On the Cornish history trail

On the first day of November, at the historic Fowey Hotel, we ate lunch in sunshine watching the river and looking across to Polruan, Cornwall. We were visiting for a couple of days holiday, but also on the trail of ancestors of my Grandfather, Sydney Bartlett, who lived here for many generations.

1-IMG_1982After lunch we took the little vehicle ferry across the river to Bodinnick,  by Daphne du Maurier’s house, and negotiating steep, narrow wooded lanes, we came to the ancient church of St Wyllow at Lanteglos -by -Fowey, Polruan.


Generations of Pearns dating from 1645 appear in the records for this Parish, all family of Sydney’s great great grandfather William Pearn.  In 1792, Willam Pearn, mariner, married Hannah Leavis. Sadly William died only 8 years later, and Hannah was left a widow, although she later married again to a Richard Cossentine. This is me standing by Hannah’s grave – my 4 x great grandmother (I look worried, but I was quite chuffed to have found it!)1-IMG_1989

” Beneath this turf lies the mortal remains of Hannah the beloved wife of R. Cossentine and widow of Wm. Pearn who died the 6 of July 1828 aged 55 years. In justice to her memory it can be truly said that SHE Livd belovd and died regretted. A tribute of respect to a dearly beloved wife and a tender MOTHER”

Two generations later William and Hannah Pearn’s grand daughter, Catherine, married William Bartlett, a young carpenter. The Bartlett family had also lived in this area for many generations, and the next stage of our exploration was to search for clues for this part of the family.

Wellbeing Economics?

A blustery grey day this week and the lights are on in our village library. Cheerful chatter subsides as a group of people sit in a circle, heads bowed over notebooks, silence only broken by scratch of pens on paper. Some minutes of scribbling follow, then a few sighs, a stretch and a hum of quiet comments.

It is the monthly meeting of our community “Writing for Wellbeing” group. As always I am amazed and humbled as everyday problems, big and small, are shared and transformed through the medium of creative writing.

In London, also this week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics met to launch its first report “Wellbeing in four policy areas” – transport, environmental planning, education and health, and arts and culture.

The connection between these two gatherings? A focus on creating a society which feels well, better even, through participating in creativity. “Experiencing arts and culture has demonstrable positive impacts on wellbeing… This is particularly true of participatory (as opposed to purely spectator) activities.” page 56 of the report.

Scientific studies around the world are showing the benefits to physical and mental health through expressive writing. In the library we sit surrounded by books whose authors attest to the positive health benefits of writing. Matt Haig, popular teen and adult fiction writer, including “The Humans”, says “writing saved my life”.

One writing group member remarks “the problems I came in with haven’t gone, but I see them differently after writing”, an experience echoed by many others.

For the London politicians wellbeing economics is about maintaining a happy, healthy workforce. Parliamentary Report chairman David Lammy MP commented “wellbeing matters more, not less, in times of economic difficulties.”

I could be cynical and say “it’s just about saving money”, but this week in the library I have seen it’s all about saving lives.

I wrote the piece above as an assignment for the Introduction to Journalism online course I am currently doing. The hardest part of the assignment was the word count of 300 words! I could write so much more…..

Autumn amazement

It’s been a while!

Apologies for my absence from blogging, the last few weeks have seen the final days of the life of my ninety-nine year old mother-in-law, and then several relatives stayed with us while we celebrated her funeral. Her dying was not unexpected, she had been becoming increasingly frail over the last few months, eating very little, and we knew her days were shortening. We will miss her feisty and courageous strength which endured for nearly a hundred years.

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The season is changing in the garden too. A glorious fanfare of stunning colour heralds the departure of tumbling leaves as they loose their hold on the tossing branches. Autumn can be brilliant, but inevitably speaks to us of endings, and lengthening nights, a darkening and a chill.

Mary Oliver captures it so well in her poem “When Death Comes”

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

- Mary Oliver

So even as the evenings draw in this autumn, and the days turn grey and wet, let’s stay “married to amazement” and celebrate the season with courage and joy.

Difficult threads

Any of you embroiderers out there, or others who sew and knit, will know how some threads work more easily than others! Some just flow through the machine without any trouble, and some don’t. Some tangle, twist and fray. Some snag, and snarl. Some break unexpectedly, some form little knots, some make nasty “birds nests” of threads on the reverse. Aaagh!120___09

I have learned a lot recently about using difficult threads from an Academy of Quilting course. I have discovered how reels of thread are wound differently, so positioning them so they unwind without twisting is all important. I have learnt about “sewers aid” which smooths sticky needles and scratchy threads. And I have been able to use my metallic and glittery threads, bought on impulse at fairs because they looked so good, without screaming with frustration!

