Digging up the Past

Have you ever watched Time-team and thought ‘I’d like a go at that!’

Last year the Liskeard Poetry Group were invited – as poets – to attend an archaeological dig near St. Neot – with a view to writing poetry inspired by what we saw. So a few of us, mostly at different times and on different days, headed down the narrow (and very narrow) lanes to the site. I wrote three poems inspired by this event and which, with the poems from others, were published in a booklet.

It was expected that they would be digging in a bronze-age enclosure – as acquired archaeological wisdom said that by the iron-age these sites, on the high moorland, were abandoned.
By the time I attended – they knew they were working on what was an iron-age site.
None of this is important to today’s blog – except to say Archaeology is always turning up evidence that turns the ‘perceived’ way of the history around.
AND – whilst observing and drinking in the atmosphere – I thought ‘I’d like to do this!’

So, when I noticed that the dig at the nearby Calstock Roman fort was inviting community support in the terms of people prepared to spend anything from a week to four weeks, sitting on the ground and carefully scraping it away to reveal … whatever there was to be found.
I signed up for a week! And was accepted!

A little about this dig – to set the scene.

Twelve years ago no-one knew there was a Roman Fort in Calstock. The archaeological team from Exeter University were working on information relating to the medieval silver mines on the opposite bank of the Tamar at Bere Ferrers, when they went looking up on this hill, near the Parish Church, for the smelting works and the administrative buildings recorded in documents from the late thirteenth century. They did a geophysical survey in pasture below the churchyard – and were amazed to find a large Roman Fort!
Until then the Roman presence in Cornwall was thought to consist only of two forts one at Restomel on the Fowey and the other at Nanstallon on the Camel – guarding important river crossing points on both rivers. Both of these – though almost opposite each other on the narrower part of the peninsula – are a long, long way from Calstock, Which is just on the Cornwall side of the River Tamar … about at its highest navigable point – and a possible crossing point.

I loved the description of what you needed to bring/wear/ for the dig. Wet weather coat / trousers / stout boots / sun hat / sun-lotion  – lunch and a chair. i.e. Be equipped for anything the British summer can throw at you! Oh! And make sure you are up-to-date on your tetanus injections!

Day one – Monday: The forecast as recently as a week ago had been for a dry week. Monday dawned damp and threatening rain. I was glad had dug out two sets of wet-weather coats and trousers (one set as a back-up pair) hiking boots and water-proof gardening gloves over the weekend. 

The gaggle of newbies was introduced to the archaeologists working there – so we knew who was who, and who were other amateurs. Already the volunteers who were working more than one week were out on the ground, looking very professional and at home.

We were then given an overview of what this dig was trying to accomplish – and in this case, it was to gather all and any information from this section of land that was just outside the West wall of the Roman fort – and that was due to become the extension to the Calstock churchyard which it abutted on to.

The whole site had had the general swathe of top-soil removed and heaped around the edges. However, there was still some to remove until the, potentially, Roman remains would be found.

Quite quickly we were set in a line to begin clearing back down to the ‘grey’ – to the change in soil colour, in one un-worked corner of the site.

Our tools: Bucket, kneeling mat, small trowel, brush and shovel – and lots of elbow grease. It was my theory that we were to to work on shifting lots of ‘unimportant’ soil so that by the time we were given something else to work on, that might matter, our arms would be aching and we’d go slower  😉 (the kneeling mat supplied was the green one in this picture – I’d also brought the gardening one with ‘arms’ with me. Very useful for getting up off of your knees again!)

A hole of our own to dig in.

However – before we knew it, we were each given an area to dig ourselves. Though most of these were not thought to be something that might bear a lot of interest, as they though most were in a line of a ditch and bank created to border a field at some time, and then left to collapse or pushed down and ploughed over.

The first step was marked out by the archaeologists – who also marked it on a plan and gave it a number. We were then told to work our way down in layers, removing the infill – scraping, checking, putting the spoil in buckets and tipping the spoil way up on the heaps at the sides.

Lunchtime came, pleasant chatter in the tent-like shelter – then back to work … the dark clouds gathered … and from a few heavy drops as warning … we were soon running for shelter from a torrential downpour.

Huddling under the shelter we waited – with the archaeologists nipping out to assess the situation whenever it eased little bit

Eventually they said – that as all the holes were full of water – we’d have to call it a day and resume tomorrow. [photo shows post holes, excavated the previous week – water logged]

Tuesday.  Straight back into the work. I was amazed how much the ground had absorbed and dried up. The soil in the infill, however, was now sticky and would not brush. The whole morning went by, scraping, always watching every scrape, pushing the earth onto the shovel with the trowel, watching as it went, then last glance as I was tipping it into the bucket – repeat … empty the bucket… repeat all.

