Navigating the Stourport Ring

I’m fascinated by canals. You have to admire the visionaries who financed and built the canals, and the armies of men who constructed them.

Most canals in England and Wales were dug by gangs of navvies in the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, within just a generation or two the canals were already in decline as an expanding railway network made transportation of goods cheaper and faster. The writing was on the wall for the canals once George Stephenson had demonstrated the power of steam locomotion.

The economic justification for and value of the canals waned, and they fell into disuse, and no longer navigable. However, in recent decades there has been a resurgence in the use of inland waterways. Today some 2000 miles of navigable waterways (canals and rivers) are managed by the Canal & River Trust, used mainly for pleasure traffic. Narrowboat holidays on the canals are very popular.

I have written several stories about the pleasure Steph and I take from walking along the towpath of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, that runs north-south between Gas Street Basin in the center of Birmingham and the River Severn at Worcester. The canal is less than two miles east of our home in Bromsgrove in north Worcestershire. Our walks normally cover small sections of the towpath between Tardebigge Top Lock (No. 58) and Astwood Bottom Lock (No. 17), a distance of about 5½ miles.

We not only enjoy the surrounding countryside, tranquil for the most part (unless a mainline express is speeding by about half a mile to the west), but also watching the canal narrowboats navigating their way up and down the Tardebigge Flight, the longest flight (of 30 locks) in the country, some with a greater degree of proficiency than others. Some days it can be like Piccadilly Circus¹ with boats queuing up to pass through the locks.

Taking to the water
We have taken only one canal holiday, in the summer of 1983, when Steph, Hannah (just five years old), Philippa (15 months) and me took to the water for a week, to navigate the Stourport Ring.

The Ring, for our purposes, comprised four waterways:

If I remember correctly, the various links connecting the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal with the BCN via the Stourbridge Canal and the Dudley Canals were not navigable in 1983.

Setting out, and setting some rules
It was early July, and we took Hannah out of school for the week with readily-granted permission from Mr Richards, the headmaster at Finstall First School. That would be almost impossible nowadays. We had chosen a small, 4-berth narrowboat for our holiday, Blue Heron, from a hire-boat center operating out of Alvechurch, about 15 minutes from home. So, packing clothes for a week, and several boxes of groceries (including the inevitable wine boxes that were very popular in the 80s), we headed to Alvechurch to board our boat.

Blue Heron, with Steph at the helm, and Philippa in the bow.

After a familiarization tour of the boat, one of the marina staff joined us for the first three miles to the first lock on our trip, Tardebigge Top Lock. Not only would that be the first lock we’d encounter over the next week, but it was one of the deepest. So, the marina staff not only wanted to guide us safely through this lock but also to show us the rudiments of safe canal navigation.


Looking at the various photos I have included in this post, you might be forgiven for questioning our apparent lack of awareness of on-board safety. Only Hannah is wearing a life jacket, something that would not be allowed more than three decades later. At five years old, we had to set Hannah some strict limits how to move around the boat. At 15 months, Philippa was already walking, and would crawl and stagger around the cabin whenever we moored for a meal break or at night. With either Steph or me steering the boat, one of us had to operate the locks, raising/ lowering the paddles to empty or fill each lock, and open the lock gates. So it was important we knew where the girls were at all times.

To keep Philippa safe, we put her in a high chair in the bow of the boat, and with her mob cap for protection, and a good coating of sun cream, she was (mostly) quite happy watching the world go by at a leisurely 4 mph (the maximum speed permitted on the canals), waving to passers-by, or falling asleep when the fancy took her. Hannah would often sit beside whoever was steering at the stern of the boat, or ‘help’ with the locks.

Our journey continues
Having successfully passed through Tardebigge Top Lock, we headed down a few more on our own, before mooring for the night just below the Engine House, then a nightclub/restaurant (but now converted into luxury apartments), near Lock 55 or 54, in the early evening. With two small children on board, we had to get them fed and not too late bedded down for the night.

