Before We Say Goodbye To Christmas…

Before we say goodbye to Christmas, I thought I’d (somewhat belatedly) share one of my favourite projects this year – researching the Christmas Truce of 1914. The resulting article was my most syndicated yet, and appeared in more than 15 different magazines, which I was very chuffed with!

Christmas Truce Harpenden NowI particularly liked this layout used in Harpenden Now magazine, because I thought the image of soldiers used behind the text was very effective. The layout below is from The CM21 Connection, who seem to have bought the full length version rather than the edited one.

Christmas Truce The CM21 Connection






Christmas Truce handy mag
The Handy Mag designers used some charming Christmas imagery to illustrate the article, shown here on the left. I like the snowy background effect.

When researching the article I used many letter excerpts, including some from letters written by Henry Williamson – yes, the same man who went on to write Tarka the Otter, a book that made me cry when I first read it around age ten. If you would like to read letters from this period, I can heartily recommend the amazing Christmas Truce website, “borne out of research conducted by Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park in 1999 for a booklet on the Christmas Truce called ‘Plum Puddings For All'”.  Alan and Lesley became “aware of the vast resource lying dormant in newspaper archives: original personal letters from participants describing what happened and the effect it had on them”. Alan, Lesley and other volunteers have since made it their task to seek out and transcribe these records, and it’s a stunning resource, so do visit.

Several magazines had obviously noticed the emphasis on personal letter excerpts and the mention of carols sung by both sides, and chose to to illustrate Christmas Truce the article with letters or German music scores, as Community Spotlight did (see right). The photos used were very touching too and provide proof that it wasn’t all swept under the carpet; the Christmas Truce events were reported in the UK just days later, with letters and photos appearing in national newspapers. While there was some disapproval in the higher ranks, it wasn’t the national disgrace it’s sometimes made out to have been.

If the experiences of WW1 soldiers interests you then there are dozens of books to read, but some I’ve dipped into recently are The Soldier’s War  and The Quick and the Dead by Richard Van Emden, and also Mud, Blood and Poppycock by Gordon Corrigan. Corrigan’s book raised a few hackles when published due to his determination to bust what he saw as some of the most troublesome and persistent WW1 myths.

If you would like to read my article, you can find it here on page 52 of the digital version of Yes magazine – if you’re interested in vision correction, my article on that is in the same magazine on page 36!

P is for Petty: George, William and Tom

P is for Petty: ‘of little importance; trivial’. Sometimes people are petty. Some rules are petty. Wasting my time on them? Petty.

Let’s talk about famous people named Petty instead.

George Petty

George Petty IV (April 27, 1894 – July 21, 1975) was an American pin-up artist famous for his creation of the ‘Petty Girl’. His pin-up art appeared primarily in Esquire magazine and others, and also on calendars. His work popularised the ‘gatefold poster’ concept. 

The Ballerina

File:Memphis Belle movie logo..jpgHis work was widely reproduced on the nose of war planes by military artists, with the most famous reproduction being the Memphis Belle.

The picture on the right, ‘The Ballerina’, was a painting for the 1965 Ice Capades. Petty’s work for Ice Capades, appearing as program covers and posters, began in 1942 and continued throughout the decade.

A Petty Girl was used on the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

William Petty

Sir William Petty FRS (26 May 1623 – 16 December 1687) was an English economist, scientist, philosopher and inventor, and a founding member of The Royal Society. He was a friend of Samuel Pepys and was knighted by Charles II in 1661, despite having served under Cromwell. He is best known for his methods of statistical analysis, but he was from a family of clothiers and spent his early life in the Navy and studying medicine.

Tom Petty

Thomas Earl “Tom” Petty (born October 20, 1950) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer and actor, best known as lead vocalist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He was also a member of the Traveling Wilburys and Mudcrutch.

Today he has sold over 80 million records and won numerous awards, but he worked for a time as a groundsman at the University of Florida. An Ogechee Lime Tree that he planted is now known as the Tom Petty tree. His signature grey top hat was lost when an arsonist set fire to his home in 1987, but luckily his basement studio was saved by fire-fighters.

Tom still performs with the Heartbreakers; in August they will headline at the Outside Lands Music Festival at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and a new album Hypnotic Eye, is due for release in the summer.