[photo shows various sections taken out along the line of the ditch and bank]
By the end of the day my knees knew what I’d been up to. As did my back. But I had essentially finished, the hole was scraped down to the dug-out bedrock from side to side, and vertically at each end of my section. Photographs were taken… and it was time to pack up for the day.

Wednesday. I was introduced to how to draw and measure the section that had been taken out.

The line was place taut and straight with the top of the soil. On this was hung a level, and the nails holding the line adjusted until it showed it was level.

Then came ‘the taking of the measurement above sea-level’. This was done using a theodolite which had already been zeroed on a peg set in at the edge of the site. With one person supporting the measuring pole, keeping it vertical by means of a bubble in a ring-sight – and the other sighting on it using the binocular sights – and within those the centre cross of three – the number was read off. Once it had been assured the theodolite had not been moved since it was set up – the person carrying the measuring pole moved to ‘balance’ the pole on the string line above the soil at the site of the hole. Readings taken – and some mathematical jiggery-pokery – and they could pinpoint the height above sea level of the top of my section of the digging. From this line I then had to write down the measurements to the top of the soil – at 10 cm distances. Then repeat the exercise – this time measuring the bottom of the hole at each point – or sometimes more frequently, if the line was a steep decline or incline.

This made a profile of the face of the infill. If there had been stones, or anything of note (except roots) these would have been sketched in.

The whole process was then repeated for the other side of the section cut. All these were cross-referenced by the section number and the sheet numbers and anything else that would mean they could link together photographs, drawings, and the plans.

This took almost all day!

Shortly before the end of the day, however, I was sent to help on a different part of the site – where a similar trench was being cleaned out – there I joined two other volunteers, one very experienced, the other, a newbie, like me – until the end of the day.


The other newbie, Judy, and I started on the same section in the morning, but we soon reached a point where we went off to find an archaeologist to tell us what to do – as it was obvious that the section we were working on was about to join a different feature coming in from the side.

We were then set to create a ‘relationship trench’ which would show any relationship between the two, or three, features. A ‘feature’ just meant something that showed as darker earth in the grey-slatey natural soil.

There was the original trench we were working on – which looked like it continued past these other features. Then there was a narrow, slightly curved, shallow trench coming in at almost right-angles from the side and, just before it met our wider trench, a just over semi-circular patch abutting it which they called ‘the pit’ though it was only about the size of a tea-plate. We were to cut half-way through this, across the narrow trench to the mid-point, then take a sharp right-angle and go down the length of the narrow trench and right across the full width of the wide trench.

The archaeologist scraped back the surface to see the edges of the feature before putting in the nails and strings – stopped – picked up a piece of black stone the size of my little finger-nail, rubbed it – and said – ‘Hmm, worked flint!’ And it was, a micro-lith – tiny knapped edge and all! Well, that was guaranteed to make sure we looked carefully at every scraping!

The rest of the day Judy and I worked on these sections, and left it hoping it wouldn’t rain too much and fill our work with mud – as it was in the lower part of the site.


I couldn’t believe it was Friday already. If I hadn’t already been booked up with lots of other jobs to get done I would have gladly worked on – and apparently – I would have been welcome to do so – even though not booked in. Note this for next year!

Our relationship trench was in fairly good order in the morning – in fact it was harder to work as the ground had dried out – but easier to brush – as it wasn’t so claggy.

All the Photographs had to be taken, and listed in the book – the direction, the faces, the section numbers. An Archaeology student came and fixed the lines straight and level – as in photo above. Then the measurements, above sea –level and from the lines had to be done. Though this went quicker with two of us doing it. The drawing was slightly different as we had to show what was actually two faces at right angles to each other – in one continuous line – with a dotted line and a symbol to show where it took a right-hand turn. (drawing below)

The quality and colour of the soil in the ‘pit’ was different from the narrow trench it abutted. The narrow trench did not quite break through into the wider trench – there being a small rise as a lip between them.

There was a very narrow darker line travelling diagonally across the area ending at the tiny ‘pit’. I longed to investigate it … but our time was almost at an end.

I looked round the site at what else was being found and what else was going on. Big questions about the unusual diggings near the Roman road into the West gate of the fort were in the air … exciting possibilities … and the possibility of finding out more as the top edge of yet another one was found in an extension to the original dig site area.

Lovely bits of pottery, Samian ware – with evidence of repair, native black-ware, jug handles, bits of amphorae … two whet stones – one probably Roman from one pit – the other iron-age from a different pit.

Photo above shows items from a waste pit – including 3 pieces of samian ware.
You can see other pictures and information on their FB page  https://www.facebook.com/UnderstandingLandscapes/

Was it a good experience – Yes

Would I do it again – Yes!

Looking forward to seeing how much time I can be free for when they announce the 2020 dig now!

Have you ever joined an archaeological dig?