The view from Tardebigge Top Lock (No. 58).

Looking south on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Lock 54. The Malvern Hills can be seen in the far distance.

We spent all the next day completing the Tardebigge flight, but I’m not sure if we reached Worcester that same day, or took another day. Probably the latter. However, we spent one night at Worcester’s Diglis Basin before facing the River Severn.

It had become clear on the final stretch into Worcester that Hannah was not her usual perky self. And by bedtime, she had a temperature. The next morning she really looked very unwell, so she and I headed off into the center of Worcester in search of medical help. Although only 15 miles or so from home, it felt like 100 miles. I didn’t have our doctor’s telephone number with me. In any case, there were no mobile phones in 1983.

Nevertheless, we finally got to see a doctor (after completing a slew of NHS forms because we were being treated as ‘visitors’, not our own doctor), who diagnosed tonsillitis, and prescribed a course of antibiotics. It was remarkable how quickly those had an effect, because by late afternoon Hannah was feeling very much better, and almost back to her normal self by bedtime.

Diglis Basin in Worcester.

Our departure from Worcester was delayed until after lunch. We steeled ourselves for the section of our trip on the River Severn. We had good weather (and for the whole week), and no particular difficulties on the river itself. But we did have to pass through the Diglis Lock connecting Diglis Basin with the River Severn. This lock is wide and deep, and a challenge for two canal novices like Steph and myself. I don’t remember that this lock was assisted.

Once on the Severn we turned north, having a grandstand view from the center of the river of Worcester Cathedral on the east bank, and the city center.

There was just one other lock on the Severn itself, at Holt, to bypass a weir. That lock had lock keepers, and was electrically operated. Once we reached Stourport-on-Severn, it was time to leave the river and join the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, for the next stage of our trip.

Entering the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Stourport-on-Severn.

This canal passes through the center of Kidderminster, a town famous world-wide for its carpet-making industry, then on through some lovely and peaceful red sandstone landscapes near Kinver in South Staffordshire.

We must have taken a couple of days to travel this section as far as Aldersley Junction, where we had to turn east and join the Birmingham Canals Navigation. However, as we needed water and some other supplies, we travelled a couple of miles further north, joining the Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley Junction for a very short distance before turning around to moor up for the night by Aldersley Junction. At Autherley Junction, there is a stop lock, with just a small height difference, a matter of inches, between the two canals to prevent drainage of one canal into the other.

The next section on the BCN was our penultimate day, taking us from Aldersley Junction, through the Black Country, Birmingham city center, and south again on to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, mooring up north of Alvechurch in order to arrive back on time at the marina the next day.

From Aldersley Junction there is a flight of 21 locks that raise the canal 132 feet. We made an early start, with the idea of stopping about half way for breakfast. However, we discovered at about one third of the climb that a previous boat had left the lock paddles open and several pounds between the locks had drained completely. The photo below was taken on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal a couple of years ago when several refurbishment projects were underway. But it shows the sort of scene that greeted us that morning on the BCN. It must have taken an hour or more to restore water levels to the pounds before we could get on the move once again.

Travelling between Wolverhampton and Birmingham in 1983 was like passing through a desolate lunar landscape, with scenes of dereliction all around. This is part of the so-called Black Country of Dudley and Tipton, formerly an important industrial area. Today this whole area has been reclaimed for housing. Even the derelict warehouses along the canals in the center of Birmingham have either been refurbished as ‘desirable residences’ or demolished and replaced by new housing and offices.

Near Gas Street Basin in 1983.

Signposts on the canal, Wolverhampton to the left, Worcester to the right.

However in 1983, there was little shade along the banks of the BCN in the Black Country of Dudley and Tipton. It was a very hot day, and the sun was beating down. Because we had to travel more miles than usual, I had my lunch and tea breaks on the move, so to speak. Just as we crossed Gas Street Basin, the weather broke and there was a tremendous thunderstorm. With that, we decided to moor until the storm had passed, before continuing south, past the University of Birmingham Edgbaston campus, and through the one and a half mile long Wast Hills Tunnel (under the Lickey Hills) north of Alvechurch, one of the longest in the country. We moored close to where the A441 crosses the canal at Hopwood, and enjoyed an evening meal at the Hopwood House pub.

