Rip It Up in Edinburgh.



The   Rip It Up exhibition at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is really worth visiting if you’re in the area and interested in Scottish pop, as we are.

It’s a good mixture of personal items, ie clothes, instruments, programmes, and audio and videos of performances.

From the start the exhibition gets you going. 

To start with I selected from a ‘jukebox’ Sunshine Superman’ by Donovan, a song I remember singing in my head in the back of the family car while wearing a maxi coat over my mini skirt.

Followed by admiring an exquisite red lace dress worn by Lulu in a performance of ‘Relight My Fire’ with Take That. (I actually heard her singing this through my bedroom window as the wind was in the right direction while she was singing  with the band at their concert at the Milton Keynes bowl).

Then video of The Average White Band, Paolo Nutini, Midge Ure’s ‘Vienna’ raincoat, so much to enjoy. Annie Lennox’s outfit, a very young Edwyn Collins with Orange Juice, Clare Grogan singing ‘Happy Birthday’ with Altered Images; the first song my Claire sang, at 18 months old. 

Finishing with a huge video screen showing performances, the last of which got me singing and dancing; ‘Letter From America’ by the Proclaimers.

A related TV programme can be seen.


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Houghton Hall


Houghton Hall near Kings Lynn is currently hosting an exhibition of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings and statues. The reviews that I read were glowing so I booked tickets to attend.

Following my sat nav along narrow roads I turned up at the gates and joined the queue of cars waiting to enter at 11am.

The morning was overcast and drizzly so I needed my brolly as I made my way from the car park to the house.

The house itself is beautiful and I took so many photos that it’s difficult to decide which to show you, and I may have chosen too many.( Do click on any that are too small to see them more clearly.)

I’m a bit cross that I seem to have mislaid the leaflet I was given that named the statues, so you’ll have to make your own names up!

I think the unicorn and the winged horse were named Myth and Fantasy. I find them very beautiful. Inside the house there were two human form statues, two pieces using air to shoot ping pong balls into the air, and many spot paintings. The paintings varied in size, as did the spots. I quite enjoyed these though the conjunction with the lovely old house was odd. The painting propped up in the library though, jarred against the leather bound tomes lining the walls.

Scattered round the grounds were more exhibits; some permanent, others in this temporary exhibition.

Once again, I appreciated most of them. The small boy standing in front of the ‘pregnant woman’ shows how large this one was.

I didn’t get the hat one. It’s called something like Men Without Hats, though that’s a pop group, so maybe it was Hats Without Men, which is more apt.


I had lunch in the stable square café, and looked round the crafts exhibition. ‘Charity’ was in the square; a very large version of one of those charity boxes that used to stand outside shops.

The walled garden is spectacular, and so well looked after. As well as flowers, there were fruit and vegetables and an orchard.

A beautiful house and gardens, well worth a visit, even after the Hirst exhibition has gone. You may even prefer it!

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Visiting Sandringham.

Leaving Norwich in drizzle, we arrived at Sandringham to find it cloudy, though dry and warm.

I’d forgotten about the long distances you have to drive in Norfolk.

We passed the beautiful Sandringham gates where in 1997 we’d stopped en route to Hunstanton to examine the floral tributes to Diana and pay our respects.

We parked under the trees and made our way into the estate. We decided just to look round the gardens and the museum.


There were lots of families playing and picnicking in the grounds, but it wasn’t too busy as we walked round the estate.


The rhododendrons were spectacular. We visited the museum which contains cars, carriages, wheelchairs and model cars presented to the young royals. There were even fire engines.

Walking round the outside of the house we commented that it’s a strange building in two very different styles and materials.

Passing the church, we decided to go in, and once in I was gobsmacked.

Like the house, it’s rather a building of two halves. The nave is quite plain, but with beautiful wooden angels in the roof, and several royal memorials.

The chancel is highly decorated and opulent. The roof is coloured, with yet more angels in attendance. The walls are decorated, and the royal pews are a rich wood.

