Advantages it never hurts to look back, I did new things and met new relations
Disadvantages various ones, including losing two pets
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I keep getting woken up by the Pogues and Wham! on my sister’s stereo - I don’t think she’d be seen dead with an 80s CD in her room. My mum has been dropping subtle hints and not so subtle hints to my dad about how the hedge would be really nice with a few fairy lights in it. The fridge is packed with unusual groceries like double cream, selections of cheeses that we don’t usually eat and pickled onions. There are litre bottles of sherry in the cupboard and about twelve unopened bottles of J20 behind the kitchen door. I even spent this afternoon squeezing sausages out of their skin, rolling them in flour and pastry and then tried to find a sharp enough knife to slice the uncooked sausage rolls up . . . ended up waving metal about while I reacquainted the knife with my dad’s knife-sharpening steel thing. It can only mean one thing . . . it’s THAT time of year again. The one that precedes the nostalgic, what-have-we-done-with-ourselves-this-year. It’s also usually the point where I have to get my diaries out to remind myself . . . after all, you can pack a lot into twelve months!
The year started (as anyone who happened to see my first review of 2010) on the worst possible note when we had our thirteen year old cat Blue put to sleep on 2nd January. I actually collected her ashes because my parents spent almost all of the first five weeks of the year in Spain and when the vet phoned to say they were ready and - as stupid as it might sound - I didn’t like to leave her waiting in the vet’s until Mum and Dad came home. When our last cat Honey died in the late summer of 1996, I was almost twelve and she had been around for my entire life but in a way it was worse losing Blue because I could remember her right back from that same summer when she appeared to be a tiny, shy grey half-feral kitten . . . and then we got her home and discovered she had quite a vicious temper. She is still very much missed in our house and in fact it was only the other day that Mum and I were reminiscing about last Christmas when we gave her a bag and some tissue paper to play with and she had a fantastic time with it! She always loved a bag . . .It’s sort of fitting that, up here in the north west, we’re currently experiencing the same weather as a year ago - essentially, snow! - because it was like that until the middle of January 2010 and (after four weeks of white stuff on the ground) I remember getting well past the “Oh, isn’t it pretty? Where’s my camera?” reaction and into the “How much longer is it going to stay for?”. I don’t think it really helped considering the Blue had just gone because, working from home, I tended to avoid driving in the snow or ice if I could (still do, in fact!) and it even took me about ten days to get in the mood for the New Year sales. I also recall - dimly - that I may have given blood in January at some point. I think it was my twelfth unit . . . I’m not having much luck with the thirteenth, but I’ll come back to that.
I finally got to my first family history society committee meeting, after the January snow deferred it for a month. I didn’t know whether I’d be much good at that side of it when I first said I was interested but actually it’s turned out to be something I really enjoy. Although I did graphic design and photography at university, I hadn’t really had any opportunity to put my graphic skills to much practical use - in fact, most of the work I’ve done during my time of self-employment has involved textiles - and so, late in 2009, after one of the monthly talks somehow I was asked what I’d done at university (as well as whether I’d like to be involved in the committee) and I jumped at the chance. I do a couple of different voluntary things but this turned out to be the one that became most fulfilling and it’s meant I can put my “ideas brain” to some practical use, too!
It seems so long ago now that I’d almost forgotten it was this year, but I did have one memorable accident (so to speak) when I impaled myself with my sewing machine needle and had to have a tetanus jab . . . not because of the needle, but because the nurse in our health centre checked my records and found no evidence that I’d had more than two in my life to date (apparently you’re meant to have five!). What possessed me to go to help my Rainbow Guides group half an hour after the needle incident, I can’t say - it may possibly have been shock, but I’ve had better days than that one. On the notable side, February also marked twenty-five years since I came to live with my adoptive parents. We celebrated that by going for dinner at Huntley’s in Samlesbury . . . they do a fantastic range of ice cream there!
Sadly, I have very little recollection of doing anything at all in March - I don’t know why, but March always seems to be the month when I write least in my diary and such was the case this year. I suspect that part of the reason may have been the relentless quantities of embroidery work I had been undertaking. Late in 2009 I’d made a retrospectively bad decision to take on some commissions that I should have run a mile from and eventually it did begin to become repetitive. Trying to look at it objectively, I think the reason I got so little out of it was that I couldn’t “connect” with the work I was creating and I didn’t have much freedom to be particularly creative with it so it ended up being a project that I almost hated. I suppose it’s one of those situations where you have to make a mistake to realise why you should never do it again, but you can’t grasp exactly why you shouldn’t do it until you’ve been through it.