File:Tom Petty Live in Horsens.jpg

I can only apologise for the fact that all three of my famous Petty people are men. A quick skim of the internet didn’t reveal any famous Petty females, but if you know of one, do share! I will happily stand humbly corrected (try saying that when you’re drunk).


O is for Obstinate: A Revolution and a Coup

Obstinate: stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action, despite attempts to persuade one to do so.

Again, I’m going for randomness today (ahem… 2 days late)because it makes life interesting. You find all sorts of new and interesting snippets when you search the internet for a random word and as I’ve said before, if Dave Gorman can make TV series out of this stuff…
And it’s a lot more interesting than a post about how obstinate I am.

It’s odd how sometimes Google will offer pages and pages of dictionary definitions for a random word, and other times you struggle to find one. Today, I had to click though a few pages of definitions before I got to anything else. These are literally the first three hits, and the first two are all about troubled and bloody pasts…

The Obstinate Daughter

Sounds like a book, I thought as I clicked. Until the huge words ‘EAT WITH US’ filled my screen. The Obstinate Daughter is the name of a restaurant – sorry, ‘Food Fort – on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina. So why, I hear you cry, is it called The Obstinate Daughter? Over to them…

Our name, The Obstinate Daughter, is an homage to the rich Revolutionary War history of Sullivan’s Island. On June 28, 1776, under the command of Colonel William Moultrie, the defenders of Fort Sullivan foiled the British fleet’s attempt to capture the city of Charleston in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island. This first American Patriots victory inspired a London political cartoon of the defiant defenders of Charleston:  “Miss Carolina Sulivan, one of the obstinate daughters of America, 1776”.  To us, The Obstinate Daughter is a beautiful reminder that the stubborn refusal to change one’s course of action can change the course of history.

The Obstinate Daughter Restaurant

‘A Southern restaurant that is influenced by French, Italian and Spanish cuisine.’

The restaurant serves pasta, pizza, and a large selection of other delicious-sounding seafood and vegetarian options. If I ever visit my cousin in North Carolina, I might just pop down there; it’s not far.

Chile, Obstinate Memory

This is a film by Patricio Guzmán, whose 1976 film The Battle of Chile documented Salvador Allende’s government, the events leading to the coup led by General Pincohet, and Allende’s death – events ‘largely barred from the collective consciousness of the Chilean people

Hearing only the official version, a generation of young Chileans has grown up with little knowledge of the historical facts surrounding the events of September 11, 1973…

Now, Guzmán has returned to show The Battle of Chile in his homeland for the first time, and to explore the terrain of the confiscated (but maybe reawakening) memories of the Chilean people.


CHILE, OBSTINATE MEMORY visits with Chileans who experienced the coup first-hand (some of whom are seen in The Battle of Chile from 25 years ago). Survivors reminisce as they watch that film, recognizing lost comrades and recalling their courage, gaiety and love of life. Those who were not killed during the coup itself were crowded into the National Stadium in Santiago, where many were tortured, disappeared, and never seen again. Survivors talk about the terror that characterized the Pinochet regime until the dictator was finally obliged to relinquish power.


Soldiers burn Marxist books

Suddenly, I don’t feel that obstinate… 😉

M is for Majestic: The Mountains and Burns of Scotland

Majestic: ‘having or showing impressive beauty or scale’.

Scotland. Nothing to do with the Queen, although I’m not denying she’s majestic in that ‘good evenin’, You Majesty’ way, and once Techy Husband and I did find ourself meandering around the back of the Balmoral estate by accident when we got lost.

DSCF2815Scotland has more majestic scenery than you can shake a stick at, and I’ve been lucky enough to see some of it.

My favourite trip was up through the Glen Shee pass  – through the Cairngorms up towards Braemar – at Easter one year, when the sun was shining and the mountains were still covered in snow. Amazing!




The other lovely area to visit on a snowy sunny day is The Lecht between Tomintoul and Cockbridge, on the Glenlivet Estate. It’s a beautiful walk and if you like a bit of history, you can walk along the valley to the old crushing  mill building that still stands there – all that remains of an old iron mine.




This picture of my lovely mum-in-law, above, was taken on a visit to The Lecht on a day when there was snow, rain, hail and hot bright sunshine all within an hour.