The altar and the pulpit which are panelled with solid silver were gifts to Queen Alexandra from a Mr Wanamaker. Though stunning, their opulence made me uncomfortable. But all in all , possibly due to the reverence of those visiting at the time, we found it a peaceful place.

After a sandwich and a successful visit to the gift shop we headed to Hunstanton.

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Norwich: a fine city.

We moved on to Norwich. My Dad lived in Norwich as a boy, and I was born nearby. Dad studied history and loved it, and being a teacher, he wanted to pass his knowledge on to me, so as a child I was familiar with the local museums. That was a long time ago though!

When I was growing up going ‘up Norwich’ was for shopping, family visits, the theatre, cinema and dentist. It was good to explore the city in a different way as a grown-up to and discover how the various parts of the city connected.

We stayed at the Maids Head hotel in Tombland (Tomb in this context apparently means empty space rather than a graveyard). According to the hotel website this is the oldest hotel in the UK, dating back over 800 years. It’s very comfortable and full of character, and we are very likely to stay there again. The rooms are large, have iPads ready with local information, and have huge local photo murals in the bathroom, like this:


We could see the cathedral from our window and Elm Hill was just across the road.

After eating in Côté Brasserie (we’d like one in MK please) we came across this Damien Hirst sculpture, ‘Hymn’, which will be in St Georges Street till July 15th this year. Inspired by a child’s anatomical toy, although it’s initially shocking, I find the detail interesting.


As I had tickets to see his exhibition at Houghton Hall later in the week, this was a taster. 

We had a guided tour of the cathedral, and I walked the labyrinth in the cloisters. I came away feeling uplifted, though I tried hard to ignore 2 nearby workmen debating when Jimmy Hill was famous. (While walking I worked out I’d seen him in a London restaurant in 1975, so the ignoring wasn’t totally successful).

Following the Riverside walk we passed Pull’s Ferry and an edifice named the Cow Tower. 

Strangers’ Hall is a very old and interesting museum. As it was half term there was an Alice in Wonderland theme going on. A very atmospheric place, but there could have been more labelling of items.

I headed for the square box that is Norwich Castle. Refurbished and updated since my last visit, there was lots to see. The Keep was lively with activities for children, and I enjoyed the Viking and local wildlife galleries; the latter now named after Ted Ellis, an esteemed local naturalist.

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Strumpshaw Fen.

On the way to Norwich we visited Strumpshaw Fen, an RSPB reserve to the east of Norwich, just at the start of one arm of the Broads.

Strumpshaw Fen 

Once again we were lucky with the weather, in a week where torrential rain and thunderstorms were wreaking havoc elsewhere .

The Norfolk Broads are currently the only place in the UK where Swallowtail butterflies can be seen, though migrants are sometimes spotted elsewhere, and as we walked from the car we were pointed in the direction where a butterfly had been seen. A small knot of people were hovering at the end of a lane, saying that a swallowtail had been sunning itself on a lawn just a few minutes before. Continuing down the lane, there it was flying towards us, but it then disappeared over the adjacent railway line. We saw a further 2 swallowtails but neither was camera friendly so here’s a photo I took later of a diorama in Norwich Castle. At least this one stayed still!

Walking back to the reserve reception, we showed our RSPB cards for free entry. Coincidentally, mine had a picture of a swallowtail on it. The reception is in a hide overlooking the marsh. There was a board with recent sightings, leaflets and posters with local and wildlife information, plus snacks and hot drinks for purchase.

We had a very pleasant walk exploring  the reserve. As well as open marshy areas there are extensive woodlands, regularly crossed by the Norwich to Yarmouth trains.

 A brimstone, a peacock and a green veined white butterfly were spotted, various damsel flies too, and we were both excited to hear a cuckoo a couple of times; the first one we’ve heard for many years.

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Attempting the Pingo Trail.

I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged for a while, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t say anything if they have nothing to say.

But last week we went to Norfolk, and travelled around, visiting some interesting places that I’d like to tell you about.

First of all we were invited to a family gathering near Watton, in south Norfolk, where I lived between the ages of 6 and 18.