Being something of a disappointment not only to chocoholics the world over but also to myself (this is definitely one of those “How could you do that?” moments) I didn’t have an actual Easter egg this year. Maybe I’m too old for them in my mid-twenties but then again if the Vicar of Dibley can . . . ! I did, however, eat a lot of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs during Lent. (I have never given up chocolate for Lent in my life - clearly a Catholic primary school and a Catholic secondary school didn’t have that much influence. Or maybe they did? I always tended to go down the self-improvement route and vow to stop biting my nails . . . not that it actually stopped me.)With the help of my dad’s Garmin, I also found my way to Aintree Racecourse on 24th April (I’m more famous for my lack of any sense of direction whatsoever than I would like to be . . . my usual mutterings when I’m driving are to the effect of, “I know where I want to be but how do I get there?”) to help the family history society out. It was actually a crafts and hobbies fair so there were loads of textiles and scrapbooking/cardmaking type stands there and I was in my element. I even got chance to see the costumes from the film The Duchess . . . I haven’t seen the films, but the costumes really did give off an air of Georgian grandeur.
Back when I was at university, it occurred to me that - although a lot of people appeared to be researching a particular side of my mum’s family, and had put their research online - nobody was obviously seeking out my Hurst line and I decided it was time to remedy matters. Unfortunately web design is not amongst my talents, so I found a ready-built, fill-the-text-in-yourself kind of website builder (that was also free!) and got typing. Every now and then I get a query from someone who’s related or has spotted a name that looks familar and - quite out of the blue - in late 2008 I was contacted by a distant cousin on my dad’s side. It turned out that we had a mutual ancestor, born in 1779, but this living descendent was in America. We exchanged research and then, in April, they e-mailed to say they’d be visiting Lancashire and I met up with them twice, had chance to see inside churches that I’d only ever seen the exteriors of and saw places I didn’t even know existed. Every time I think about it, I can’t help wonder what that eighteenth century ancestor would have made of two descendants from different continents meeting up just because one of them put something online and the other one found and made e-mail contact.
I also (finally) received my BBC Dig In seeds - I watched The Edible Garden this year and, as far back as January, I’d been planting flower seeds in the conservatory, just hoping that they’d get going. Considering that my approach to gardening is basically, “plant seeds, water them, put them somewhere warm and hope for the best” I was delighted that I ended up with something resembling a border round one of our beds in the garden - I grew sunflowers, sweet peas, courgettes, cut-and-come-again lettuce, radish, garden peas and French beans amongst other things and the only thing that didn’t really take was my beetroot. (The shoots looked promising but nothing happened.) So that’s definitely something I’ll be doing next year.
When our cat Blue was put to sleep in January, it was less than a fortnight after my cousins became parents for the second time so - in June - we got up at some insanely early hour and headed off to Surrey (there and back in the day from Lancashire, unbelievably!) for the christening of their baby girl (who was then six months old). Although I was twenty-five at the time I’d never held a baby standing up before - usually I sit down in case I drop them - but one of my other cousins asked if I wanted to hold her so I just took her without thinking much about how to do it and she seemed perfectly happy being held. Actually, she was really patient all day and hardly cried at all, although it must have been a long and puzzling day for her with all those new faces.Taking a craft stall at a two-day steam fair in mid-June, I remember getting the distinct impression that I wouldn’t be able to depend on it even as an occasional source of income. (I think I sold just enough stock to cover my stall fees, and people didn’t want to part with their money, so this year I’ve formed the opinion that - if people were in a kind of “recession denial” last year - this year shoppers are clinging on to their cash with both hands. I can’t say I blame them, though - I’m doing exactly the same thing, but as I was still self-employed then it was pretty depressing to see so few people buying things when in other years I know I would have had at least a bit more money when I went home from a fair.) Right at the end of the month, I also attempted to donate blood only to learn that my iron levels were far too low for me to do it so any further attempts won’t be before June 2011 - I’ve been deferred for a year!
On the brighter side of creativity, after around three months of preparation, research, typing, editing and general sorting-out of statistical things like the size of the print run and what stamps to buy, the thirtieth of June marked the day that my first family history society magazine was collected from the printers, packed up and posted - I remember it being very hot and humid, and also that I was on a serious natural high that day. (I’m not normally that giggly and buoyant, mood-wise, but I really felt like I’d achieved something that day - I almost feel like it was my first “baby”.) And when I got home there was a bright pink flower on my sweet peas, too!
