Tuesday, 25 February 2014


When I was a kid, there used to be rhymes we’d chant on different occasions. One was Windy weather, frosty weather, when the wind blows, we’ll all blow together. I used to sing it with my boys when they were small, making a game of the walk to school or the shops. We’d hold hands and run and then on the all blow we’d swing together and collide into each other. There was also When the North Wind doeth blow, and we shall have snow and what will the robin do then, poor thing? He’ll sit in a barn to keep himself warm and hide his head under his wing, poor thing. I was curious enough about the latter to google it and discovered that it is British and believed to date from the 16th century, which means that probably my ancestors recited it when they were children.

    Growing up in Liverpool I don’t remember ever seeing a barn and the only robins would be on Christmas cards. Sparrows, pigeons and gulls were the only birds with which I was familiar. It’s different today because we have a garden and at this time of year all kinds of birds are regular visits to the seeds, nuts, bread and other scraps John puts out for them. We also do the same on our early morning walk across the Leeds-Liverpool canal and the field that leads to Waterloo.  

I’m reminded of these rhymes due to the atrocious weather that has been hitting Britain and is still giving so many people a miserable time. Fortunately Merseyside hasn’t come off too badly. A week or so ago on Windy Wednesday the worst damage our property suffered was a buckled fence panel and a toppled plant pot. We’ve had scarcely any frost and some of last year’s geraniums are still flowering in a pot just outside the back of the house.

Whenever my son, Iain, does research for me, I always ask him to check the weather at times, such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter and various bank holidays as I consider it plays very much a part in our lives. There are certain years that stand out in my memory. Early 1947 was when the snow seemed to last forever and snowman lingered for ages as did the icy slides in the street and on the bombed holla where there had once been a church. The summer that year was a hot one when the tar between the cobbles in Whitefield Road melted and we’d poke at it with lolly ice sticks. 1976 was the long hot dry summer during which I sat the exam for Geography O level whilst pregnant with my youngest son, we also bought our first car for which we paid a £100. We motored down to Dawlish in Devon, which has been so much in the news lately because the storms put the railway out of action. The car broke down on the way home and we had to wait from 10am until midnight before the AA Relay came to our rescue and took us home. Daniel was born in the autumn of that year after the rains finally came.

 Daniel was to accompany me to Ireland during the school summer holidays in the late 1980s. We took our bikes on the ferry and cycled from Dublin into the Wicklow Hills, having never been there before to stay with the relatives of a friend of church. I wanted to research an historical romance set in Ireland in the reign of Richard II. It was unusually hot and the tarmac stuck to our bike tyres and the tips of Daniel’s ears got sunburnt and peeled. The house had no running water and an outside loo with no main drains. Some water was collected from a tank on the roof but I remember carrying a bucket to the river for water, too. Within two days the rains came and we managed to get a lift in a van to Dublin where we stayed in a youth hostel there. Unfortunately Dublin Castle was closed to the public as it was being renovated. Today, I would have discovered that online before we left home but at least I got the feel of the city and the experience came in useful when I wrote not only FATEFUL ENCOUNTER but also my second saga FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY set in Liverpool, Ireland and on a ship going to America during the Irish Civil War.

As I have no photographs of us in Ireland or France, here is one of Daniel and I outside the lovely Ely Cathedral when he received his Open University Mathematical Science degree in 2006.

Daniel also went with me to France by train and hovercraft a year or so later. Another first for both of us and the research that time was for an historical set during the time of Henry V. We stayed in Calais for a couple of days but my plans to go further afield were scuppered by the railways going on strike. The weather wasn’t too good either. GREY is the word I’d use. Still it was an experience and the book LOVE’S INTRIGUE was eventually published here and in France.

The weather this morning was bright and sunny and temperatures did reach 10 degrees C, and lifted the spirits but by 2pm it has clouded over and after visiting Caradoc Mission in Seaforth for a Ladies Brunch, sitting at my desk finishing the blog I started a week ago isn’t a bad place to be. Any minute now I expect it will rain.  



Friday, 7 February 2014


Part of the reason I joined Ancestry is because I’m naturally nosey. I love ferreting out the whys, wheres, whens and hows of things. I also have a lazy streak. I remember my brother, Don, saying that he thought it was a family thing. I’m not so sure about that, although when I was in labour with my son Dan, the midwife said that she’d never come across such a relaxed baby. Still Don and I wouldn’t have been the first two in our family to be able to put down a deposit to buy our own houses if that were true. Although our parents lived in rented property all their lives, us four Nelson offspring managed to buy our own houses, be it ever so humble. I might be a naturally couch potato but when it’s absolutely necessary I can work my socks off.

      The mention of socks, reminds me of a conversation I had with two of my sons the other day. On the telly there was a lot of talk about the poor and food banks. I couldn’t help but say those fateful words I remember… What I remembered was only possessing two pairs of socks and having to wear them inside out to make them last the week. No hot running water, no washing machines, central heating, television. In winter there would be frosty fern patterns on the inside of our bedroom window; the oven shelf in the black leaded grate would be wrapped in newspaper and put in our bed to warm it. As John and I took our morning walk on the field the other side of the Leeds Liverpool canal, the other day, we discussed gloves. No shortage of such in our house now but when we were kids, I remember wearing a pair of socks on my hands to play out in the snow. When they grew sodden wet, I’d go indoors and warm them on the fireguard. He didn’t have gloves.

  But I digress.

  I haven’t been on Ancestry for a while but this morning I logged on and the first thing my gaze lighted on was a photo of my uncle Stan Milburn which had three quivering leaves attached which meant hints with possibly more information about him. I clicked and what came up was a link to Wills and Probate October 1952. An aspect of family history I had never explored for obvious reasons.  Uncle Stan never married, worked all his life and had lived with my grandfather in a rented two up, two down, nr Anfield football ground. He died when he was only in his forties and apparently left £138.10.0d to May Lillian Nelson. My mother! I never knew that! I could not resist googling to see what that amount would be worth in today’s money - £2776.15p.

  I would be eleven that year and I could not help thinking that perhaps it was due to that windfall I was able to go to grammar school after passing the scholarship and that Dad was able to buy the old army tents that meant we as a family went on our very first holiday away to North Wales the next year.

 How fortunate we were, not only in my mother being left money by her brother but that it was used to benefit us children. It was also the thought of that holiday that gave me the saving habit. ‘You’ll need spending money,’ we were told. So the pennies I earned by going for Dad’s ciggies or newspaper went into a wooden moneybox he made for me. I also did an old lady’s messages on a Saturday and she gave me a shilling. Infuriately my money was stolen when our house was burgled and the gas meter broken into. Even so the saving habit stuck with me. 

     When John and I married and lived with my parents for three years we saved up for that deposit on a house ( our old home was destined for demolition and bit the dust five years after we left and my parents moved into a flat). We managed to save £1100. I couldn’t resist checking what that was in today’s money - £13959.23p. Not bad considering part of that time John was still serving his apprenticeship as a printer and I didn’t earn loads. The house is paid for now so it was worth risking taking on a mortgage. We still live in the same house.

     But there is something to be said for renting. My grandparents Nelson who rented must have moved home at least six times. Most likely to do with the job or as their family grew or to be near relatives. I know my grandfather started out in Toxteth, lived in Everton, Kirkdale, Bootle, Edge Hill, Everton again and finished up in Woolton. He did volunteer in his forties in 1914 to fight in the Great War and registered at Preston. He was not away for long because it was discovered he had a heart condition before he could go and fight.

     In my last blog I think I mentioned my 3 times great-grandfather, John Cain, who was born in the Isle of Man, exactly where I didn’t know. This time round on Ancestry I discovered there was a link available to a IOM website. My problem is that John Cain was a common name in those days and at least four of them married women whose first name was Ann, the only bit of information I had about his wife. But the couples didn’t marry in the same year, but they all lived in the area of Braddon and Germain. Braddon is derived from Brendan who was a Celtic saint and there is a church named after him, Kirk Braddan. Going on the premise that John and Ann were most likely married a year or so before their first daughter, Ann, was born, I came to the conclusion that he married an Ann Quirk around about 1821.

     Like many Manx people they came to Liverpool. They had four children born here and then John was widowed and he and his youngest son lived for a while with his daughter Ann who married my great-great grandfather, George Brookes. The latter information I had been aware of  for some time. John Cain finished his life in Walton workhouse at the age of 66 and was buried in Walton Park cemetery in 1862, stated as being near Stanley Park which is the same cemetery where my parents and Uncle Stan were put to rest. Now I didn't know that!