We had a morning to kill before the event so we decided to walk the pingo trail

It was sunny and warm, a great morning in which to explore. We parked in the recommended car park and looked at the map there.

Off we went, through shaded woodland, listening for birds and looking for butterflies. We soon came across the first pingos, which are ponds formed by melting glaciers a very long time ago.




Soon, though, a few mosquitos appeared, then one stung me on the wrist. I had gone prepared, wearing a long sleeved, hooded top, and (very stylishly) with my socks firmly over the bottom of my trousers. But the mosquito found a gap and did its business.

Pretty soon there were clouds of them and we were walking waving our arms around, and it wasn’t fun anymore. So we turned around, having walked barely half a mile.

We drove a few miles south into Thetford forest and walked there instead; a bonus of that being that we met someone I’d been to primary school with and had a good catch up!

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Eleven questions.

Ariel, having been nominated as a Sunshine Blogger, had the task of answering several questions, and has responded by posting some of her own for her followers to answer if they feel so inspired. I thought I’d give it a go, and if you’d like to answer them too, feel free. Ariel’s blog is here:-

A Blog of Hours 

1. If you have a blog, what inspired you to start it? If you don’t have one, what put you off?

This is my blog part deux, as my first blog has disparu. But I started my first blog when we went to Australia on holiday, as a way to keep friends and family up to date on what we were doing without shouting it out on Facebook.

2. What is your greatest regret?

That I never saw The Beatles live. I was far too young, realistically, but whenever I meet someone who saw or met them I experience this pang.

3. Could you give up alcohol for, say, six months?

Possibly, but I would really miss it. I love wine, Katy cider and Disaronno!

4. Is there a painting or an artist that you have been particularly impressed by?

I saw The Candy Man by Alan Macdonald in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. I call it Christ on a Bike and it makes me smile. I love everything about it.

5. If time and money were no object what would you most like to do?

Go and live somewhere else and explore, not just stay for a holiday. I’m thinking Provence, or Canada, as long as it was sunny and warm.

6. Can you name five things that you are grateful for?

My health, my husband, my two daughters, the fact that I had a career in a profession I loved.

7. Do you believe there is a deity, a Supreme Being, a spiritual power, or some such?


8. What, for you, would be the perfect holiday?

Being driven around ( I say no to driving on the right), being cooked for, but otherwise being left alone to do my own thing. Not going to happen!

9. Who would you say has been most influential in your life?

My parents I reckon.

10. If you can drive, do you enjoy it?

Yes, I enjoy driving, as long as I know where I’m going. I get stressed driving places I don’t know, especially cities with strange junctions and poor signage (which lane should I be in now?) though the sat nav helps immensely. And see above regarding driving on the wrong side of the road. Turning right in France and finding myself on the left of the road gives me flashbacks (and I did it twice in the same place!)

11. Chocolate: yes or no? Dark, milk or white?

Yes, milk preferred. Cadburys especially. Dark chocolate can be too bitter and white chocolate is yucky, and actually isn’t chocolate.

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Illuminating Blackpool.


When I retired two years ago I joined the Red Hat society in order to meet new people and to be within a group to go on trips etc.
I had been impressed by the sight of the Raging Grannies in Victoria, BC, all dressed up in their finery and having a good time, and it turned out that my neighbour Lynn and another good friend of mine were already members of a similar group, and recommended the Red Hats to me.
We meet monthly at a garden centre cafe and I’ve joined the book group and quiz team. We’ve visited the Globe theatre, the National Memorial Arboretum and been out for meals and to the theatre.
Then the annual convention came up. It was held in Blackpool, a place I’d never been, and Lynn and I decided we needed a trip away so we booked a sea view room.
Five of us went from our local group, or chapter, one of whom was our ‘Queen’.
Now, I’m a plain and simple person who doesn’t go in for frills and embellishments on clothes, but I’m all for a bit of fun.
The title of the convention was ‘Illuminating Blackpool’ so sparkles and lights on costumes and hats were encouraged. I did wear some sequins and sparkle but some of the ladies’ costumes were beautifully flamboyant; they’d put so much thought into their get-ups.
Our hotel , The Imperial, was a very good one, as was our room.