The University of Birmingham campus from the canal near Selly Oak.

Just passed through one of the tunnels north of Alvechurch.

With only a short distance to Alvechurch, we spent a couple of hours cleaning the boat on the final morning, getting everything shipshape and Bristol fashion, and arriving back at the marina by the noon deadline.

From there, it was just a case of hopping into our car, and within 15 minutes we were back home. A very enjoyable holiday and, as you can tell as you read this post, one that left me with long-lasting memories.

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¹ The phrase it’s like Piccadilly Circus is commonly used in the UK to refer to a place or situation which is extremely busy with people.

Gardens, apples and pumpkins

For one weekend last September, I almost felt like a ‘latter-day Johnny Appleseed‘. I hadn’t seen so many apples in a long time, nor been apple picking before. Seems it’s quite a family outing sort of thing in Minnesota, towards the end of September, and especially if the weather is fine—maybe an Indian Summer day even.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Steph and I flew to the USA on 10 September to spend almost three weeks with our daughter Hannah, son-in-law Michael, and grandchildren Callum and Zoë in St Paul, Minnesota. And we still can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather this vacation. Almost every day for the entirety of our stay (including a side trip to Chicago), the weather was bright and sunny, hot even with days often in the low 80sF.

The first weekend in St Paul, Hannah and Michael took us to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (part of the University of Minnesota), around 23 miles due east of Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, along I-494 W and MN-5 W. There are miles and miles of roads and trails to explore, but with two small children of 5 and 3 in tow, we limited our visit to a walk through the various glades and gardens close to the arboretum’s Oswald Visitor Center (map).

Hannah and Michael had taken Callum and Zoë to the arboretum on 4 July, when there was an impressive display of Lego sculptures around the gardens.

On the Sunday of our second weekend in St Paul, we met up with Hannah and Michael’s lovely friends, Katie and Chris and their daughters Nora and Annie, to go apple picking at a farm in the valley of the St Croix River (that joins the mighty Mississippi just five miles south), about 30 miles southeast from their home in the Highland district of St Paul. Thanks to Katie for several of the photos below.

The Whistling Well Farm offers several apple varieties for picking, as well as pumpkins and pot chrysanthemums for sale, and chickens to feed.

It’s a great place for the children to explore, and to get thoroughly wet. There was a heavy dew!

Having ‘exhausted’ possibilities at Whistling Well Farms, we journeyed just a couple of miles west to Afton Apple Orchard, to take a trailer ride around the orchards and pumpkin fields.

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What a lovely way to enjoy the company of family, especially grandchildren.

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L to R: Hannah, Zoë, Michael, Callum, Steph and me.

 

 

 

Lakes and leaves – spending time in the Twin Cities

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity of visiting many of the ‘great’ cities in the USA: New York, Washington DC, St Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago (most recently). But the city (or should I say cities) I have visited most over the years are the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul in the heart of Minnesota.

And for good reason. First, when I was traveling to the USA in the early 1990s, the international airport in the Twin Cities (MSP) was the hub for Northwest Airlines (now absorbed into Delta), and was the most convenient way for travel from Manila in the Philippines into the USA.

Since September 2008, however, St Paul has been home to our elder daughter Hannah. After completing two years of her 3-year psychology and anthropology degree at Swansea University in the UK, she asked us if she could transfer to Macalester College in St Paul, a highly-respected—but small (maybe 2000 undergraduates)—private liberal arts college that counts former US Vice President Walter Mondale and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan among its notable alumni. The most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize for an original novel in the English language is Macalester professor Marlon James.