On request, I used my artistic side for another promotional family history venture - if someone had told me when I left university that, three years on, I’d be machine embroidering a five-foot banner made of bright blue material for people to actually display in public, I think I would have laughed at them. (I must admit, though, once it was up it really did look eye-catching!) Because I’m a Rainbow Guides helper, I also got chance to join in with some of the Girlguiding centenary celebrations and the second Saturday in July included about an hour of learning how to play African drums with my hands . . . amongst other things I discovered that I have no sense of rhythm whatsoever.July being the time of year that it is, I also remember battling it out against driving rain trying to pick blackcurrants one weekend and later on in the month I wandered down to Sainsbury’s, bought several bags of sugar and managed to produce ten jars of blackcurrant jam. I don’t know many other twenty-somethings that have tried to make jam . . . come to that, I don’t think I know any! . . . but they came out reasonably well in the end. Edible, anyway.
My strongest memories of the month however are summed up in three words . . . “Lathom Park Chapel”. Yet another family history thing, this was one of our outside trips and I came very close to not making it there at all. On the Friday before I did something only I could do in the height of summer and came down with a seriously bad cold . . . I must have been ill because James Martin was on Saturday Kitchen that weekend and I still went back to bed! After much debate with myself I resolved that I wouldn’t miss the Lathom trip and that I was going even if it floored me for another three days, so on the twenty-eighth Dad’s sat-nav and I went down the motorway and (after it had announced “arriving at destination on left” half a mile too soon) actually had a pretty good night. One of the more surprising things I saw was a double manual organ (one with two keyboards) where the keys were white on black, instead of the usual black on white. There’s been a chapel on that site since the 1500s and I was most impressed that the windows had been designed by a female member of the Stanley family when she was just twenty-one - it sort of shatters the vision of girls doing nothing but sewing in bygone days.
I’m not sure when I last went on holiday - I think it must have been Spain in 2007 - so my mum and dad and I embarked on a tour of various places in Scotland for a few days. (My sister didn’t come but then again, historic palaces and churches aren’t her thing at all.) My camera must have wondered what had hit it because I took well over 300 photos and saw some really unexpected things - an all-white peacock and a child-sized sedan chair at Scone Palace, a bridesmaid dress from the late Queen Mother’s wedding, Highland calves, Dunfermline Abbey and even the birthplace of JM Barrie in Kirriemuir. It was a packed few days but it was more than worth it for the memories - especially the shop sign in Braemar that read “Locally Caught Haggis Sold Here” . . . where am I going to see another one of those?In between all that I learnt that being a magazine editor (even just a voluntary one) involves a lot of organisation and frankly managed to scare myself by planning out my second family history society magazine nearly three months ahead of the sorting date. Writing articles is relatively easy . . . getting the details right for an outside event that you hope people will come to because they’ve seen it in the “What’s On” section of a magazine is much more complex! It got sorted in the end, though - in between my radish harvest, cropping lettuce (or sometimes just picking it straight out of the soil and eating it) and my job interviews that came to nothing (although at least I did get interviews - I’ve applied for some jobs this year and never heard anything back at all . . .)
At some point either just before or just after my birthday I decided to close my business. I didn’t really want to but that was the point where, with no obvious end to the time-consuming machine embroidery in sight, I felt I needed to gain a bit of control over my work. With no other commissions (the really problematic thing, which has since taught me that you should always keep your options open, was that I’d spent so much time on one project that I’d had no time to attend craft fairs where I could promote my work) it seemed like the only realistic option. I fully intend to go back to being a working artist one day but for now I’m looking on my art work as a way to pass the time. If I do anything with it, it’ll be a bonus.
I did have some good moments in September, though - I was puzzled as to why a lady from the Merseyside branch of Connexions got talking to me at an event where the family history society had booked a table . . . I always forget that I don’t look my age, and I only realised this when she asked how old I was (presumably expecting me to say “Seventeen” or “Eighteen”, I suppose) and I had to rather sheepishly admit, “Well, actually I’ll be twenty-six on Saturday”. Being five feet nothing has its good sides!
For two Saturdays in October, I was in some kind of gainful employment . . . for two five-hour shifts and an additional five-hour training shift, at least. At the end of the second, my supervisor asked if they could have a word and I had a feeling I wasn’t about to be paid any compliments. They didn’t want me to come back in - their reasoning was that I hadn’t got the hang of it during my trial period (of two shifts) but personally I don’t think I got enough guidance or training so maybe it was just as well I didn’t have to stay there. I would have liked more of a chance to get used to what I was doing (given that, although it’s not that technical, I haven’t ever worked behind a bar before) because I reckoned that whether I enjoyed a job or not, at least it was a source of income and I like to call myself the “relentless optimist” so I was prepared to stick at it until I knew what I was doing. At a loose end I got my acrylics out of the garage, found a couple of photos for inspiration and started painting again . . . which is why I’ve got a painting of St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Scarisbrick and another of the almshouses at Lathom Park Chapel upstairs in the study cupboard.October was also notable for being the month when I learnt how to make Ormskirk gingerbread, from an 1894 recipe that I found during research for my second . . . my excuse was, it was being posted in November but would also cover Christmas and everybody eats too much at Christmas so it seemed right to put something about food in. My dad then said (being as much of a cake and biscuit person as I am) I should try making some - they all got eaten!