We were well fed and we had dancing on the first two nights; those ladies had some moves!
Our transport was two vintage trams, but we weren’t far from the North pier and the Tower so Lynn and I walked along the prom on the times when it wasn’t raining.
En masse we caused quite a spectacle.
We had afternoon tea at the Tower ballroom, which was a mixed experience. We were squashed onto our reserved tables, unable to sit at adjacent vacant ones though they remained empty. I sat with some Bristol ladies; one of the joys of the convention was chatting to others from different parts of the country. The tea was cold by the time I was seated with them. I ate two sandwiches and a scone with jam, but something upset my tummy which made me feel unwell for the rest of the day. I did manage a dance with Lynn though; one she knew the steps to so I could soon catch on.
So I’ve danced at the Tower Ballroom!

Leaving the ballroom, it was warm and sunny and we spent some time reading the Comedy Carpet opposite the Tower. Such a fascinating piece of art that had us chuckling in recognition. At last I found a Victoria Wood sketch, my favourite comedian.
The gala dinner that night was spectacular, the room done up as for a wedding reception. Each chapter had their photo taken in a room which contained a framed photo of the Beatles (minus George) taken in that very room in July 1964.
Lynn and I swam in the hotel pool the next morning, Lynn trying a jacuzzi for the first time!
We had lunch in Harry Ramsden’s with our MK group celebrating our Queen Mary’s birthday. Delicious food but very filling.
That evening we went to a nightclub, Viva Blackpool for dinner, which we couldn’t do justice to as we were still full of fish and chips. The entertainment there was disappointing. The comic will never be featured on the aforementioned carpet. The Jersey Boys tribute was very loud, the lights were dazzling, and the ‘Frankie Valli’ was so off key a few times he had us squinting.


Lynn and I enjoyed walking back to the hotel rather than getting the tram, looking at the illuminations. There were even lights on the sea and the sky.
Before we left, one of the ladies who organised the convention read out her own poem which sums up the Red Hat ethos.
With her permission I reproduce it here:


Something strange can happen when you reach the age of fifty
You think that you’re still young at heart, you still feel rather nifty
But something has descended down upon your pretty head
And you find that you don’t like it, that much can be said.

It’s a cloak you cannot see and it makes you quite invisible
To all around, you’ve disappeared, no longer a desirable
When you were young, the boys would call and whistle from the scaffold
But it’s deadly silent now as you walk by when you are seen as “old”.

No-one opens doors or gives their seat up on the bus
You wonder if you’re really here or just a cloud of dust
No-one lends a hand as you struggle with your shopping
They strut right by, phones stuck in ears, it really is quite shocking.
Well, I know a little secret that will save you from obscurity
It never fails with certain ladies of let’s say, “maturity”
Dress yourself in purple, put a hat on your head
Add a pair of snazzy shoes and handbag, all in red

Get yourself together with some friends all dressed alike
And venture out , heads held high , it’s quite a powerful sight
You soon find people stopping in their tracks just to admire
This vision of such loveliness, you’ll find that you inspire.

They say “you all look wonderful” “you’ve brightened up our day”
“What is it that you represent, why do you dress this way?”
And youngsters stop, take out those wires that were plugged in their ears
And come to have a chat with these quite glamorous old dears.

You cross the road and find that you have caused a traffic jam
As people crane from car windows to witness all this glam
And tourists click their cameras and ask you all to pose
They want to wear your hat all trimmed with flowers and red bows.

It really is incredible to think you will be found
On a Japanese tourists Facebook page that’s seen the world around
No longer deemed invisible you are now a true celebrity
Bringing joy to people’s faces, a red and purple effigy.

So dump that beige old cardy that you used to hide behind
As you shuffled around Sainsbury’s with your trolley full of wine
Break open a bottle and celebrate your beauty
After all, it’s only keeping up your new found Red Hat duty.