This picture on the left was taken in the hail phase!




It’s an easy walk alongside the burn from the Well of the Lecht car park – and even the view from the car park is amazing (this was the rain phase!). 




The walk along the burn itself is lovely and the views make it well worth the walk, but having an end point to your walk is great too – and inside the crushing mill building, which is a great place for kids (and dogs!) to – er – mill about in, there are information signs explaining the history of the mine.

File:Lecht Mine - - 180913.jpg

Whatever road route you take, the drive to The Lecht will be an experience too. It’s a beautiful area and there’s a great view of Corgarff Castle from the Lecht road.

I’ve enjoyed exploring parts of central and Eastern Scotland and seeing beautiful burns and majestic(!) mountains – this year we’re going to the Isle of Skye for our holidays, so I’m looking forward to exploring the West with its lovely locks and inspirational Isles!


A is for Amazing: The Shell Grotto in Margate

Luckily, I didn’t need to rack my brains too hard for something amazing, because I came across something that fits the description just two days ago.

On Sunday myself, Mr IT, ArtyDaughter, ConstructoBoy and my Mum celebrated Mother’s Day with a trip to The Shell Grotto in Margate, Kent. It’s been on TV a few times and you may have seen it on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces programme. It was featured in the 2012 Christmas Special which you can watch here on the Channel 4 website. So why does it qualify as Amazing?


Photo: Isobel Runham
Photo: Isobel Runham

Firstly, there’s the sheer scale of the achievement. The Grotto is 104ft long with a rotunda, a dome and a passage leading to a room nicknamed the altar chamber (sadly a WW2 bomb partially destroyed this area). As for the time it must have taken; wow. Every surface apart from the floor is covered with a variety of shells in intricate patterns, and there are a staggering 4.6 million shells remaining in situ, although some have become detached over time or have been stolen by souvenir hunters. The floor, which may have been decorated too and/or made of marble, has been removed at some stage and this has damaged the bottom of the walls.

Grotto section

Some sections have also been renovated over the years, though when and to what extent is unknown – which leads us to the second ‘Amazing’ qualification.

Nobody knows when, why or how the Grotto was constructed, or who by. Notice I don’t say ‘nobody knows for definite’, because researchers aren’t even anywhere near a definitive answer; the evidence is too scarce. There are a number of hypotheses, but the one that seems most likely is the one that’s probably hardest to prove.

The Grotto is Grade 1 listed and has been open to the public since 1838; restorations done before its opening and for many years after were poorly recorded or not noted at all. It was supposedly discovered in 1835, although even that date – and the circumstances of its discovery – aren’t rock solid. Was the Grotto discovered when house foundations were being dug? Was a small boy sent down the hole to investigate?

Grotto Altar Room

Before 1838 there are no recorded mentions, documents or maps relating to the Grotto. An 1821 map of Margate shows that the area above the Grotto as an open field, but not far from building expansion. Had people have been constructing something on this scale around this time (not to mention importing millions of diverse shells), surely someone would have noticed. It would have taken months, if not years, of work.

Was it built by the Knights Templar? Did a local aristocrat order it built? In a field they didn’t own, telling nobody and leaving no documentation behind? Did someone go to such extreme lengths to build it merely as a Victorian tourist attraction – and not bother to generate any publicity about it during construction? And if it had been recently constructed when it was (re)discovered, why did the people responsible not come forward and take the credit for a remarkable achievement? The iconography of the Grotto is also completely incompatible with Victorian follies and continental shell grottoes of the period.

After our visit – which filled my head with many more questions than answers! – I picked up a copy of ‘The Enigma of the Margate Shell Grotto’ in the gift shop. Published in 2011 by  Martyrs Field Publications, this is the most recent examination of the evidence. Patricia Jane Marsh discusses each of the Grotto construction theories, analysing them against a specific set of criteria. She makes no judgements herself, but her analysis does point to the Phoenicians as the most likely builders. The Phoenician Goddess Tanit may have given the Isle of Thanet its name, and the Phoenician God of the Underworld, Melqart, may have given Margate its name.

Patricia is a historian and linguist. Her discussion is enlightening and rigorous but also an accessible, fascinating read and I highly recommend it if you want to find out more. You can buy it directly from the publisher here.