Did watching Time-Team make you want to join one?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you 🙂

ps If you are reading this on email and would like to comment just click onto the title and it will take you to the actual blog – so you can comment there
If it is the first time you have written a comment don’t worry if it doesn’t appear immediately, your first comment has to be verified (to keep the spam-bots out) and I do this personally – so I am sure to see your comment – thanks for reading – Ann

Remember – reviews of books are a great way to say ‘thank you’ to an author if you like what they write,
  Thank You


No so much Navel Gazing as …

Oh! Here I am, back again after what seems a frenetic and frantic time. Oh, yes, life sometimes throws things our way that knocks all the writing to pot – including the blog.

In this case my father’s sudden eruption of a HUGE ulcer on his tongue, followed by numerous and sequential trips to the hospital for every type of scan, followed swiftly by an operation to remove a largish bite of his tongue and several lymph nodes from his neck following the diagnosis of cancer. Thank goodness for the NHS! Subsequently we’ve been on the recovery stage – trying to regain weight lost while eating was difficult – while eating is still difficult (with sore but healing new shaped tongue) However, things are stabilised now and I have found my lap-top and returned to all of you.wp_20170512_09_02_15_pro

And returned to the studies of everyday plants that my character – Dominica – might be able to use in her healing around AD689 – and today I’m looking at the plant known as the navelwort – or pennywort.

Wort, or wyrt,  is actually a Viking or Norse suffix meaning ‘medicine’. So the name of this plant in this country comes from later than the time I am dealing with, so I have to check with my sources as to whether it was an introduced plant – or was here already but known by another name. (Yes, Historical writing is tricky!)

I have always rather liked this plant. The round fleshy leaves are one of those edible leaves that my boys readily took to eating just for fun (after being told they were edible) They taste a bit cucumbery.. basically fleshy, wet and green, not bad in a sandwich. However, I didn’t know of their medical usage. The names, pennywort and navelwort I assumed came from their shape and the dimple, like a bellybutton, in the middle, even though, somewhere in the recesses of my mind the ‘wort’ rang a herbal-use bell.

wp_20170623_10_52_15_proNow, the mini-course I went on tells me that the navelwort, Umbilicus rupestris, have strong antimicrobial properties and would have been placed over the end of the umbilical cord and tied on, where they would dry-on forming a seal and keep infection at bay. Thus navelwort referred to this property (though under the doctrine of signatures – they would also have been saying – ‘look at me, I’m for use on the navel!’) Oddly, this use doesn’t seem to be generally mentioned in online sources, so maybe it’s a very old use, perfect for my story.

It seems that these can also be carefully dried and stored for babies that arrived out of the navelwort-growing season too. Now I am really hoping this plant in a real native as I am sure this could work its way naturally into Dominica’s medicine kit.

So, barring any other type of emergency, medical or otherwise, I’ll write to you next week – in the meantime –

have you ever eaten a pennywort sandwich – or even just nibbled a leaf?

Or do you know these plants by any other names?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you!


A Weedy Medicine Cabinet – Dandelions

Here we are again, we are back in the late AD600 – when the wise-woman, or the monastery-trained, were the go-to people when you were ailing. Why? Mainly because they still held the knowledge honed by the druids about which herbs had which effects on the body.

So it is that I found myself signing up to a herbalist-led course here in the Tamar Valley. My Dominica will have to use the plants that grow here if she is to be a healer (which – in my telling of the tale – she will be)

Here I am going to give a first glimpse of what I learned but how this will be used in the story I have yet to discover (that’s the way my writing works – fill up the  brain with lots of information and then let the sub-conscious sift through and weave it’s own patterns).

We didn’t even have to leave the property where the talk took place – and I suspect you wouldn’t have to stray far from your garden too for the one herb I’m going to touch on here. wp_20170512_09_06_03_pro

Hands-up those who have dandelions in their garden? *sees a forest of hands* Really? LOL 🙂 … well it seems that a Dandelion is a medicine chest all on its own.

Leaves: Make a ‘tea’ from them to drink. (A ‘tea’ basically is as it sounds, pour boiling water over them and allow to steep for a few minutes – remove herb bits – drink)

Many of you will know this is a diuretic (we all remember the warning as children not to pick dandelions as they will make you wet the bed!) Diuretics are used in many conditions today: – for reducing blood-pressure; congestive heart-failure and oedema (swelling due to water-retention) *This is not to say you should treat yourself for these conditions willy-nilly with dandelion tea!*

But did you know that dandelion tea is also a anti-lithic (a stone-breaker) that breaks gall or kidney stones to allow them to be passed?

Roots: Wash, cut and make a tea – this provides a liver-detox.

