Have a plan B

Not all older mums choose to be older mums; there are all sorts of reasons why some people have children later in life… My earlier life-story isn’t relevant here,  but I became an older mum to two amazing children, now amazing adults,

As part of the challenge a friend and I have set ourselves – writing 73 different types of blog, I have reached ‘Expert Advice‘; a couple of days ago I was pondering on this right here, wondering what I am an expert in, or what I could comment on as an expert. About the only thing is writing – and most of the 73 challenge so far has seen me writing about writing… My daughter happened to be passing my writing room door and suggested I am an expert older mum… well, it’s very flattering to have my child think that, and if she thinks so…

I have been pondering on this, and have decided that I will share some of my experiences, and maybe from them people can see some ideas and thoughts which might be interpreted as expert advice…

I’d got to a stage in my life when I thought I’d never be in a situation where having children was on the agenda. Unexpectedly, completely out of the blue I not only found I had a partner but he wanted children and it became a possibility for me. I was seeing the doctor about something unrelated and asked if she had any advice for me and she looked at my age and said it was highly unlikely I would conceive with my advanced years (I wasn’t yet forty) and my husband was so elderly (four years older than me) the whole thing was just about impossible. My husband and I talked this over and took a practical stand – if we were fortunate enough to have children (old Methuselah and me) then fabulous, if we didn’t then we’d enjoy our life together and make it as fulfilling as possible.

… so I had two children over the next three years, and if things had worked out differently, we would have had several more.

OK… expert advice… or advice anyway if you don’t think I’m an expert:

  • you never know what life has in store for you so don’t give up hope, but at the same time have a plan B for your future happiness
  • people you expect to know about such things, aren’t always right

My pregnancies weren’t without incident, and for all of them I had to spend time in hospital. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it – I’d done all that I could in terms of living healthily, so I just had to accept whatever happened to me – and to  the babies. I was so fortunate that everything went well, I remained alright and both  my children were born perfect.

We were living far away from our families; my mum had died ten years previously, my father-in- law two years before we married. None of our close friends lived very nearby, and none of them had babies as they’d had their families when they were in their twenties, not like us antediluvian first time parents.  If I’d been younger, I might have felt isolated and alone, however, having had so many life experiences and being more mature (as doctors kept reminding me) I guess we were more laid back and didn’t get as anxious or frightened as some first time mums and dads do…. and I guess laid back was our style of parenting too.

As the babies became children, we certainly did have rules – and I guess we were quite strict (but not rigid) about some things. We always ate sitting at table,for example,  the TV wasn’t always on, manners were important, respecting other  people, being loving and kind, being polite,…

  • keep calm, trust yourself, the phrase ‘worse things happen at sea’ is well worth keeping in mind when someone refuses to eat something, breaks something, doesn’t want to go to sleep etc. The child is not going to starve because it doesn’t like green vegetables or won’t eat its crusts – it doesn’t need an alternative to what’s on its plate
  • be flexible and adaptable… times have definitely changed since we were kids and rigid parenting was probably never right, so do what seems best and sensible (you’re older so you know what’s sensible and what’s ridiculous – modern fads are probably just as ridiculous too)

One thing I did slightly worry about was seeming like a grandma compared to other mums once they started going to activities…. I just tried to be myself… I may not have had the same interests as some young mothers, the same taste in music, or the same fashion sense (I confess I have hardly any fashion sense) but we all had kids and I soon made friends of my own, including people I’m still friendly with now.

One thing I did notice, some mums were really struggling with not having the same freedom as BK – before kids, being an all-day mum and then an all-evening mum was tiring and frustrating, and some people felt really trapped and were in fact quite down. As an older mum I have to say I didn’t find this – I’d had my freedom all through my teens, my twenties and my thirties! I’d gone out, partied, pubbed, danced, done silly things, been a bit irresponsible, been selfish, done what I wanted do. Now I loved every minute of having my children, and didn’t mind staying in – I knew my time would come again when they were older and independent. As I mentioned we didn’t have family nearby, but we had the resources to entertain ourselves at home – I was beginning to write seriously, my husband was still involved in music and enjoying being in a band.

