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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 29 February 2016

Is the Future Bright?

For various reasons, I didn’t sleep well or long enough last night.  Too much chocolate, too many episodes of Father Ted (RIP FrankKelly/Father Jack) and too much looking at The Oscars on Twitter when I woke up at four in the morning.
The Oscars completely fascinate me.  I love film and have a membership for my local independent cinema (you can take your wine into the screening, what’s not to love?).  I also do love fashion but Oscars ‘fashion’ is a whole other ballgame.  Not so much fashion as a gigantic advertising exercise. 
You long for Bjork and her swan costume to turn up again.  Just to see the expressions on their faces.
But my purpose for adding my not-very-big-oar to the Oscars chatter is to wonder about how we reached this level of global recognition of an unelected (relatively) few.  That is not to take away from the winners’ achievements at all.  Merely to think how far we have come in a hundred years.
I am in the process of writing a piece about ‘the future’.  The brief says will it be better or worse, tell us in a story.  Now, I do love science fiction but when I brainstormed (well, more pondered over a cuppa) a list of what might be considered better or worse, I was quite appalled to find that the ‘worse’ list seemed, to me, to be more likely to happen.  It was all global warming (and yes, I did see Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscars speech live, thanks Insomnia), global war, rich/poor divide stuff.  Global peace, food and water for all, etc on the ‘better’ list seemed pretty unachievable.  And I am usually a glass half full kind of person.  Some things – like ‘no work’ – seemed like they could go either way.
But when I looked back – something I much prefer to do, hence the genealogy obsession – I could see how very unlikely our current situation would have seemed a hundred years ago.  1916.  The First World War was raging, manned flight was barely ten years old, the movies existed but silently, no Russian Revolution yet.  On and on, ad infinitum.
2016 and I am lying in bed watching a live awards ceremony over five thousand miles away on my ‘phone’ (which I use for reading, writing, listening, taking photos, shopping, general communication but rarely phoning).
Do you remember ‘Gulf War Vision’ in the 1990s?  When war was first properly shown live on television?  Watching bombs fall?  How long would the First World War have actually lasted if everyone could have seen what was going on?
So February 2116.  Where will we be?  Will we still be ‘alone’ in the universe?  Will we finally have worked out how to walk around in space ships like we have been able to do in movies for the last fifty years?  Will Leonardo’s predictions of global catastrophe have come true?  Will the Oscars ceremony have stretched to a two day love-in?
I want to finish this post with the old ‘answers on a postcard’ line but that is so last century.  Comments below please?!

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Story of Tilly Brockless

One of my guilty viewing pleasures has been, since its beginning, Mr Selfridge.  It is complete escapism.  A soap-ish storyline, gorgeous period fashion, a glamorous cast.   I generally don't watch soaps but dress them up as historical pieces and I am a sucker for it.  Downton Abbey, Mr Selfridge.  Bring 'em on.  Nice glass of wine and a box of Maltesers and I'm happy for an hour.
However, there is a storyline in the current series of Mr Selfridge which has fascinated me.  There is a new dressmaker named Tilly Brockless.  She is Afro-Caribbean and in London in the 1920s.  A marvel with a needle and a frock, Miss Brockless is recruited thanks to her eye for fashion - she has no references - and is then put to work in a room underneath Selfridges (by the looks of it) with a team of white machinist girls.
The character has appeared in most episodes this series.  Always stoically enduring casual bullying which seems clearly related to her difference in skin colour from her colleagues.  In last Friday's episode (spoiler alert) she was sacked, thanks to her supervisor.  And I am very curious to see if that is the end of the story of Miss Brockless.  I do hope not.  However, the programme makers do not seem to have valued this side story as much as I would have hoped.  In fact, I have found it quite impossible this morning to find an internet image of the actress Mimi Ndiweni, who plays Miss Brockless, in costume/on set for the show.  There are plenty of stills from the current series but none of Tilly Brockless.  Hence, I include, above, a beautiful publicity shot of Mimi Ndiweni.
The storyline has shown just how accepted such bullying and racism was at that time.  The worrying thing is, despite legislation, it still goes on.  And racism is endemic.  On social media this week, a girl in the US posted a copy of a letter from her father in which he told her that he would never forgive her affair with a black man and that a half black was a terrible thing.  Now, this family are in Texas.  But once the piece went viral, the item received as many similar threats as those made by the father as it did supportive comments.  Somehow, it seems people feel it okay to be racist in such forums.  They cannot indulge in the streets or in workplaces so much.  But they can join in with online situations. 
I really want to see how the writers of Mr Selfridge resolve Miss Brockless's storyline.  I will be very disappointed if her sacking is the end of her appearance in the series.  I think more could have been made of the character, her significance and the actress playing her. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