Then there’s the sap – that white milky fluid that comes from the broken stem. This can be used to treat warts. It is actually a form of latex and seals the wart off from the air. It needs to be reapplied frequently but eventually the wart will drop off leaving a wet pit on the skin that then heals up. (this make total sense – if you recall my experiment with the duct-tape method of wart removal (here) this works in the same way)

dandelion-fiels-freeimages-live! Not only that – but apparently dandelion sap was even used during the war as a latex (rubber) supply (Not one of us on the course had ever heard of that before!) but as things go – in a serendipitous manner – within a day an advert popped up on FB for Continental tyres – saying they are experimenting with dandelion rubber (due the disease attacking rubber plants worldwide) as well as for other things that use latex.

That’s dandelions for you – amazing and fascinating – now I need to check with Dulcie of Dumnonika, the Iron Age re-enactment group, who has an careful list of truly native plants, whether they were here in this part of the UK back in those times.

I’ll share some of the other medicinal-weeds I learnt about with you another time  🙂

What are your favourite herbal remedies?

Do you remember the warnings about picking Dandelions?

Do Share – you know I love to hear from you!


Lost in Time – researching for Dominica!

I’ve been gone one thousand, three hundred and twenty-eight years – back in time … to an era we call ‘The Dark Ages’. The Roman garrisons have gone – left these isles to tend to their problems closer to Rome with a farewell letter to the Romano-British from the Emperor Honorius, in AD410, to see to their own protection  – even as they called for aid to fend off the raiding Saxons. However, by the date I’ve been visiting, AD689, the Angles, Jutes and Saxons are well ensconced in the majority of what will become England, but the Vikings are not yet attacking.

Can you see the river Tamar, just behind the trees – and further beyond?

I am in Cornwall, here, just over the border – the river Tamar. Though, in AD689 Cornwall is not Cornwall – as such, it is part of Dumnonia, roughly Devon and Cornwall and part of Somerset and Dorset, and it is a different place culturally to the rest of ‘England’. The West Saxons (those being the closest – Wessex) have not overtaken the people of Dumnonia yet – in fact – even the Romans had made little impact here, this side of the river, either … a few forts only – no fancy towns all laid out Roman style with villas and influence over the local Kings* here. (*or ‘big-man’ as the system seemed to be in Cornwall in the pre-Roman times … and probably was even at the end of the AD600s.)

So it is a tumultuous time on the border, the threat of invasion by the West Saxons is real, they have made in-roads into Dumnonia … and they have a new battle-cry. By this time the Anglo-Saxons had, by and large, turned from their pagan gods to Christianity, some converted by missionaries from Rome, some by missionaries from Ireland. This had resulted in a clash of Christian doctrines – the Roman church and the Celtic church having different ways to work out the Christian calendar, different tonsures for their monks, and differing rules and ways of worship and a different attitude towards women. Within my time-line comes the decisive synod of Whitby, AD664, that found in favour of the Roman Church and meant that the Celtic churches that would not change were then seen as heretical – and to be wiped out.

The Church in Dumnonia, and especially the ‘Cornish’ ones backed by King Geraint and so rich in Celtic saints from Ireland, refused to change – setting themselves up for the West Saxons to proclaim a ‘religious war’ as a motive to back-up their invasions.

It’s been hard to get back to the here and now – I look at the landscape around me with different eyes – where would have been occupied? Where would have been safe? I read the names of the places I know and refer to my books to see whether I can call the place by its current name – whether the name we know is, in fact, original Celtic (Cornish) or an English name given only after the West Saxons’ invasion, or a blend … and even that has made me look at the landscape again and see things with different eyes as I find the meanings behind the words.

Those who know me in person, know that I am interested in history, mainly local history rather than that of Kings and Queens, but this is something different. To weave a story based on a few scanty legends (Dominica and Indract), set in a time that is poorly recorded (there’s the reason it is called the Dark Ages) and to try to throw myself back into that time and inhabit that landscape and that life is, for me, an extraordinary experience, both thrilling and very scary. It is also totally absorbing and takes me to a place I have never travelled before!

Wish me luck on my time-travels 🙂

Do you go time-travelling?

Do you find yourself inhabiting a different world when visiting ancient houses or estates?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you!


The Way We Were …

I was told to clear out the old bureau – the idea being that we are de-cluttering – bit by bit.

Hmm… Result – a huge bag of old (and very old) bills, bank statements, leaflets, birthday cards (saved for ??), random sheets of paper with notes on, magazine and newspaper cuttings (now no longer relevant), posters (now tatty round the edges) to go to recycling or shredding and composting.

Plus, many, many things, that I want to keep, that I don’t know what to do with, or where else to keep them, including a drawer full of photographs. At the bottom of the draw, almost lining the whole of the drawer, just where they had been placed about thirty-three years ago when we moved here, were two photographs in a long-sleeve. I knew what they were immediately. …. End of college photographs.