  • you’ve had your time gadding about – you’ve had your work and your fun and your social life, now you’re lucky enough to be able to fully enjoy being a mum!! Your gadding about can begin again once they’re out with their pals!!

Just as a rider, if the children become involved in their own social activities such as sports, Rainbows/Beavers, having mates round to play and going to their houses too, then you do have that extra bit of time to do your own things. Even when the children are tiny there are plenty of activities which involve other children – accompanied by other parents who you can chat and natter to!

One thing my daughter and I comment on, now she’s a grown-up, is how good our relationship is, how much we enjoy each other’s company, and yet we are still mum and daughter – we are not best friends; it puzzles me when people talk about their children and say ‘oh s/he’s my best friend…’ No, no s/he isn’t! However old s/he is, s/he’s your child not your friend; you can get on really well, you can be really close, you can be each other’s confidant, but you are not best friends. One is a parent, one is a child.  As an older mum this is patently obvious!

  • you are your child’s mother, not their best friend

There are aspects of being older when you have children which are more challenging to cope with, for example finances – especially if your children want to go to university, but I feel so lucky to be an older mum – I think I am better at is as an older person… I would have struggled when I was younger!!

Us old fogeys and the nippers




Christmas party and Apple Meringue

It’s our family Christmas party tonight…

The National Mark, introduced in the late 1920’s, aimed to improve the quality of food, by regulating it; to help people become better and more creative cooks, while still being careful and economical, using locally grown produce, a Calendar of Recipes was produced in a little booklet.

At the beginning of each month’s recipes was a list of vegetables in season and obviously these would have been things families would eat. Much on the list is exactly what we would find in our greengrocer’s today, such as broccoli, celery, leeks and parsnips, but there are some items which I’m not sure would be in every fruit and vegetable department:

  • chicory
  • horseradish
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • mustard and cress (this seems to have gone completely out of favour)

As well as the foods, there are eleven recipes to go with them each month, and December obviously features turkey ‘and its Accompaniments’ including a recipe for chestnut stuffing, an idea of how to use up leftovers and Christmas cake. I was interested to see that included in the recipes is one for Brussels sprouts with chestnuts… and this is a recipe written over eighty years ago; it only seems recently that all the TV chefs were cooking this, and I read a comment recently that nearly all the chestnuts sold are cooked with Brussels sprouts… well, the National Mark was certainly ahead of the game!

As we come up to Christmas, there are loads of get-togethers and parties, and next week our book club are having a gathering; I am making a dessert and I think I will use this National Mark recipe:

Apple Meringue

  • 1½lb apples
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz butter
  • 3-4 oz sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • mace
  1. peel, core and slice the apples, simmer in a little water with the sugar
  2. when cooked, beat to a smooth paste adding the yolks of the eggs and the other ingredients
  3. put in small oven-proof dishes, or a single larger dish
  4. beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in the remaining sugar
  5. put the meringue on the puddings 9 the recipe suggest decorating at this stage with angelica or glacé cherries but I won’t)
  6. bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly brown

Writing your family history – small domestic tasks

I had a great session with my Family History Writing Group; we are exploring how to tell the story of the past, our past, our forebears and ancestors. Sometimes their lives were mundane and ordinary, sometimes incredible and extraordinary. But how do we write about them? How do we make accessible all the work we have done on our genealogy?

My group ponders and thinks about this. Today, as a starter, I gave extracts from a selection of 1940’s and 50’s books which explained all about domestic tasks, just ordinary everyday things which we do now, and the people who came before us also did – but differently.