So, over the years we have visited many times and come to know and appreciate the Twin Cities, although St Paul is the half of this metropolitan duo that we know much better. There’s a vibrant community, and the cities have something for everyone. It’s pretty laid back, but I guess you could say that about Minnesotans in general. Maybe that’s why I like Minnesota so much.

Among the things I like are the breakfast diners (I like the Grandview Grill on Grand Ave, just below Macalester), some of the best ice cream I’ve tasted anywhere at Izzy’s on Marshall Ave, and only St Paul can boast the Fitzgerald Theater, home of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

But what sets the Twin Cities apart, for me at least, are the numerous lakes dotted around the Minneapolis side, and the tree-lined avenues everywhere. In fact, it’s hard to imagine cities that are more leady. And taking into account that Minneapolis-St Paul was founded on the banks of the Mississippi River, and on the ‘edge of the prairie’, the amount of tree planting over a century or more is implrsssive. Certainly the avenues are lined with some of the most impressive specimens I’ve seen anywhere, often up to 100 feet tall.

In the (speeded) video clip below, our recent return flight to Amsterdam took off from Runway 30L to the northwest, climbing over the Tangletown and Linden Hills districts of Minneapolis, over Lakes Harriet and Calhoun, before turning right, and heading northeast over the Mississippi just north of downtown Minneapolis, and continuing over the norther suburbs of St Paul.

There are some pretty fancy properties around the two lakes, but you can’t see them for the trees. It would be the same if you landed from the west or took off to the east and had a view over St Paul, which lies on the eastern bank of the Mississippi. Trees everywhere. And of course north of the Twin Cities, the landscape is dotted with lakes large and small. Not for nothing is Minnesota known as the state of the Thousand Lakes.

Hannah and her family live between the Macalester-Groveland and Highland districts of St Paul, just three blocks from the mighty Mississippi. Steph and I have mostly visited during the spring or summer months, so we get to see everywhere at its best in terms of flowering and in leaf. And this is what so impresses us as we take our daily constitutional down to the bank of the Mississippi and along boulevards lined with the most impressive trees. And of course there are some very fancy properties along there as well.

Mississippi

The view from the Ford Parkway bridge crossing over the Mississippi River, and looking north towards the Marshall Avenue bridge. Hannah lives just three blocks east of the river.

But having so many tall trees so close to residences has its drawbacks as well, as we saw in June 2013 after a short-lived but rather violent storm passed through (tornadoes are not unknown, but infrequent). Just close to where Hannah lives several large trees had been brought down, and fortunately the damage to houses was much less than we first feared.

Now although we’ve visited mainly in the summer months as I mentioned, we did spend one Christmas with Hannah and Michael in 2007. And what a baptism of cold it was. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such cold. And don’t forget we had left the tropical weather behind having just flown in from the Philippines! Nevertheless it was fun, and once suitable wrapped up against the cold we did get out and about on foot to savour the experience.

One interesting comparison we were able to make this September was when we walked from Hannah’s home to Minnehaha Park, just under two miles away. There is an impressive waterfall, which we have now seen in two contrasting seasons.

One of our favorite places to visit is Como Park, where there’s a small zoo and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. The conservatory is most exquisitely planted all year round. On a cold day in December it was a wonderful place to get out of the cold, and escape from the grey-out of a cold Minnesota day. But the conservatory was the location where Hannah and Michael were married in May 2006. We had the whole place to ourselves, and it had recently been planted with summer bedding plants. What a delight!

There’s also one aspect of walking around the Mississippi River area that we appreciate. It’s both human and dog friendly, because there are strict ordinances restricting the length of dog leashes.

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It’s the Pinoy in me . . .

Yesterday, Steph and I arrived in St Paul, Minnesota to spend almost three weeks with our elder daughter, Hannah, husband Michael and their children Callum (aged 5) and Zoë (3). It was a long 12 hour journey from Birmingham (BHX) to the Twin Cities (MSP) via Amsterdam (AMS), although an hour less on the transatlantic flight than scheduled.