One of the most successful ways of using the thicker of these tricky threads is to stop threading them through the needle! Instead I wind them on the bobbin of the machine, and sew from the back of the fabric. This way the tiny constricting eye of the needle is bypassed, as are all the tension plates on the top of the machine. Of course the down side is that sewing from the back means you can’t control how it looks as you sew; you just have to go for it and trust it will work!120___091


There are other difficult threads which run through my life ( and probably yours) not of the sewing variety! Certain people, relationships or situations can be similarly frustrating and seemingly impossible. Recent events in my own life have made me ponder on how to handle the “difficult threads” which never run smoothly. The lesson from my sewing seems to be to ease back the control, bypass the tension points and don’t try to force the issue! Perseverance helps, as does any thing akin to “sewers aid” which smooths and soothes, such as (for me) walks along the beach, coffee with friends.

So why bother with these difficult threads? Well, ironically, these are the threads which bring the touch of sparkle and gold to my sewing. They add those hints of treasure and richness, especially on a dark background. And, handled right, they can be fun and even add a “wow”.
So don’t give up…..filament fantasy

Restoration Process

Since our weekend away our lives have been dominated by the hospitalisation of my 99 year old mother-in-law, who fell and fractured her shoulder. She is very frail and fragile, her body is wearing out. But in spite of her confusion and distress she still has a strength and determination, some might say an “indomitable spirit”! Those of you who know her will know what I mean!!

The other day I woke up with this quote from the Bible in my mind.
“For this reason we never become discouraged. Even though our physical being is gradually decaying, yet our spiritual being is renewed day after day.” (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4‬:‭16‬ Good NewsTranslation ) It was a reminder for me that just because our outer physical selves are inevitably ageing and wearing out, it doesn’t mean we are “finished”!

Perhaps that is why I enjoy re-using, recycling, restoring old pieces of fabric, furniture etc. Nothing is ever finished or useless. Over the summer I have working on a project to restore an old trunk which has been in our attic for many years. Given to me by an elderly lady when I first went to university in the 1970′s, it was her trunk when she was a young lady on her travels, probably in the 1920s and 30s. Her name was Phoebe Bennett and although she died many years ago, her legacy remains.

The trunk was very battered, scratched and stained, it has been well used by me and one of my sons. I have been gradually cleaning it, painting it, and relining the inside. As I work on it I am reminded of that enduring quality of our lives, which has nothing to do with our outer physical being, but is about what we carry, our treasure within, and the legacy we leave. I am not sure yet what this old trunk will hold in the future…

Here are some pictures of the process so far. And I hope to post some updates – both on the trunk project, and how my mother-in-law is progressing.

Bank Holiday festival…

This time last weekend we had a fun time meeting as a family at  Greenbelt 2014. A beautiful new site, interesting speakers, musicians, writers and artists of all sorts  - Brian McClaren, Anne Lamott, Matt Haig, Mpho Tutu, Sinead O’Connor, Dave Tomlinson and many more…. As well as time to to sit around in the sunshine and eat together. Errr, well, Saturday and Sunday were sunny, Monday not quite so……!!

greenbelt 2014

Inspite of chilly nights and a muddy ending, we came away encouraged and inspired for the ongoing journey.

Capital day

London is not a place we visit often these days, although the coach ride is only just over two hours. A couple of weekends ago we mustered the energy to go, in order to see the Matisse Cut Outs exhibition at Tate modern.

The scale and colour of the exhibition was large, exciting and joyful. The video clips of the artist at work showed his enthusiasm and delight in exploring a form which brought together the texture and 3D quality of sculpture, with the colour and movement of painting. Both the process and product was akin to dancing or music making. To me it felt all the more wonderful because this was art produced when Matisse himself was struggling with the constraints of ageing and declining bodily health, and yet was able to break through the physical barriers to express a transcendent vibrancy.Henri Matisse - The Parakeet and the Mermaid 1952

There were a lot of people in the exhibition, in spite of the timed tickets, and at times I found it quite difficult to see and focus on the exhibits properly. It took effort and concentration, and we were glad of a coffee and chocolate ice cream at the end!globe lunch

We ate lunch overlooking the Thames, by Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, and later crossed the Millenium bridge, with views encompassing ancient and modern buildings. On to and beyond St Paul’s cathedral encountering more people, current art and culture en route, to the Museum of London where we were confronted with the span of human life on this site from prehistoric to modern times.london from millenium bridgebook bench

Just as in the Matisse exhibition itself, I found it exciting, stimulating and confusing to spend time in such a vast, historic and cosmopolitan city. Experiencing the vibrant life all around, a colourful, diverse, and multilayered collage of humanity, is demanding and even hard work!

But it was a good day out – we were reminded of the enduring qualities of human art, architecture, literature and spirituality, amidst wars, fires and plagues, and we managed to survive the frustrating confused muddle, crowds and noise of Victoria Station!