Here’s a selection of extracts from a variety of sources (including me):

  • How easy for me, and how hard it was in past generations; the mum and daughters would be up early to light the fire under the copper to heat the water – in even earlier generations I guess it would be pans of water over the fire, or just using cold water from the pump or nearby stream or river. Once the water was hot, then the clothes could be washed – or in case of whites, boiled, along with some powder or soap to get the marks out. Things would have been scrubbed, washboards used, things pounded on slabs, or stones by the river. To get rid of excess water the washing would be squeezed and wrung and passed through a mangle. Then the laundry could be put on a line, or thrown over a bush, or laid out on clean pasture. Wooden pegs, wooden clothes props, and wooden clothes horses… I do have wooden pegs, but I have a whirligig clothes line and plastic-coated, metal clothes horse.
  • Recipes From an Old Farm Kitchen – Sue Robb
    When farmhands were in plentiful supply those who did not sleep in the loft over the kitchen had to be in the yard by 6a.m. That meant a long walk in the eerie morning light, and potholes were like a magnet to the steel toecap of a big nailed boot. Putties were unrolled every morning and bandaged from boot to knee cap. They were part of the farm workers uniform in the days of earthen floors, ash pits and brass knobbed kettles. The fire in the hearth or the big black range had to be lit, then to wait patiently until it was well kindled before putting on the outsize pan filled with thick slices of home cured salty bacon, soda farls and yellow yoked eggs.
  • The Happy Housewife Ruth Drew
    • when putting clothes through a wringer, see that the buttons and trimmings are folded inside for protection
    • berets and caps can be dried successfully on plates or basins of the appropriate size –
    • Do not peg corsets or girdles for drying by shoulder straps or suspenders. Hang lengthwise
    • Getting really dirty collars clean – Wet the collars overnight. Massage in some soapflakes, or detergent powder. Roll each up tightly, like a Chelsea bun. This loosens dirt gently
    • To wash delicate old lace – pour some suds made with the best quality detergent into a jam jar or wide-necked bottle. Pop the lace into the jar, cover the top, and shake really well. Rinse thoroughly and roll in a towel to absorb the moisture
    • To wash corduroy at home – the bath is the best tub! Move the corduroys up and down in a rich lather. Don’t rub or twist. Go over very dirty places with a soft nailbrush. Hang to drip dry – no wringing please
  • The Happy Housewife Ruth Drew
    Rugs for the bedroom or nursery can be made from oddments of unravelled wool. Either work in firm double crochet using the wool double or treble, or work in garter stitch, again using the wool double or treble. The needles should be fairly fine compared with the thickness of the wool, to make a firm fabric. Alternatively, several thicknesses of wool to make tufted rugs or mats, a delightful multi-coloured spot effect being obtained by making every tuft a different colour.

Unravelled wool is as good as, and sometimes better than new wool for darning, and a collection of oddments is invaluable when trying to match colours for mending or embroidery.

  • Constance Spry
    • if you don’t have a double sink supplement your single one with a rinsing bowl
    • use soap flakes not detergent (if you have to use detergent take special care with rinsing so no smell is left behind)
    • a slice of lemon dipped in salt will remove tea stains from cups
    • use a little vinegar in your rinsing water
    • do as old-fashioned housewives did – boil your silver spoons and forks, dry while hot, and polish with a leather (this avoids cleaning with ‘plate powder’)
    • dry mustard rubbed on the blade of a knife removes the smell of fish or onions
    • fine wire wool and soap is the best way to clean saucepans (wire wool once used becomes rusty so keep it in a jar of cold water – you can also add left over bits of soap to the water)
  • Constance Spry – washing up: what you will need:
    • fairly loose-fitting, rough-surfaced rubber gloves
    • one or possibly two papier mâché bowls
    • a rubber scraper
    • a roll of rough crêpe paper, sold for the purpose of wiping crockery or cutlery clean before washing
    • two or three mops
    • tea and glass cloths
  • Historically most ordinary households wouldn’t have had sinks; water would have been brought in buckets from a well or pump and then decanted as needed. Then a bowl to contain water to wash dishes would have been the only way to do it; later such chores as  washing clothes would have moved from an outside activity in a stream or river, to an inside activity, using a sink – then it would have been important to have a separate bowl for dish washing. The first sinks would have been made of some hard material, some sort of stoneware or ceramic and it would be easy to accidentally break dishes or cups against the sides, so an inserted tub or bowl would have been practical from that point of view.
  • Recipes From an Old Farm Kitchen – Sue Robb
    • onion porridge to cure a cold – 3 large onions, peeled, soaked in water then chopped and 1 apple chopped added to ½ teacup of water, 1 teaspoon honey, 3 cloves, water salt and pepper all simmered together until tender and eaten at supper time
    • an old-fashioned remedy for exhaustion – two fresh eggs beaten with a little warm water… apparently “inside 15 minutes the eggs thus taken all turned to nourishment…
    • celery milk for rheumatism – wash, trim and chop sticks of celery into small pieces, simmer in water and milk for an hour, pound then strain through a jelly bag and use as required freshly made