We flew with Delta, but with the BHX-AMS sector operated by KLM, Delta’s Skyteam partner. Fortunately there were no ticketing problems this time as we’d had experienced on a couple of occasions. Then, the Delta online system had somehow filed Steph’s middle name as ‘Clair’ not ‘Claire’. And knowing how these errors can sometimes lead to check in issues I had attempted to resolve this ahead of travelling. Delta’s ticketing and reservations in Europe are handled by Air France (KLM’s parent company). Not only does the AF online system not ‘talk’ to the Delta one, but by the time we traveled (this was a couple of years ago), it had ‘lost’ her reservation. When we went to check in at BHX, the ticketing agent could only issue boarding passes to AMS, and although he could see our next sector AMS-MSP, he couldn’t access them. We had a nightmare transfer in Amsterdam and almost missed our connection. Even though KLM assured us that everything had been resolved, it took a phone call of almost 90 minutes in the USA directly to Delta to have everything finally resolved for our return.

So you can imagine my concern and trepidation a couple of days ago when I checked in online, and being transferred to the KLM website, received a message that the system was unable to issue boarding passes because ‘of an issue concerning one or more members of your group’.

‘Uh oh,’ I thought, ‘here we go again’, even though all the information about our tickets and reservations was 100% accurate in the Delta system. We were advised to print our boarding passes at one of the self service kiosks at BHX the following day.

We arrived to the airport in good time.  It’s a bit of a long-winded process to access the self service system, and the outcome was that it still denied us our boarding passes. We had to pick them up at the counter. When I asked if there was any issue concerning our reservations, the agent told me there wasn’t. She then gave us just two boarding passes, and my heart sank. I thought we were going to have sort our onward flights in AMS, and we only had just over 90 minutes to connect. Fortunately there was no problem. Both flights had been printed on a single boarding pass—a new one for me.

Now I wonder if the issue was that I had flagged, at the time of booking our tickets, that Steph is ‘hard of hearing’. I now recall the counter staff at BHX mentioning this, and perhaps the system was alerted that we needed ‘extra assistance’. But the advisory message when we checked in was much more cryptic than that, and given our previous experiences, I had just imagined something more complicated or serious. It will be interesting to see if the same happens on the return journey at the end of the month when our first flight will be with Delta, only transferring to KLM for the AMS-BHX leg of the journey.

This year we opted to purchase Delta Comfort+™ seats, at £60 each both ways. They’re just Economy seats, with slightly more recline, but a valuable four extra inches of legroom. You wouldn’t credit just how much more comfortable that made the journey. Plus free booze! So I did enjoy a few Bombay Sapphires and tonic to keep me going on the long stretch. I think the flight attendants were also just that bit friendlier to us in the Comfort+ seats.

So what’s all this got to do with the Pinoy in me. We were met at MSP by Hannah and Michael and two very excited grandchildren. And early in the evening I posted a couple of selfies with Callum and Zoë on my Facebook page.

And I had mentioned that I was beginning my ‘apostolic duties’. To a non-Filipino, it must sound like I’ve found religion or the like. But no. It’s a term to describe being a good grandparent. Because the Filipino for grandchild is ‘apo’. And here I am in the two photos with my American ‘apos’, being very ‘apostolic’. And enjoying every minute of it.

My good friends Bing Villegas and Fides Bernardo (who devised and directed the IRRI 50th anniversary shows in 2009) commented on my Pinoy connections. No wonder really, since I spent almost 19 years in that lovely country.

Mabuhay!

Just three generations . . .

Earlier today, I visited the public library in Bromsgrove searching for a book in the history section to read over Christmas. And I spotted a new acquisition by Stephen Bates with the title Penny Loaves & Butter Cheap – Britain in 1846.

1846 was just six years after my great-grandfather William Jackson was born. And that got me thinking.

My middle name is Thomas, and I’m named after my paternal grandfather. Yesterday, 17 December, would have been his 142nd birthday. He was born in 1872.