At Shoreditch Teacher Training College (actually situated in Surrey, at Englefield Green, over looking Runnymede on the Thames)shoreditch as in many other institutions I expect, when the year group reached the end of their course a whole group photograph was taken … then, while the staging was all up and the photographer waited, we all ran off and came back ‘dressed-up’.

Look at this one – it should have been entitled ‘would you really want this lot teaching your kids?’ wp_20160928_14_25_49_pro

Can you spot me?  Here I am in both … close-up … now can you find me??






Two things occurred to me (we will all be in our sixties) – where are all these people now?


If this is done nowadays (and I have no idea if it is or not) you can bet that the ‘costumes’ would be more than ‘dresses’ using the curtains from the halls of residence, or bedsheets as nuns-habit, or ‘flasher-man’ lab coats, or ‘funny’ hats and cuddly toys .. as now everything is ‘professionalised’ not just thrown together with a bit of imagination and no cash. I can imagine the local hire-shop would be at the ready to provide ‘funny’ outfits for prospective teachers (or whatever), the internet peppered with good ideas and where to get them.

So, if you are in one of these photographs do let me know! I’d love to know where you are now and what is happening in your life.

If you have a similar set of pics from your past – do tell! What does it make you think about?

Do you keep lots of things that you don’t want to part with – but don’t know what to do with either?

Did you find me – just click on the photo to enlarge (and clarify) it – if that helps 😉

You know I love to hear from you … do share 🙂


Memories to Memoirs

clock poplar
Clock with map showing the area of Poplar he grew up in

Are you always having to listen to tales of what happened in the ‘old days’ – what your parents did way back when? We are often too busy to stand and listen just when they have remembered something in particular, and as for the grandchildren listening …

I am in the process of creating a book from my fathers memories – for him.  He is eighty-nine and has really LIVED a LIFE and would like his grandchildren and great grandchildren to know something of ‘where they came from’. He is writing it all in longhand and we are getting it typed up – then I am putting it into sentences, paragraphs and chapters – as the memories are written down as one long narrative.

Here is part of the first chapter …

I was born on 12th June, 1926, in Harrap Street, Poplar, in the East End of London, the first child of my parents and what follows in this first chapter is what I was told by my parents and memories that nobody could have told me – because I was alone in hospital from the age of eighteen months until the age of four years.

The state of the economy was low and, though my father had a job, the wage was poor, as there were a lot of unemployed. It was a struggle to make ends meet. Consequently they were already in a bad nutritional state, and then the employers wanted to cut wages by a shilling a week. The miners called a national strike and evidently all the small employers locked their workers out, so my father lost the little income he had. Mum and Dad went to the relief office to ask for a bread voucher, and the officer said “Why don’t you send your wife out to work?” and Dad said she was not in a condition to work. The officer said “Bring her in and let’s have a look at her – is she crippled or something?” (nobody mentioned the word ‘pregnant’ in those days) When he saw Mum, he said “That’s not my fault, and if you can’t feed your wife, you should keep yourself to yourself, and not come here begging”.  Dad grabbed his shirt front and hauled him over the counter. Immediately the copper on duty took Dad to the magistrates who were sitting full-time. Dad explained what had happened, so the magistrate sent for the relief officer who came, full of self-importance, and was soon told his job was to issue tickets, not pass obnoxious comments on the applicant’s condition and to go back and do the job he was paid for. Then he told Dad to go back and get the ticket. Dad thanked him and said that if that was what it took to get a loaf of bread he would sooner starve.

The strike was soon over because of starvation and the employers took their shilling off the wages, and then I was born. My parents struggled on, and when I was slow to crawl they asked the older women in their street what they thought was wrong, and in my case it was obvious to them that the child was just lazy in one leg. The only health service at that time was a scheme called ‘The Panel’ which only applied to actively working people, not wives or children, but at the end of eighteen-months they realised that I could not and would not be able to walk. I crawled, but only dragging my left leg, or stood, by standing by a chair with my left leg hanging free. So my parents tightened their belts and took me to the GP, who watched me crawl along the floor, and, for one shilling and sixpence, told them that I had a congenitally dislocated hip – just a bald statement – and then left them to get on with it.

Now, to add to their troubles, they knew their first-born was a cripple, doomed to wearing a leg-iron for life, useless and dependant on relief. Remember there was no NHS at the time but I think Dad had always belonged to the HSA (Hospital Savings Association), which, for a subscription of about three pence a week would finance any serious hospital treatment, the full cost of which you paid back in weekly instalments. (My father was still paying this back when I reached eighteen)

I was taken to Guy’s Hospital where they started the attempt to rectify the problem. The ball joint now was above the pelvis and had grown in, so over many weeks it was loosened and, by a system of pulleys and weights, the leg was stretched until the ball was in line with its socket.