Who is telling the story?

I had the second meeting of my new Family History Writing group today; this is a writing group (as it says on the tin) but the writing is about family stories, told in any way anyone likes. It is not a genealogy group, although obviously there is a lot of genealogical chit-chat!

Last time we met I set everyone a task – completely voluntary, it wasn’t homework, just a suggestion of what to write:

  • Using an object or a photo, write something connected to your family (it would be helpful if you could bring the object/photo next time but don’t worry if you can’t)
  • Write about a place with a personal or family association
  • Write about a person – maybe who you never knew but only heard about from family stories, or discovered through your research

I had a great response although only one person did bring a photo (of a family wedding from about a hundred years ago) – some great stories, some very moving, some exciting, some funny, some intriguing.

My theme this month was “Who is telling the story?” and I shared something from my only family history to show different ways of putting over the past:


  • 1853 – Lois Penney born, Water Newton Northamptonshire, to Charles and Martha Penney
  • 1861 – Lois appears on the census
  • 1871 – Lois may be living in Cambridge
  • 1881 – housekeeper in London to Louis Walford and his son George
  • 1891 – visitor to Louis Walford’s family (now five children)
  • 1895 – Louis Walford dies aged forty-nine
  • 1901 – Lois has changed her name to Walford and lives with her five children
  • 1911 – Lois lives with two of her children ‘on independent means’
  • 1930 – Lois dies and is buried in Hendon


Lois Penney (spelt Lowes on her birth certificate, gender unknown) was born in 1853 to Martha Ann Penney (née Quenby) and Charles Penney a basket maker. Lois was born in Water Newton in Northamptonshire, the seventh of ten children. Her mother died in 1878 and her father married again and had two more children.

Lois appears in the census returns for 1861, and then the records become confused; the family may have lived in Cambridge in the 1870’s. In 1881 she appears as a housekeeper in a property in London and on the same record is George Walford; George is her son, her son by Louis Frederick Walford from Hobart Tasmania. In the 1891 she is ‘a visitor’ to the same household and now there are five children – these are her children.

In 1895 Louis dies; the records do not show but his family continued to support Lois and the children. When Louis’s own mother died in 1900, Lois changed her name to Walford and on the 1891 census she at last is shown as mother to her own five children.


From the shelter of the old yew tree Lois stared across at the happy bridal couple emerging from the little church… the church of St Regimus, Water Newton… who was St Regimus after whom the church was named? It seemed safer to think of such things than to watch her father laughing down at his bride, Mrs Penney, formerly Miss Livesidge…
Maybe she couldn’t blame him, marrying again… Lois knew what it was like to be alone and lonely… although Charles Penney was not alone! He had his sons and daughters, he had his nine other children, and their children too… children… Lois thought of her own little boy, Georgie… he was with his grandmother, his other grandmother, taken there by his father and into a world Lois could not imagine. She had seen the house, the big white house on Regent’s Park, she had walked past it with her sister Sarah.
She was looking forward to seeing Sarah later; they had arranged to meet at the railway station before Lois took the train home… home… the house she lived in with George and her beloved Louis, where to everyone around she was the housekeeper and nurse to her own son.
Her father was kissing the bride again as their guests threw grains of wheat and barley, showering them in grain for good luck. Lois would never experience this… she would never leave a church on the arm of her new husband, climb into a carriage and depart with the company throwing old shoes after them as the horses pranced and drew them to their new home… Louis would never marry her,; he had promised he would never marry, never go into a synagogue and perform whatever rituals were necessary…
Lois thought of the stories of Jewish weddings that she had read in the Bible…  No, that would be something she would never see…