Grandad was a Staffordshire man, from Burton-upon-Trent, son of William Jackson (b. 1839) and Harriet neé Bailey (b. 1842). He died in February 1967, aged 94.

When I was born in 1948, the fourth youngest of his grandchildren, he was already in his mid seventies. He was profoundly deaf, so never served in the military – unlike my maternal grandfather, Martin Healy, who served with the Royal Irish Regiment on the Northwest Frontier for nearly five years from December 1894, and in South Africa during the Boer War for almost three years from November 1899.

Grandad was married twice. His first wife, Maria Bishop, died in 1902 giving birth to their second child, William. A daughter, Alice was born in 1899. He married Alice Bull (my grandmother) in August 1904, and they had four children: Winifred (b. 1905), Frederick (my father, b. 1908), Edgar, (b. 1914) and Rebecca (b. 1916). Grandad worked in one of the breweries in Burton, as a stationary engine driver.

After retirement in 1931, Grandad and Grandma moved to Hollington, a small village about halfway – more or less – between Ashbourne and Derby, where Grandma was born in 1880.

They lived in Ebenezer Cottage, and some of my earliest memories are of visiting them, along with aunts and uncles and cousins for large family Sunday gatherings. Grandad had his chair in the far corner of the room from the door, and woe betide any of us grandchildren bumping up against his chair and waking him up from a nap. He had this big white moustache, and bushy eyebrows. It was hard talking to Grandad – you always had to shout to make yourself understood.

I’m sure he was very fond of all his grandchildren, but you couldn’t always tell as he often had this stern look on his face. I don’t remember him smiling very much, but I’m sure he must have done. I have heard told that he was very strict with his children.

In 1954 my grandparents celebrated their Golden Wedding, with a party held in Hollington village hall. In 1964 it was their Diamond Wedding anniversary, a small family affair held at the house of my Auntie Wynne (my dad’s elder sister) and Uncle Cyril, where my grandparents had been living since the early 1960s after they had become too frail to continue living on their own at Ebenezer Cottage.

The beginning of the Victorian Age is for me only three generations back, to 1839 and the birth of great-grandfather William. The Napoleonic Wars had ended just a couple of decades earlier; the Crimean War was still 14 years in the future. The railway network was just beginning to expand rapidly, the canals already moving towards decline. And of course, there was increasing urbanization and that major transition from a pre-industrial to an industrial age and its associated evolution of the political system in the UK. Twelve of Charles Dickens’ 15 novels were published during William’s lifetime. William died in 1888, aged 49.

And for me, it has always been interesting to conjecture what impact – if any, or to what extent – the great events of those times had on my family. At least we know when and where they lived, and what they did for a living. These are my ‘live’ connections with history.

 

Sister, nanny, nurse, wife, mother . . .

Lily May Jackson, née Healy, was born on 28 April 1908 in Shadwell in the East End of London, where her father, Martin Healy was a police officer with the Metropolitan Police. There were good Irish names in the family: Healy, Lenane, Phelan, Fitzgerald. After her father’s retirement from the Met, the family moved to Hook Road in Epsom, Surrey.

She died on 16 April 1992, just shy of her 84th birthday. Although christened as Lily, she was known as Lilian.

She was a beautiful woman, and she was my Mum.

This is the earliest photo I have of her. It was taken on 1 May 1915, and she turned seven just a week earlier. She is second from the right in the middle row.

The Healys
Mum was the second child of eight. Her elder sister Margaret died in 1927 just before her 21st birthday. I wonder how close Mum and Margaret were? Mum had already been in Canada for six months when Margaret died. I wonder if she knew how ill Margaret was before she emigrated? How must have Margaret’s death affected her? There’s no record of her returning to England for the funeral – that would have been simply too expensive.

Her four younger sisters and two brothers were: Ellen (1909-1980); Ivy Ann (known as Ann, 1912-1998); Martin Patrick (known as Pat, 1914-2012); Eileen (1918-1994); John (1919-1994); and Irene Bridget (known as Bridie, 1921-1993).

