the child was growing up to look like one.


Do not let your child swallow a terrapin



Colour, croaks, scurrying feet and the watchful eye

Summer was late arriving this year, but to compensate it lingered long. Despite the mid-November date, we are enjoying many warm sunny days and cloudless blue skies.

Yesterday evening when we walked the dogs it was still mild at 5.30, and the sunset was astounding, like a laser display in tones of gold, dove-grey and pink, blazing, fading, rekindling itself and splashing the skies with streaks that morphed as we watched them, and throwing golden lights onto the tops of the trees in the valley. We didn’t have our cameras with us. I am always left unsatisfied by photos of sunsets, no matter how vibrant. It’s their constantly changing shape and colour that fascinates me, something a static image cannot capture.

There is plenty of colour in the garden. The gingko and liquidambar trees I planted 10 years ago are aglow, wearing their most vivid gladrags; the roses are slightly battered, sharing their stems with hips, but unbowed; the cosmos is still vibrant, the nasturtiums and honeysuckle flourishing too.


Autumn rose




Virginia creeper


Liquidambar leaves


Reclining walnut tree at Hedgehog Hill










Tiny fungi

I’ve been raking up the fallen leaves and putting them at the end of the garden beneath the walnut tree – the one blown over in the great storm of 1999, which despite being knocked flat on its side has flourished and grown upwards. Unless you look at the original trunk that now lies horizontal to the ground, you’d never know. Beneath the tree is a patch of ivy and brambles, and that is where the hedgehogs hang out. The dead leaves will give them cover during their hibernation, and provide a source of food for the insects that will provide food for them when they emerge from their winter rest. And as the leaves decompose they will supply nourishment to the walnut tree that supplies us with a crop of nuts. I don’t understand why people burn leaves.

Indoors I can hear the constant scampering of tiny feet coming from the loft. The noise they make must be – I believe – disproportionate to the size of their owners; because if not, it must be a herd of goats bashing the floorboards as they run around doing whatever it is they do up there.

Last night it was midnight when the cranes passed overhead, their haunting voices eerie in the darkness, and the familiar lump rose in my throat and my eyes did their involuntary watering at the thought of the long journey these birds undertake every year of their lives.

And through all the seasons, for who knows how many years, out in the field the unblinking oak tree eye watches ……. It looks as if at one time the tree forked, and this branch was cut. The tree is estimated to be at least 400 years old. I’ve always loved the ‘eye’, which makes the branch look rather like a large, friendly snail, don’t you think?


The oak tree’s eye

Misleading leads to misunderstanding

So, justifying my optimism that there was a solution, and confounding my pessimism that it would not be found, the RAM saga has ended happily. For those who have an interest in such things, here is the explanation. For those who don’t, you can stop reading now.

The existing 3 go. of RAM in the computer was in two modules, both of which are the same size physically, but one supplies 2 go. of memory and the other supplies 1 go. of memory

The idea was to remove the 1 go. module and replace it with a new 2 go module, giving a total RAM of 4 go. But as mentioned in the previous post, that did not work. The computer declared that it only had 1 go. of RAM.

The first attempt to rectify the situation consisted of ramming reseating the new 2 go module back into its slot, and the result was an improvement – 3 go. of RAM now found, bringing us back to square one and still leaving 1 go. AWOL.

Let me ask a question.

If you had two objects before you, indistinguishable except that one carried a reference “1” and the other was marked “2”, would you logically expect the numbers to be indicative of their capacity? If so, in this instance, you would be wrong.


Because the module marked “2” only supplied 1 go. of RAM, while the module marked “1” supplied 2 go. Geddit?

So with the new 2 go module rammed reseated, and the original “2” that was actually 1 replaced with the original “1”that was actually 2, we achieved the desired 4.

Oh never mind.

Why do things never work?

Some people are optimists, and some are pessimists.

I fall between the two. Mostly I’m optimistic, but when it comes to anything vaguely technical, or electrical, I’m a pessimist. Not because I expect things not to work, but because I know from experience that they won’t.

No matter how carefully, methodically I follow instructions from start to finish, step by step, when it comes to “Click here to complete installation,” I know damned well there will not be anything there to click, or if there is clicking will cause smoke to billow, or blow all the fuses in the house. And that’s a fact.

Therefore it comes as no surprise when the RAM upgrade for my laptop fails to upgrade.

Lightroom running on 3 go really struggles, and to export a photo I have to close down all programmes, restart Lightroom, export the photo, and restart everything again. For each photo. Which is tiresome and time consuming.

So I am pleased to find that the 3 go can be upgraded to 4 go. No more than that – it’s an old 32-bit machine but adequate for everything – except Lightroom.

And I speak to the Dell RAM suppliers and ascertain the exact, precise 2 go. RAM module necessary to replace the 1 go. module, and order it, and am thrilled when it arrives. And pessimistic that it will work.

As usual, my pessimism is totally justified. After following all the steps to replace the module, so that 4 go. are now firmly snapped into place, I restart the computer.

And how much RAM do you think it finds?

1 Go.

That’s right – instead of adding memory, it has subtracted it. What was 3 and should now be 4 is instead 1.

Surprised? No.

Frustrated. Yes.


I am optimistic there is a solution somewhere.

And pessimistic that I’ll find it.