My parents said that they couldn’t visit much, as they couldn’t afford the fares, so would walk when the weather permitted. I was only aware of strange faces swarming in and out of my vision. When the doctors were satisfied with the alignment I was put in a plaster cast from lower ribs to ankles for four months (my parents did visit at this time at least once, for years later I was told I was almost unapproachable because of the stink). At the end of the four month period the plaster was removed and I was fitted with a corset to keep the hip in place until it became stronger, and I was removed to Shadwell Hospital, where the muscles in my leg were to be exercised and strengthened. Bearing in mind that I had never walked, it must have been very difficult for the nurses.

The life was very confusing for me at the time – apparently during this time I caught all the childhood complaints, and I understand at this time my mother became ill, and visits were even less often.

Eventually I reached the age of four, still not walking unaided, and was fitted with a leg iron for support. I went home, except I didn’t know it was home, and my mother was ‘Nurse’, and when Dad came home, pulling faces, trying to make me laugh, I would say ‘That funny man is here again, Nurse’.   9781909936904-Perfect_FINAL copy



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How many other people should be getting their memories written down? What rich heritage are families losing if they do not? What rich heritage of everyday life is the country losing – for instance if the memories of being a midwife in the East End in the 1950s hadn’t been written down then we’d never have had ‘Call The Midwife’ for instance. We have plenty of the rich and famous lives of each era – but, perhaps, not enough of the everyday people.

Here’s a thought, if your parents have retired*, get them to use some of their time in writing it down. (yes – I know this means they may be still quite young – but it takes a long time to write up fifty / sixty / seventy years – Dad began writing his story when he was about 68!) You don’t have to ‘publish’ the book to get it in print – Create Space is a wonderful set-up that you can use almost for free and only get as many books as you want printed for the family by Print On Demand  POD  (rather than the old way of having to have a lot done all at once)
*or this may be YOU?

What did you think about this excerpt from my father’s memoirs?

Are you, or your parents, on this task right now?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.

ps – the grandchildren – now in their twenties and thirties – are, at last, standing still long enough to listen – and I am sure they will love the completed books

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Talk about the Weather!

book launch 2 med all
Members of Dumnonika with Sally at her book-launch

Oh? Yes! It’s me, I guess you’d forgotten about this blog… it looked like I had, but I hadn’t. Life had just got in the way, but this time pleasant life.

We are fortunate enough to have been off to Malaysia to visit our eldest son, wife and their three sons – our grandsons. So Good to see them at their home!

I won’t give you my travelogue here, but when I came home it was the weather that struck me most of all. Apart from the feeling that you are living the the perfectly moderated air-con environment when outside (this lasts for a day) it becomes abundantly noticeable why the British are obsessed by the weather.

It is for a good reason that one of the most popular opening gambits in a British conversation, with both friends and strangers, is a comment about the weather.

No one seems to talk about the weather when it is 36 degrees and very humid everyday when you wake (to a sunrise at the same time everyday of the year) followed by more of the same until late afternoon/ early evening when the wind will get up, the sky darken, lightning flash, thunder crash and the rain will sheet down like a waterfall for about ten to fifteen minutes before the sky clears and everything quickly steams dry again before nightfall swiftly arrives at the same time as it always does, around eight.

What is there to say? ‘Looks like the weather will be the same today?’

So home; the first day cloudy when we arrived, turning to bright sunshine that lasted into a late evening.

Second day; started dry but overcast and quite cold over the morning, brightened into hot by late afternoon and into the evening.

Third day; rained and drizzled all day.

Fourth day; a day of blazing heat and beautiful sunshine – and I know because I spend this day outdoors with the lovely Sally Newton at the launch of her novel ‘Caradoc – The Defiant Prince’ – set AD25 – where we were accompanied by Dumnonika – an Iron-Age re-enactment group for the first day of the Upton Cross Art and Craft Exhibition and Sale.

Book launch Upton cross poster Black &  Red & BlueIn fact it was such good weather and it was so hot it wasn’t really the best day to draw in the crowds … though rain would have proved even more difficult for an outside event like our part of the day.  As it was, hordes headed to the beaches, though a good sunburn could be had where we were too, and we had small groups of interested and engaged people instead – perfect. This made for a very successful launch of Sally’s novel which is the first of a trilogy covering the life of Caradoc, a real historic figure of the Iron-Age.

If you live in SE Cornwall (or SW Devon even)  and would like to see the Art and Craft Exhibition and Sale at Upton Cross it runs until 6pm on the 16th August and is well worth a look, but though signed copies of my books, and Sally’s, are on the Pendown Publishing stand I’m afraid we will not be there, nor will Dumnonika – but if you want to know more about them go to their website at Dumnonika.com.


Have you ever been away and then found the simple things of home more pleasing?

Do you like historical novels, Iron-Age anyone?