I have no recollection of ever having met Ellen. I met Pat twice (in about 1955 and 1965 or so), and Mum reconnected with Ann in the mid-1960s and remained in contact afterwards. In about 1970 Bridie came over to the UK – probably the first time since she emigrated after the war, and that was the only time I met her. On the other hand Eileen and John were always in close contact with our family. In early 1955 or thereabouts –  but before

Eileen married Roy in May 1955 – I spent a week or more with Eileen at the family home in Hook Road, Epsom, Surrey. During that stay we visited John and Barbara at Worcester Park close to Epsom where John had his own gentleman’s outfitters business, and he gave me a red plaid tie. I wore that next day on a trip into London. Then she took me and my cousin Chris (born 1944), John and Barbara’s son, to Southend-on-Sea to visit Pat. I think he was a policeman there.

I guess Mum lost contact with some of her family because there was no longer the ‘focus’ of parents bringing everyone together from time-to-time. My grandmother had died in 1952 followed by granddad Healy in October 1954. I only met my grandmother once – I was very small and vaguely remember seeing this old lady in bed in a care home.

Eileen was quite a regular visitor as I was growing up in the 50s and 60s. She often needed hospital treatment and stayed with us to recuperate on one occasion after an operation at a hospital in The Potteries. John and Barbara became lifelong friends with my Dad’s elder sister Wynne and her family, and we’d often meet up on holiday in Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire.

L to R: Wynne (Dad’s elder sister), Barbara Healy, Dad, Ed (my elder brother), Cyril Moore (Wynne’s husband), Mum, John Healy, me, Diana Moore (cousin), Chris Healy (cousin), Mary (Diana’s closest friend) – enjoying the beach at Saundersfoot, c. 1961

Healy, Lilian 6g

A new life across the Atlantic
Mum emigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1927 at the age of 19 to work as a nanny for a Mr and Mrs de Lothiere; then she moved to New Haven, Connecticut in 1931 and shortly afterwards to New Jersey in the USA. There she trained as a nurse and graduated in May 1936 from The Hospital and Home for Crippled Children, Newark, looking after children suffering from polio and tuberculosis. I wonder if it was exposure there to tuberculosis that led to me acquiring immunity to this terrible disease? I say ‘shortly afterwards’ about her move to New Jersey because Mum once told me about the ‘Crime of the Century‘ in March 1932 when the son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped, and she remembered all the police activity.  She also knew New York before the Empire State Building was completed. We don’t know exactly what Mum did between leaving school and emigrating, but the manifest of the Cunard liner RMS Andania on which she sailed to Quebec from Southampton listed her as a ‘stenographer’.

Becoming a wife and mother
Mum first met my Dad on board a Cunard White Star liner in 1934 (probably the RMS Aquitania on which he served as a photographer for many of his transatlantic crossings) when she returned to England to see her parents and, with two friends asked him to take their photo. The rest is history!

They were married on 28 November 1936 at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic church in Epsom, Surrey, less than a fortnight before the abdication of Edward VIII on 10 December.

L to R: Alice Jackson, Thomas Jackson (Dad’s parents), Rebecca Jackson (Dad’s younger sister), Ernest Bettley (Dad’s best man and a longtime shipmate), Dad, Mum, Eileen (Mum’s second youngest sister), Martin Healy, Ellen Healy (Mum’s parents), photo taken at Hook Road, Epsom, Surrey.

Mum and Dad made home in Bath in Somerset and my eldest bother Martin was born there in 1939, just three days before war was declared on Germany. They moved to Congleton before 1941 because my sister Margaret was born there in January 1941. Dad served in the Royal Navy during the war, and Mum, Martin and Margaret lived some of the time with the Jackson in-laws in Hollington in Derbyshire. After the war, they returned to Congleton where Ed was born in 1946, and I followed in November 1948. In April 1956 we moved to Leek where Dad opened his own photographic business.

Mum and Dad were devoted to each other. They enjoyed a shared love of ballroom dancing, of whist, and were both very active in local groups in Leek, Mum with the Townswomen’s Guild (and amateur dramatics) and Dad with the Leek Camera Club.

Most years they would take a camping holiday in Wales (often with Ed and me in tow) mostly under canvas, but for a couple of years in a caravan. From the mid-60s they ventured more into Scotland on their own.

After Dad retired in 1976 and they sold the photographic business, Mum and Dad fulfilled a long-held ambition: to see the Grand Canyon. And so, 40 years after they had left the USA, they returned, visiting the West Coast, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and all places in between, and up to Alberta where my brother Ed lives.

Sadly Mum was widowed in 1980, but she continue to live, alone, in Leek. In late 1990 however, she suffered a stroke and was not expected to live more than a couple of days. But she did, and eventually moved into a nursing home in Newport near to where my sister Margaret and her husband Trevor then lived. I saw my Mum for the last time in June 1991 shortly before I moved to the Philippines to work at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In April 1992, Steph, our two daughters Hannah and Philippa, and me had just arrived for an Easter long-weekend away at the beach when we received the news that Mum had passed away peacefully in her sleep the night before. I then made arrangements to fly back to the UK for her funeral. Eileen and Roy also attended the funeral. A couple of years later, Eileen’s health took a turn for the worse, and was hospitalized. It was early November 1994 that I happened to be in London on a work-related trip for IRRI and took the opportunity of visiting Eileen and Roy in Epsom. Eileen  passed away about three weeks later.

I have long since stopped grieving for my Mum – or for my Dad for that matter. Martin, Margaret, Ed and me are left with beautiful memories of our wonderful parents. Fortunately we also have a photographic legacy as well to support those memories – that fade just a little more with each passing year.

On being a Grandad . . .

I’m not a very tolerant person. And I’m certainly not a very patient one, either. Hannah and Philippa will tell you that, as well as the folks I worked with at IRRI.

Neither am I a particularly little person person – frankly I’ve never been much into the small child thing, except my own of course. I’m not sure I was a very good father when Hannah and Philippa were growing up. During the 1980s, when I was working at the University of Birmingham, I think I focused rather too much on work and not enough on family. Maybe that is not such an uncommon thing. But looking back on those years, I do regret not dedicating more time to the girls than I did.

I was also a bit of a disciplinarian. There was definitely a line in the sand . . .  So it’s come as a bit of a surprise to me to realize just how much I love and enjoy being a Grandad.

When we visited Hannah and Michael in September 2010 and met young Callum Andrew for the first time, it was a LONG time since I’d held a baby. And I think I took to it like a duck to water. One thing though, I don’t do nappies/diapers.

As we have watched Callum grow, seen his personality develop, and all the skills he is developing, it’s such a wonder and joy. Callum and me have a great time playing peek-a-boo, and this continues even on Skype. He has such a welcoming smile – the whole screen lights up. Now that he’s walking, his personality has blossomed, and it seems he’s into everything. I can see that Callum and I are going to be big buddies, and we look forward to visiting again later this year.

Now, Philippa and Andi’s little boy, Elvis Dexter, was born only 4 months ago, and we met him just a couple of weeks later, and then again just before Christmas. What a difference two months can make. It’s really fun taking over for a while, having him snuggle down and go to sleep in my arms. He looks like he’s going to be a tall and slender boy, and we look forward to seeing him growing up.

Our first grand-daughter, Zoe Isobel was born at 00:21 local time on 8 May 2012 in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. She’s a little sweetie, and it’s fascinating to see her grow and interact with Callum.

Grandadhood has already brought special times to retirement. But it is just a pity that the grandchildren are not closer to home. Hurrah for the Internet and Skype!

July 2015 update:
Here we are in July and Callum will soon be 5 and starting school in September. Zoë was 3 last May. Elvis will be 4 at the end of September, and his younger brother, Felix, will be 2 on 1 September. Here are a couple of latest photos.

June 2015 150

Elvis&Felix July 2015