The cloak of invisibility can stay with Harry Potter
Who can hide inside from Voldermort , who was an evil rotter
Our secret is quite simple and it’s sure easy enough
Red Hat ladies do not hide, they go out and strut their stuff.

© Amanda Lawrence – Queen Minx 2015

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The National Memorial Arboretum.

When a trip to the  National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire was suggested to our Red Hat group I was interested, having seen a Countryfile programme from there quite a while ago.
But even so, I had only vaguely understood the significance of this remarkable place.
Entry is free, and on arrival our coach was met by a volunteer member of staff who welcomed us and confirmed our reservation on the land train which tours the site.
It’s worth seeing the exhibition as you go in which gives an overview and information about the memorials. There are individual stories too, and a chance to record your own memory for others to hear. There’s a small charge for this, and here you also get a piece of audio equipment that you can use on your way round the Arboretum to hear information about particular memorials.

The train ride costs £5 and lasts 50 minutes. There’s a pre-recorded commentary and it stops twice on the route for anyone who wants to alight and visit adjacent memorials.
The site contains over 300 memorials of many different kinds. It doesn’t take long before a particular memorial gives your heart a jump of recognition and sorrow.
In addition to memorials for those who died while in the forces , for individual regiments and victims of battles, there are many other types, for example the Twin towers memorial , a road traffic accident memorial, a Stillbirth and Neonatal death charity (SANDS) memorial,and I was pleased to see a TOC H memorial TOC H  with its distinctive lamp as my Grandad Bill was a keen member.

There’s also a GCHQ memorial that, ironically, we couldn’t find. NB, do pick up a map as you enter; we didn’t!

The train continues slowly around the grounds, skirting the river Tame.
Of course there are the trees, over 40,000 of them of many different species. Individual trees have small plaques and there is an avenue of London plane and chestnuts dedicated to and funded by the police.
The War Widows wood was sponsored by those women who waited in vain for their men to return from conflict.
In the centre, and raised high on a mound, is the Armed Forces Memorial , dedicated to those who have been killed on duty or by terrorists since the end of World War 2.
To quote the guidebook ,”It is not just service men and women who have made sacrifices. Behind every name on the memorial there are the wives, husbands, partners, parents, children and colleagues who loved them and who live with the pain and consequences of their loss every day”.

After the train ride we had a couple of hours to look around, and I think I only saw a small proportion of the arboretum.
As it’s such lovely site with so many trees and flowers there were birds flying around; of particular note were the many pied wagtails.
Our Red Hat group attracted attention and questions about us as we wear our distinctive purple and red – we took in turns to answer!
There was also a visiting group of service veterans, dark jackets full of medals.
There’s a cafe, coffee shop, and also a chapel where a daily act of remembrance takes place, clean loos and a well stocked gift shop.
A heart warming and heart breaking place to visit. I would like to return and see what I missed on this visit.

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My Irish connection.


Dublin skyline.

I knew that my Mum’s family contained an Irish ancestor, but until I started doing family history research I didn’t know who it was.
It turned out to be Arthur Henry Conlan, who married my great great grandmother Annie Smith in 1875.
From censuses I found out that in 1881 Arthur, known as Harry, and Annie Conlan were living in Sudbury, Suffolk, not far from Annie’s parents Walter and Ann Smith. On the census it’s recorded that Harry was born in Ireland, but not where in Ireland.
All three of their children had already been born by 1881.They were Annie Emma Maud, my great grandmother, known as Maud, born in 1875, Walter Harold born 1876 and Ernest Arthur born 1880.
Harry was working for the Great Eastern Railway, and he had a set back in May 1882 according to the Bury and Norwich Post. The report says,
“Harry Conlan, a goods porter at Chappel station and formerly employed at Sudbury station, was shunting some trucks when we was knocked down and a wheel of a truck passed over his leg which was very much injured. He was removed to the Sudbury Hospital and the issue of this was his uncertain.”


Harry Conlan at Twyford.