I get a bit carried away by the scenery if it’s interesting when I’m driving and, for variety, I sometimes like to make my now fairly frequent trips to Ormskirk via the road that goes up and down Parbold Hill (it’s is quite steep and I think it’s sneaky that they’ve put a speed camera just on the downward slope!) but I was in a particularly good mood driving along to get to my magazine sorting, packing and posting day when I realised just how glorious the autumn colours were. I don’t know why I love autumn - I certainly miss the sunshine and the colours since the frost, snow and ice arrived at the end of November - but I vowed to take my beloved camera out with me on my second trip down the M6 the following Saturday, and I did.
I like helping out with the family history society things because I’m slowly developing more knowledge of the area and that never hurts if people ask you questions, so maybe that was how I ended up getting to Rufford Old Hall a whole hour before anyone else and had to take myself for a walk to kill some time. I have fond memories of that day - it might have been cold but it was a good day out - and I also have some bizarre memories too. On a wander round after being granted “coffee and tea leave”, I and another committee member had the curious experience of being asked by a member of the Sealed Knot (in full costume) whether we knew what time battle commenced. An equally odd moment came when I glanced out of the window of the room we’d been given and saw a woman and child, also in period clothing, walking down the path outside. I’m sure it was 1645 out there!The one truly baffling thing I’ll remember about this November is the snow. When I was much younger (way back in the mists of time in the 1990s!) it used to snow in January or February - in fact, I remember staying in Rutland Water one February half term in the early 1990s when my dad, my sister and I wanted to go swimming because Mum had to dig us out of the driveway to get to Oakham - yet now we seem to be getting white Christmasses more and more often. I really can’t work it out!
Clinging firmly to the principle that you can never be too old for an Advent calendar, while the weather was being frankly confusing and relentless (yet again, as I did last year, I keep swinging between “Doesn’t the sunset make the snow look pretty?” moods and “When is this snow going to clear off?” ones), I decided that - if I was to have an Advent calendar this year - I wanted something more substantial than the microscopic bits you get in shop-bought ones. So I’ve made my own! Chain-stitching the numbers by hand took forever but being able to fit a treat-sized Cadbury’s Caramel into each pocket has to be some sort of compensation.
There has been rather an eerie mirror-image of last Christmas this year. I’ve already mentioned that Blue had to be put to sleep in January and - although we started this year with three pets - we’re ending it with one. We were asked to look after our King Charles, Molly, for a few days in May 2000 (a change that Blue hated, I must note - she thought nothing of hanging over a chair and swiping poor Molly with a paw) and, although we were never sure how old she was, we knew by this year that she was undoubtedly elderly. Like Blue (strangely, because they were each other’s nemesis!) it was a surprise just how rapidly the end came - Molly was keeping on going about as well as any dog would until about a week ago. Although I didn’t see it, she had a kind of fit the other morning and had been unsteady on her legs for some time so yesterday morning Mum and Dad took her to the vet for the final time and it does feel very strange that she isn’t there. Nobody is scratching at the door to be let in, nobody is hoovering up the bread that has been put out for the birds, nobody was asleep when we came in from shopping only to get up five minutes later (she was pretty deaf, I think - we always said that, if Molly was left to guard the house, any burglars would have half-emptied it before she woke up). The reason I say this year is mirroring last year is that, just before last Christmas, we heard of two babies being born and then we lost Blue. The day before Molly went, we heard that another of my cousins is pregnant and another family friend is expecting one any day now. It’s the sort thing that somehow seems too uncanny for words.
It’s been a strange year, now I think it over. There have been good bits, bad bits, things I really didn’t want to happen, things I wish had turned out differently. I’ve been to places I’ve never visited, walked round the inside of churches that I’ve only seen from the outside, met distant cousins from thousands of miles away that I would never have known about. I’ve finally found something that I can do with my graphics skills and I’ve rediscovered my ability to paint in acrylics.Just lately I’ve had an idea that I might start doing family tree research for people so, amongst the grand plans to grow vegetables next year, I’m also going to do some background work and planning on that. On a positive economic side, I’m also pleased to say that the high street where I live is finally starting to look a bit fuller. Admittedly there are still shops closing and there are others that baffle me completely because they never seem to be open so I can’t tell whether they’re in business or not, but - piece by piece - there are new shops (and existing businesses moving into bigger shops) so I just hope it’s going to get better. I reckon it’s got potential . . .
[Footnote - I've filled in the specific criteria for this one at random because most options don't really apply.]
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