The House on the Lake

Well thanks to a sick dog, many (very welcome!) visitors and school holidays (already doing my head in), I haven't had much time to think of a proper post this week.  Not that many of my posts are 'proper' really.
So as I have previously done, I am going to recommend something in the meantime and leave you to investigate.  The above picture shows a holiday house in Germany.  It is the subject of a fantastic book called The House on the Lake by Thomas Harding and I have just finished listening to it on Audible (my favourite way of trying to get through a few more of my endless 'to read' list - I even listen whilst doing the supermarket shopping).
The author has a personal connection with the house but he has managed to weave the story of Germany's last hundred years or so very skilfully into the history of the building.  As I said on Twitter this week, I did not know how woeful my post-war German history knowledge was until I listened to this book!  It is excellent and has left me wanting to know more.
It also ties nicely into a topic which I have mentioned a few times since I started this blog.  That of the everyday history around us and its effect on our ancestors.  In our buildings and landscape.  I always wonder what buildings have seen.  Not just stately homes but ordinary homes.  For example, the Victorian houses owned by York friends which flooded at Christmas.  Imagine if they could tell of previous floods.  Imagine the many people who must have suffered the same but who had no access to floodlines, to emergency services, to dehumidifiers, etc.
So The House on the Lake is on a matter close to my research heart.  Give it a try if you have a chance.
There are extra photos at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06sgxjc although you can no longer listen on BBC iPlayer. 
I downloaded the book at http://www.audible.co.uk/

Monday, 8 February 2016


Something very exciting has happened.  I have won a competition to have a DNA test!  No, not on Jeremy Kyle.  I entered a competition run by the marvellous Families In British India Society (FIBIS) before Christmas.  You had to write a piece about why a DNA test might be useful for your family history research.  And I have won one of the three places!

Now, clearly this is a niche subject to be excited about but just indulge me for a moment.  It hopefully means that I can narrow down which part of India my direct ancestors were from.  There are also questions over a number of Irish connections (ironic, given I have married into a large Irish family) and over the parentage of a great great great grandmother.  I wrote about all of these things for my entry and I have been offered a Family Finder test.  A kit is on its way!  How amazing and bizarre.  Let's hope there are no nasty surprises... Nothing anyone hasn't mentioned in the last forty or so years...  I will keep you posted - unless it is really embarrassing, obviously.
*    *    *

So I got that news last night and wanted to share the news.  However, I did plan to write about numbers today. A very good friend was (whisper it) fifty last week.  She does not look fifty.  Far from it.  But she is quite fed up about this milestone.  She says it feels very different to forty and no amount of reminders of the amazing fifty plus celebrities there are these days can cheer her up.  And I do see her point.  I haven't reached it yet but fifty years on the planet is quite something.

What would it have been like, though, in the days when fifty was properly old?  England, for example, in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.  When it was quite an achievement to have survived childhood, giving birth, dangerous employment.  There would be the same physical changes presumably but little knowledge of how to ease them.  And for the lower classes, there would be the ever present need to earn a living despite the ageing process.  Or the workhouse (or worse) awaited.

There are, of course, many awful cases of people in developed countries dying at young ages still.  Only the other week, I posted about cancer and diabetes and other diseases.  However, in general, a person reaching their fiftieth birthday in a developed country can reasonably expect at least another twenty years on Earth. 

What is very wrong with Planet Earth, though, is the number of human beings for whom fifty is still an incredible achievement and the number for whom fifty is not a time to look forward.  Life expectancy is very uneven amongst our race.  Fifty should not be a scary number for any of us.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Making a Date

This weekend has been quite a contrast to the last.  Last weekend we were dealing with the first anniversary of my father-in-law's death.  This weekend, we had a welcome happy event.  A belated party for my mother's seventieth birthday.  It was a lovely evening.  Fourteen of us at a gorgeous Italian restaurant.  Three generations - in-laws, step-relations, grandchildren, children, siblings.  So many relationships amongst the group.

And as we travelled home, nursing a bit of a hangover I must admit (praise the Lord for Diet Coke), I thought about how little time my children have spent with my aunts, uncles and cousins.  My mother is one of four.  Three sisters and a brother.  I am one of ten cousins.  We live all over the country and since the death of my grandmother twelve years ago, I don't think we have managed a date where every single person has made it along.

But my children really enjoyed meeting my aunts and uncles at the dinner party.  My daughter was particularly interested in meeting my mother's elder sister and her husband as they had memories of being children during the second world war.  This was a topic of hers last year and she has not lost her enthusiasm for information about it.  Her own grandparents were either too young or in Ireland and did not have a great deal to share with her.  So once she had got over her (pretend!) shyness, there was a lot of chatter.

So my 2016 resolution - typically a month late - is to organise a happy get-together for my mother's family.  My granddad died at seventy one.  My aunt was saying last night that she was sure he would have lived longer if he had gone to a doctor years earlier.  He should have had, at the least, drugs to deal with hardened arteries but most probably a heart bypass.  I have no fear that his children will not visit doctors but their ages are now in the seventies.

And this, combined with January's list of celebrities who have died at similar ages, brings it home that we should spend more time together.  Just for the hell of it rather than because something awful has happened.  There also needs to be a major exchange of information.  I have previously whittered on in blog posts about making sure that you pump all available aged relations for family history snippets before it is too late.  Well, I will be organising a lovely get together. But with questionnaires to fill in as you enter and no exit until you have completed it...
PS  you can still vote for my first creative writing piece at www.kishboo.co.uk