As a way of demonstrating different approaches to writing family history or about family history, I shared a blog my friend Andrew has written about a genealogical search he made:


I have written fictionally  about searching for a family history in my Radwinter series:


Unusual names

I came across the unusual name of Windrum in a churchyard in Somerset, and wrote about it a couple of years ago:

I came across the name Windrum and wondered where a family with that name might have originated; it was so unusual, I’ve never heard of it or seen it anywhere before.

I looked back in the nineteenth century censuses and the first time it appears in 1851; in Scotland there was a family of Windrums, the father William was a fisherman and he and his wife Mary had two little girls, Helen and Jennet, pretty names. Jennet is obviously a Windrum family name, because in the same place is another family, a Chelsea pensioner named George, and his wife Jane, and their children, Jane, Peter, and another Jennet. There is another family of Windrums in Pailey and they work in the textile industry; however in the workhouse in Anwick it is a different story, poor Harriet Windrum and her five children are in the workhouse, described  as paupers – it doesn’t mention whether she is a widow, but nor does it mention a husband. There are Windrums in subsequent censuses, but never very many of them; it is indeed an unusual name!

I’ve returned to this lovely sounding name a few times, but have not really found an answer to its origin, although it may be Scottish. In the early censuses, all the families lived in Scotland or North-east England; in later censuses there were a few families in southern England, mostly London. I did find there were quite a number of Windrums in Canada; when I looked at some nineteenth century shipping lists there were indeed a number of Windrum passengers to Canada, but also a great many to Boston, and also New York. I guess from these North American Atlantic ports people would travel into the west and would probably settle all over the place. It wasn’t unexpected to see a lot of people had also gone to Australia and New Zealand, and a few to South America which may have been on business rather than to settle. My own grandfather travelled to Brazil, for example, but not to settle or live there. There were a lot of Windrums, particularly men from Ireland who served in the forces, but I also found another statistic which showed that many people with that name worked in agriculture.

Having an unusual name myself, first name, last name, married name, I guess I am interested in other people with distinctive names. I think the Windrum’s are even more distinctive than mine!

My family story in ten objects… number 7

I am looking at how the story of a family could be told through a certain number of objects – I suppose like an actual museum, but this is a virtual museum. Some of the objects I might wish to share are long gone – not necessarily valuable or significant items, but little domestic objects, such as the red handled serrated tomato knife, or the glass chess set, or the child’s globe…

My object number seven is a book; it is ‘on display’ for several reasons. Books have been an intrinsic part of my family’s life, and reading has been an intrinsic part of my ancestors’ lives. This particular book, which I still have, was probably published in 1960 and it is a collection of stories, articles, quizzes, and miscellanea. Its purpose, now I look at it, was to interest and educate as much as to entertain; many of the stories were based on true events though some were written to be more exciting and accessible to young readers. There were practical articles too, of the ‘how to’ sort, and biographies of famous people.  The book covered stories from across the world, and I can’t imagine how many times I read and reread them.

So why is this book on the museum shelf? Books and reading have been an embedded part of my life, my parents and relations, my sister and I, and now my children.  My daughter is a very practical reader, she reads for a purpose not just for entertainment, my son is more varied and reads books of all descriptions. My husband is, like me an addicted reader, and my parents were readers too, both of them, fiction and factual, books, newspapers, magazines.

Thinking back to my grandparents who I didn’t know well as they died when I was very young (one grandfather the month before I was born) I have no idea whether they read or not, but I can guess they did as we inherited books from them (long since disappeared) and my parents must have inherited the reading habit from somewhere. Certainly my grandmother who left school when she was thirteen, and worked in very lowly positions was not only literate, but as an old lady, after a hard day’s work, would sit by the fire reading the Daily Telegraph from cover to cover – I’m not drawing any conclusion about her political persuasions, but in those days a broadsheet was a large newspaper with tiny print and certainly the Telegraph covered every aspect of life from world politics to seasonal recipes.