Do share, you know I’ve missed you    😉


[p.s. – seems I will be there on Friday afternoon – helping out – so if you want a book dedicated just ask at the door where to find me 🙂 ]



What our Ancestors can teach us about healing

It is odd that today I came across not one, but two examples of the ‘super-‘bug’ MRSA being defeated, or at the least severely dented, by ‘old recipes’ for fighting disease.

The first was a report in NEW SCIENTIST that scientists from the University of Nottingham have worked on a recipe to cure styes, laid out in a 1000 year-old Anglo-Saxon medical recipes book called Bald’s Leechbook . (article here)    DSCF5518

It sounds like the three witches in Macbeth, ‘Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together… take wine and bullocks gall, mix with the leek… let it stand nine days in the brass vessel…’  But this is exactly what the scientists did.. though they made sure everything was sterile, and had controls set up, and had each element set up separately too (to see if only one would work – none did on their own)

The result: ‘The potion was tested on scraps of skin taken from mice infected with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant version of the bacteria that causes styes, more commonly known as the hospital super-bug MRSA. The potion killed 90 per cent of the bacteria. Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA, killed about the same proportion when it was added to the skin scraps’.

Just imagine how long and how much experimentation had to have taken place in ancient times to come up with this particular mixture of herbs and the vessel to use to make it in, made up so carefully (another ‘try’ with this recipe by a US university in 2005 resulted in  ‘a loathsome, odorous slime‘ that did not work,) and left for that particular length of time to discover it worked, that it cured styes (for that is what the recipe was for – and as styes are caused by Staphylococcus aureus – this is why the scientists were trying it)

This method has been peer tested by Dr Kendra Rumbaugh, of Texas Tech University in the US, who was asked to replicate the findings. She said that the salve performed ‘good if not better’ than traditional antibiotics at tackling the superbug. The findings were presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham which runs from March 30 this year.

IMG_0384The second MRSA attacker I heard about on the radio — my ears pricked up when I heard the goats (we used to keep goats) and they were the source of this other unexpected beater of MRSA.  It is a long story – but the goats had initially been kept to help with their son’s asthma (this is well documented that Goat’s milk is a less antagonistic to bronchial conditions than cows milk.) They also found that it helped clear up his eczema when made into a cream and a soap.

Now, eczema is an auto-immune disease and many auto-immune diseases appear to be triggered in the gut. By making a fermented product from the goat’s milk, called kefir, they found they had something that seemed to help many auto-immune gut related conditions. Kefir is a powerful probiotic that has been made for hundreds of years in Russia, though the name is possibly Turkish (from keif meaning good feeling).

Then, after surgery, the husband contracted MRSA from the hospital. The wound wasn’t healing, worse, the MRSA was attacking the skin and flesh and making the wound larger and worse and, despite treatment, would not go away. Having read of the curative powers of kefir and having seen how it had helped their son with both asthma and eczema, the wife started treating her husband with kefir by getting him to drink it. She also read-up on essential oils and, believe it or not, the bubonic plague and a bunch of perfumiers who didn’t catch it, and created her own blend of essential oils which she used to bathe his skin, after which she used the kefir on his skin too. In two weeks his skin was testing negative for MRSA and soon healed. The blend of essential oils has since been lab-tested to show it is effective against a whole bunch of pathogenic bacteria, and they are currently working with Swansea university on the effects of kefir and the essential oils  (read an article here)

Now these are concoctions that have been ‘known’ about in the western world for hundreds of years – and we are still only just realising how nature works, how our bodies work and how they can work together – or against each other. If this is the state we are in with cures and remedies we already ‘know’ about  – how many more cures are out there in nature, especially in the most bio-diverse regions like the rain-forests that man seems set on destroying? It makes you think!  (Yes, I did quite get into all this while I was writing ‘The Angel Bug’ as one of the main characters was deeply concerned for the rain-forest and its bio-diversity – does it show?

Had you picked up on these stories in the recent media?

What are your thoughts?

Are you fed up with the general election  (UK) ALREADY?

Do share – you know you want to 🙂


So, what does a typical WI member look like? #IamWI

#IamWI   Ann Foweraker (St. Dominick WI)

Let me say from the start – I’ve been a member of the WI since I was 15  – excepting my years at college, and five living in a city – no WI branches allowed in universities or cities back then, as they are  now. (It’s good to see how well they are developing  in these places now and how many young women are joining them!)  This came about because my mum was going off to her WI meeting ON my 15th birthday… and, as that happened to be the age that you were allowed to join our branch of the WI back then .. I went along. (NB for insurance purposes, apparently, the joining age is now 18)

Now the WI (Women’s Institute) has developed an unfortunate image over the years – emphasised by almost every press report and slanted so that we appear to be jam-making fuddy-duddys and of the pearl and cardie-wearing, tory-voting brigade to boot. Even my Aunt thought this (when she moved from a town in Essex to our Cornish village she expressed this view – despite the fact that I, my mum and another Aunt belonged – none of whom fitted that description in any way whatsoever – except the jam-making part).

‘Jam and Jerusalem’, the papers say, in a disparaging way. Well, yes our rousing ‘song’ is Jerusalem, by William Blake, and I find the ‘bring me my bow of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire,’ quite stirring 😉 though we do not sing it at our usual meetings nowadays. And as for Jam making – that was effortful war work. What other war work is disparaged?

In nearly a hundred years of being an organisation, the WI has made a huge difference. Though started to help rural women, for education and support, it has taken up the cause in many aspects of life. Some of these then grew into themselves as separate organisations, which still acknowledge their links to their inspiration and formation. Like the Keep Britain Tidy group… an idea and movement initiated by the WI in 1954 and, though now a national organisation, often the people on the ground in villages doing the organisation will still be from the local WI.

Each year we have a resolution and our National arm campaigns on these resolutions. Not just on that year’s one but on any that we have passed over time. They have our mandate; that is the mandate of 212,000 women, to campaign on these issues. Over the past five years these have included ‘No-more violence against women’ ‘SOS Honeybees’ ‘The need for more Midwives’ ‘Care not Custody – for people with mental health issues’ and ‘Time to Talk – about Organ Donation’. It educates, it campaigns and is listened to.

Yet still the WI is disparaged, though now we are also the ‘calendar girls’ (a doubtful accolade) where some potential members are as wary of being asked to strip off… as much as to run a cake stall (or should that be buns?)

So, when one of our members on the UnOfficial WI FB page, a page for WI members to chat and share (not the Official WI FB page which is more for National WI matters) suggested we each took a photo of ourselves holding a sign with the words I AM WI written on it – I thought this a great idea – for, though you know I like making Jam (in my microwave), I also think I am a typical (but NOT-STEREOTYPICAL) WI member! Active in my own life and in the community, busy and enjoying life to the full.

All of which explains the photo of me and my paddleboard at the top of this blog  🙂

Do you belong to the WI?

 If not, what is the image you have of the WI

 Look out for the hashtag #iamwi


When is a shoe not just a shoe?

Sounds like a riddle – or the first part of a not very good joke. In this case it is the question that goes with this picture.


This is a child’s shoe found in the stonework and mud filling of a building thought to be at least sixteenth century.

At first this seemed just a curious thing to find … then I did a little research. Shoes, it turns out, were often placed in the fabric of a building. Most usually near a door way or an opening (window, hearth) but not always, sometimes just placed there by the builder as they built the property.

The big question is ‘Why?’

Well there are many theories and I’ll pass on some that I have come across. To start with the concealed shoe, and it is nearly always just one,  is always well worn and frequently that of a child. One theory is that a shoe takes on something of the identity of the person who wore it – as it moulds itself to the wearer. That this identity or ‘soul’ within the shoe was the used as a spirit to ward off evil in general and witches in particular.

The spirit within the shoe would therefore guard the house and keep evil and witches at bay. The concealed shoes were therefore either hidden in the walls of the building, so no-one could remove them, or boxed in near an opening (that a witch or evil might try to enter through).

When life and death, through accident or illness, was pretty random and struck seemingly at will, superstitions were rife. Here was a way to protect your home and therefore your family – and easy enough to do. Even for the builders who placed them there, perhaps it gave them a sense that the building they made was protected.

Where did this odd idea come from?

No-one knows how this tradition began but in the UK it may have links the 14th century Rector of Marston in Buckinghamshire, who was said to have cast the devil into a boot, thus trapping him, or it may go back much further than this and may be more grisly ….

There is a long and murky history of blood sacrifices, usually of animals, being made to protect a house from evil, documented from as far back as the Romans.  Even the mark in blood made on the door post by the Israelites, when Moses was trying to get them released from servitude, that meant the angel of death passed over their homes, links into this superstition. Maybe a shoe is a simple and less drastic substitute.

Museum of shoes

In Northampton Museum, once the centre of shoe-making in the UK,  they have a collection of shoes. They also keep a concealed shoe index listing all those found and reported to them. At the moment the index stands at approximately 1,900 entries from all over the U.K and also records concealed shoe finds in North America, Canada, and a number of countries in Europe including France, Spain and Poland.


As an author I can’t help but lock these nuggets of information away, wondering when they will resurface in the plot of a novel. Somehow I feel this one is going to with the superstition and history it has all wrapped up in it!

 So the answer to the riddle …..  When is a shoe not just a shoe ….

 …… when it is an insurance policy

 Was the idea of concealed shoes new to you?

Have you ever found something like this?

What tickles your creative bones and makes you start to think and wonder?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you.


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