Thankfully though injured he survived, and in 1891 he and Annie were living in Twyford, Norfolk. Harry is on the census as a ‘Railway Gate Man’. On this census his birthplace is stated as Ipswich, and 30 years have been added to their ages! His injury is noted in the last column, “( illegible in Railway Accident).”
Only Walter and Ernest were living at home; Maud was back in Sudbury living with her grandparents Walter and Ann, working as a drapers’ assistant.
In 1901 Harry and Annie were still in Twyford and Harry was still a Railway Gateman. On this census we have more information about his place of birth; County Dublin is specified.
No children were at home. Walter was boarding in a house in Sudbury, working as a commercial traveller.He worked for Slee & Co, vinegar brewers. Ernest was boarding in East Dereham, Norfolk, working as a railway porter.( He later became the chief inspector at Thorpe Railway station in Norwich.) Maud was also lodging, in Petersfield in Hampshire, still working as a draper’s assistant . She married Frederick Brett the following year.

Harry died in 1910, and is buried in Bury St Edmunds, (see previous blog post.) In 1911 Annie is living with Walter and his family in West Road, Bury, very close to the cemetery, in a house called Roscommon; a tantalising clue. Harry’s death certificate is in the name Henry Arthur Conlan.

So I found him through censuses and by his death certificate . I’ve been unable to find his birth certificate, and I doubt I will. In Ireland compulsory birth registration didn’t come in till after his birth. Even if he had had a certificate it could have burnt in the Public Record Office fire in 1922, which was housed in the Four Courts building by the Liffey,( more of that later.) I’ve been unable to find a baptismal record either.


Now, I had trouble finding Harry and Annie’s wedding record as well. I drew a blank until my cousin Evelyn came up with some helpful information.
A little more background so you know my relationship to Evelyn.

Frederick and Maud Brett had 5 children; Norah, my grandmother, Patricia, Bridget, Eileen, Evelyn’s mother, and Frederick Arthur, known as Arthur. So my mother Geraldine and Evelyn are cousins. Evelyn has family records and photographs passed on to her from her mother Eileen, which includes information about a judge from Dublin called Charles Harold Walker.
There is a photo of him – a serious elderly man, grey haired and wearing spectacles, a gown and an ornamental chain. On the back is written, presumably by Eileen, ,”Charles Harold Walker Q.C. of …Bray, Ireland…Great Grandfather.”



And tantalisingly, there is a letter to Maud (calling herself Mrs E. Walker Brett) from the secretary of the President of Ireland , written in December 1938. It reads, “I refer to your…proposed biography of your grandfather, the late Charles Harold Walker, Q.C., LL.D., and to express his Excellency’s opinion that you would get useful information from The National Library, Dublin…and the British Museum.” (No such biography has been found!)

So I looked for Harry and Annie’s marriage under the name Walker, and there they were. They married in London, at Christchurch, Greyfriars, Newgate. Arthur Henry Walker married Annie Smith on 9th January 1875; his father is named Charles Walker, profession not noted.

This is now my dilemma. Harry didn’t use the name Walker after his marriage as far as I can see. The family was known as Conlan, apart from in Maud’s letter quoted above.
Was Charles Walker Harry’s biological father, or was he unofficially adopted, or a ward?

Charles Harold Walker was born in Dublin between 1797 and 1807 according to censuses and Trinity college Dublin records. He achieved a BA then an MA then became LLB and LLD. He was a barrister at the Four Courts and I’ve found many references to him in local papers and in Griffith’s Valuation records.
In 1861 he was living in London with his wife Louisa (nee Moritz or Morris) and daughters Mary Ann, Emma and Frances Sophia. In 1871 Charles and Louisa were in Guernsey, but he died in Bray, near Dublin. While in Dublin I obtained a copy of his death certificate , which says he was born in 1804, and died in 1884 of ‘general decay’. Under this in the cause of death column it says ‘some years certified’ which I don’t understand. The death was registered by his daughter Emma, who still has the surname Walker.
I can find no official link between Arthur ‘Harry’ Conlan and Charles Harold Walker.
I will continue to search.

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