A different grandfather who I did know as an old man, lived alone and read and re-read Westerns and adventure stories. He’d had a very adventurous life and travelled to distant places – were his travels inspired by the books he read when he was young, were the books he read as an old man a way of recapturing the excitement of his travelling life? His wife, my grandmother was very well-educated; she certainly would have been a reader. I remember visiting their house when I was tiny and there were children’s books, very strange children’s books, which I realise now must have been from her childhood.

As for my more distant ancestors, who knows? Certainly my Jewish family would have been very well-educated, probably with tutors at home.  Another family who worked on the land as agricultural labourers probably had a more rudimentary education, but their children had aspirations to come off the land and ‘better themselves”. The family of what you might call ‘artisans’, shoe-makers, butchers, ship-builders, and small businessmen – publicans and shop owners, would have had their children educated – maybe their reading  material was the latest exciting instalment of a Dickens’ story!!

So, this nearly sixty year-old book sits on my actual bookshelf, as well as my imaginary one, as an example of an important aspect of my family story – reading.

As a footnote… my love of reading has brought me here…  It has been overtaken by my love of writing!

Stepping into the past

I have shared this before, but as I’ve been thinking about writing family stories with my new family history group, it seems a good time to share this again:

Stepping into the past

My family has always been great for telling stories, stories about our parents and their parents and people going back a hundred years. It seemed natural that when I was able I should want to trace my family history, and find out more about the people whose names I knew, Aunty Olive, for example… who was she? And did the Elsdens really come from Sweden, and were the Sparshotts really Norman soldiers? Why did the Moses family change their name, and why did they choose Walford?

My family came to the West Country nearly fifty years ago, from Cambridge, to settle in Weston-super-Mare and then Uphill; so although our story might start in the east of the country, for my parents it ended in a village by the sea. However if I wanted to look further back, I have to trace the records of my East Anglian ancestors, and these days it is so easy to do that; thanks to the internet and all the genealogical sites (some of them free) it is not difficult to go back through records of births, marriages and deaths, and to check every census record from when they first began in 1841, to the last one available, that of 1911.

It used to be that if you wanted to research your family tree you had to visit public record offices, go to different parishes to look at church records, or trail round cemeteries and churchyards looking for evidence of your ancestors. It is still interesting to do that, of course, but my great-grandfather was born in Tasmania, so that would be a long and expensive journey to research him! Thanks to the internet I have found records of his father’s business in Hobart, of the ship he had, the Lady Denison which sank off the shore of Australia… or did it? I have found reports in the Tasmanian newspapers of the 1860’s that in fact convicts on board overthrew the captain and sailed the ship across the Pacific to San Francisco!

My husband’s family came from Hampshire and it is quite fitting that we should now live near the sea in Uphill because his family have always been connected with it. His ancestors were involved in ship-building, sailing, and dockyard work from as early as 1815… and probably before that, so it is his great delight to walk down to the boatyard and look at what is happening there. Of course Uphill used to be a port, going back to very early times, and he finds exploring the history of the village fascinating!

It is generally thought that in the past people did not travel around very much and stayed in their own little villages and communities apart from occasional visits to markets or on a special occasion such as a wedding. From my delving into my family history I have found this is just not so; our family on all sides moved around all over the place!

The Elsdens originally came from Norfolk, moved to Suffolk, then Essex, then Cambridge, moving from working on the rivers, to working on the land, to working on the railways. My mother’s family came from Colmar in Alsace to London where they were slop dealers – slops were rags, not what we think of as slops! They became businessmen and this is why they went to Tasmania, as traders importing wines and fine silks and porcelain from China and tea from India, and exporting whale products, minerals and wool.

My parents and my mother-in-law ended up in Uphill, and in one day some future generation is searching for their records, they will find that this is where they now rest, far from where they were born and married.

It is so interesting to think of all these different stories and histories, coming from so far away, and coming together to settle in this little village by the sea in Somerset.

Her’s a link to my books: