Thursday, 30 July 2009

Always and Forever, Brother...

My Godfather, J, died of a brutal cancer a week ago tomorrow. It was to be a quick parting. Little did we know it but we had only five weeks from diagnosis to his passing to say goodbye.

J will be much missed. An integral part of all my family's life. A solid fixture in the Hexham way of life. I know now that when I look at the rolling Northumbrian hills - I will think of him.


My parents had known him from school. He was my father's best friend. And as I write this I feel the tears welling up inside me.

This is my father's tribute to him, at his graveside, two days ago:

"I'm going to talk about J and friendship.

He was cheerful, encouraging and appreciative.
He thought well of others; he did not criticise or condemn; he was unselfish to others - happy to praise their good qualities and abilities, and able to enjoy their good fortune if any came their way.

He was big-hearted. His loyalty was unstinting.

He was open-hearted. He was always welcoming.
I used to phone on alternate Sunday mornings to call in for a coffee and a discussion.
"Alright to come along?" I would ask. He always replied, "You're most welcome".
If my wife, or one of my daughters came with me, he would say, "Nice to see you, pet".

It was never just a chat and a gossip with us - after an initial prologue of minor things we got into the state of the nation, educational system, and the world of ideas - heavy stuff.
B, when present in his teenage years, would roll over on the couch, cover his head with a blanket and go to sleep.

J was nobody's fool - with his intellectual ability and clear sightedness he saw through most pretence, prejudice and affectations.
He was his own man with measured thought and measured opinion.
Popular enthusiasms and fancies were not on his road.
Those, who demand others to say and do as they thought proper, were to him - using his phrase - "Liberal Fascists".

That is not to say he was without his foibles. He had lasting enthusiasms - in very active years - golf - with a famous victory at Turnberry - he scooped the sweepstake and wined and dined in the hotel later - on the proceeds; but always horses and betting, films and books and what came most naturally - talking.

One might say, at times, these passions lead to a certain repetitiveness. I have heard some of his stories on more than one occasion.

As regards films he could get carried away. As Secretary to the Film Club in South Shields he produced a showing of the Franz Kafka's "The Trial" - a hard two hours I might say both on the mind and on the backside - most of the audience did not wait that long. J, of course, was unrepentant.

His favourite film directors were Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Kurasawa. His favourite Ford movie was "The Searchers". John Wayne, as Ethan Edwards, spends years searching the Indian lands of the mid-west for his abducted niece. In the final scenes she is returned to her family. John Wayne stands watching from the open doorway with the wide, bare country behind him. He then turns and walks off into the distance - his job done, he has finished what he set out to do.

I'd like to think that of J - he has left with his work and life as a whole.

And again another film he enjoyed was "Some Like It Hot". He smiled delightedly at the final line - when the millionaire multi-married Joe. E. Brown finds his new girl-friend (Jack Lemmon in a frock and a wig) is not a woman and says, "Nobody's perfect".

His progress in life was not without its ups and downs but he carried on with cheerful fortitude. He came from the Stoic school of philsophy learned from his childhood in the less well-off working class areas of South Shields. You just got on with it.

After retiring, he gave much time to the Hexham Music Festival and part time teaching to young children who needed help with their early literacy. He was most affectionate and concerned for them. They were encouraged to call him "J". Each was special for him.

Clever as he was, he was modest and depreciative of his abilities. He admitted he was not the world's best at Do-It-Yourself. I think he only ever used a pen - no hammer or spanner I ever saw. Yet as a student, during the summer holidays, he worked in a shoe-repair factory and dry-cleaning works. His father made anchor chains in the shipyards. His mother made the best mince pie I ever tasted. He never allowed his Oxford education to get in the way of his appreciation of people no matter what their background or abilities.

It's good to say that his last decade with M brought great love and comfort. He was latterly able to enjoy and celebrate J Junior's marriage to E, and B's success in his final exams and his enrolment for a future MA degree course in Music.
In his final days, his sister, G and much-loved niece, C-A, were with him (from Canada).

He was a good man, a gentle man - a special friend.

To finish, I will go back to the years when J and I did Latin verbs together, and I shall borrow from Catullus my parting words -

Semper in perpetuum, frater,
Ave atque vale

Always and forever, brother,
Hail and Farewell

Monday, 20 July 2009

Now I can tell you the whole story...part I

I am amazed that I have got this far...

I am now officially an affiliate member of The Institute of Tourist Guiding qualified to guide at Vindolanda and The Roman Army Museum (RAM). I got my certificate last Thursday. (The photo was taken by a friend at can see the reconstruction of part of the Hadrian's Wall in stone, turf and timber. The turret, on the right, is in stone and the milecastle gate/turret, on the left, is in timber.)

I'm over the moon! How did it come about?

Amongst the hoarfrosts of January Mr. H received a phone call from Tom Keating, a blue badge guide, telling him about a course being set up by Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd. to train up guides along the length of Hadrian's Wall and West Coast Frontier. Were we interested? I certainly leapt at the chance.

The interview date was set for February 26th. The date will always stick in my mind because it was the day after my mother-in-law's funeral in London. Be prepared to give a short presentation on your favourite bit of the Wall cited the e-mail. I had been shortlisted from what seemed like thousands of candidates. I was given 5 days to prepare for it. Hubbie was down South for those days. I flew to London there and back on the 25th. The interview will be a breeze I thought to myself. Little did I know.

Due to my own stupidity and lack of time planning I arrived at the interview, at Vindolanda, five minutes late. "Be all right" I bluffed (even to myself): my talent and enthusiasm will shine through.

I thought the interview had gone well. About a week and half later (after 5pm and just after a weekend) I received another e-mail..."Dear interested candidate...we are sorry to inform you..." I had not got through. I was speechless. What had I done!? (Weeks of mental recriminations then commenced..."I hadn't informed them of the funeral; I hadn't turned up at the right time; I hadn't prepared enough.... and on and on"...)

I rang the organiser to get some feedback. "Your presentation wasn't as good as the other successful candidates". I must admit that I verbally let off some steam (in the best possible way). As I put the phone down I felt sorry for the person at the other end. It wasn't their fault. Must learn to communicate better.

Luckily they didn't hold it against me.

I was invited to go along for the first lecture and a later day at Vindolanda/RAM. On that first day when I walked in at noon knowing that they had all introduced themselves to each other (in the morning) and had received their welcome packs I felt sick to the gills but I knew I had to hang on in there. Roll on Vindolanda.

The day at Vindolanda was marvellous. It was misty, freezing and cold, nevertheless, I loved hearing about the history of the place; being on the inside and hearing about the excavations. I had all but reconciled myself to not being on the course. Perhaps they would run it again next year and I would be successful. I had too much on my plate. I couldn't manage all the studying (120 hours required) plus read THE bible on the Wall....the Breeze and Dobson book...lectures, presentations, travelling, learning about other Roman sites, exams. The lot. And then during the talk at RAM...I was asked "Do you want to join the course after all?"...My reaction: gobsmacked: lost for words. Internally grinning I said: "Can I have 24 hours to think it over?" Twenty four hours later I accepted and it all kicked off for earnest in April.

I feel quite safe now to talk about the format of the exams. We could choose where we wanted to sit the written exam and I chose Tullie House - the Carlisle museum and art gallery built on top of the remains of a Roman fort. (I still need to go over there and have a good look at it. I believe they have an excellent exhibition of Hadrian there at the moment. But I digress.)

The written exam was straight forward. I was kicking myself that I didn't know what was the meaning of the Latin name (which turned out to be British!) for the fort at RAM. "Magna"...was/is 'stone, rock' - "highly appropriate for a site lying in the shadow of the crags now known as the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall". (Source: R. Birley)

The other weird thing which I wrote in response to "name an army unit stationed at Vindolanda"...I wrote " the 4th Cohort of Batavians" which is an unholy alliance of the 4th Cohort of Gauls and 9th Cohort of Batavians (only one hundred years apart)! Nerves must have got the better of me. For those of you with an interest in Roman army units based in Britain...check out this site: www. - It's a mine of information.

The practical exam, which took place at the beginning of July, was another matter...a walkover it was unlikely to be...(to be continued...)

P.S. Robin Birley talk on the Vindolanda Tablets - this Thursday 23rd July at RAM 6.30pm - if you happen to be in the area (tickets from either RAM/ Vindolanda)
P.P.S More information on the Roman altar finds published in the Hexham Courant (click on the blue writing for the link)

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Awards and blogging: a grouchy love affair?

Thank you to a Woman of no importance!

Thank you Ladybirdworld Mother!

Merci Beaucoup French Fancy!
(Sorry guys this one cannot be passed on!)

A mega thank you to Catharine for such a lovely blog award!

Mega, mega thanks for all your kind thoughts and words and, and, and last but not least, the awards... I would like to pass these on to the following (my long suffering blog correspondents) - in no particular order:

French Fancy, Catharine Withenay, A woman of no importance, Ladybirdworld Mother, Troy, Dumdad, The Dotterel, Maggie May, Suburbia, Rosiero, Crystal Jigsaw, Expatmum, Postcards - Mike Harling, Fat, Frumpy and Fifty, Lakeland Jo, Keep Bloggering On!, Yorkshire Pudding, Arthur Clewley, Nappy Valley Mum, Completely Alienne, Strawberry Jam Anne, authorblog, tarte tartan, Living the dream in France (not)!, A Modern Mother, Grumpy old Ken, Little Brown Book, Dulwich Divorcee, Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman, Clippy Mat, Sandi McBride, That British Woman, Rural Villager, Sage, Don't Panic RTFM, Flower Fairies, Reluctant Memsahib,softintheheadblog Potty Mummy, The Green Grass Grows All Around, The view from the high peak, Mickle in NZ, Sticky Fingers, Mom/Mum and to new comers: Kestrel, Jo Beaufoix, Kitty and Saco Harry

If you already have some/all/none of the above awards (and please help yourselves to any or all of them)....I've made you one especially:

Thank you to you all for popping by to my blog when I've been so busy of late (for four months!!).

I'm working with a wind-up laptop computer (with 16MB of RAM apparently) which allows me to make 0.5 "blog" comment per day (sic) so unless I win the lottery* or dig up some Roman Remains*/ Anglo Saxon Artefacts*/ Burglar's Booty*
(* = I'm not particularly fussy)...I really will get to you in the end................

BTW I am declaring an awards amnesty after this post...because I really do not want to distinguish between any of are all wonderful!!!! (I'm EXCEEDINGLY sorry if I've missed anyone out.)

BTWW I have a love/hate affair with blogging (already declared). Each day I swear I am going to give it up and each day I'm here yet again. I will be - unless my legs drop off (see my other blog) that is.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Phew! They're Over!!!!

(STOP PRESS!: New altars found at Vindolanda a week and a half ago. These constitute a major, very exciting find...for more information - look at for their press releases and under Archaeology Finds/Excavations 2009 where Andrew Birley, The Director of Excavations, has commented on them.)

Yippee! I've finished my course (well nearly...apart from doing a First Aid course) but yes...all the studying frantically is now at an end. Last week the written exam and the practical guiding exam took place.

I wasn't dreading the written one but I was definitely not looking forward to the practical one. In the event I must have thrived on the stress because I quite enjoyed it. Not sure how that came about?!?! I thought my mind would go blank...........

Consequently I'm in a bit of a mess. Not having a raison d'etre (apologies to all French folk...can't suss out the accents on Google)...I've slumped into a heap in the corner. I still can't adjust back to life in the real world...I SO enjoyed learning about the Romans, Romans, Romans...but will still continue to learn...

Until I get my head back into gear I'll tell you what I've been doing the past few months:

1. Learning all about The Roman Army Museum and Vindolanda.
2. Went up to a farm called Castle Nook, where they have a buried Roman fort in their back garden called Whitley Castle. It's near Alston and Stewart Ainsworth of The Time Team Programme did a tour for us. I only wish they would dig it up!
3. Had various course dates at Segedunum ("Strong Fort") at Wallsend. Followed other volunteers around learning about their sites there and at Arbeia, South Shields, Roman Fort.
4. Prepared a presentation on "Great Chesters" fort which is nearby Haltwhistle. I've nicknamed this fort..."The Miss Haversham" of forts because it is neglected, forlorn and beautiful. I'll be writing some more about this soon.
5. Attended a day dedicated to the archaeology of Hadrian's Wall which was held in Hexham. A whole day hearing about what archaeologists are doing right across the Wall: it was absolutely fascinating.
6. And much, much more.

On the B&B side we have been busy which has been great (and we still continue to be). It's also still a battle with the bank - for various reasons (which I won't discuss here). I know I've been open in the past but I'm going to have to draw a veil over it. (I suspect that if I'm too open we might be sued!)

I can say that living life in separate houses is not too much fun. I miss my husband and the children miss their father. We snatch moments together and have some hours out but it is certainly not the same as being one big, riotous family together. (I also miss our main computer. Why?)

I've got this old laptop up and running but it feels like something out of the ark. It takes ages to do anything. When I bought it in had a fault even then...I'll be typing away and then the cursor can end up in any word on the page so I'll then be typing into a paragraph I wrote three minutes ago. Erase. Start again. Swear. Swear. Swear. A computer with attention deficit disorder!!££$$@@@!!! Bleep! Bleep! A bit actorytoo late to send the damn thing back to the f.! (See what I mean?)

I wanted to blog late into the night, every night but as I have the children all day (not that I mind because I love them to bits)...I'm usually too tired to blog and then I flop into my bed. Little boy starts off in the cot and then climbs into my bed. Princess girl keeps me awake some times ( "Have bad dreams mummy"). Anyway stop moaning woman...and welcome back to life away from the Romans...

I shall get my act together one of these days. I have loads of catching up to do. I might take days, possibly months,................ah well. Thank you for your patience.

Whilst I was away I chanced upon this wonderful, superlative poem (through Radio 2's Wogan of all things). Maybe many of you discovered this a long time ago. For me - this is the first time that I have read this, written this and savoured this...:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The Aedh wishes for the cloths of Heaven by W. B. Yeats