Monday, 26 September 2016

Never judge a suitcase ...

We've all heard the expression never judge a book by its cover but what about never judge a suitcase until you see what's inside?

I'm sure you've seen lost luggage auctions on TV (like storage wars only with suitcases). It's where you bid on a case with no clue to the contents. Occasionally someone finds a laptop or jewellery, but more often than not it's a pile of dirty laundry. Personally, I've never wanted to go through someone else's lost luggage and sincerely hope nobody ever goes through mine. That, however, didn't stop me buying this case with very little knowledge of the contents.

Battered suitcase from The Giant Shepton Flea full of vintage books

It wasn't at a lost luggage auction but at a flea market or The Giant Shepton Flea Market to be more precise. I had an inkling of what might be inside because I saw someone open the case and take out this little book; 

Honk and Tonk by Joy K Seddon Flip book Vintage children's books

She took a quick flick through the pages before throwing it back in the case and walking away. I have a soft spot for flip books from the 1940s and 1950s and was quick to take her place. As I started rummaging through the case the stall holder said, "You can have that for a fiver (US$6.26) if you want it." I assumed he was referring to the book but when I queried it, he said, "No for the lot love, case and all." I mumbled "Yes OK," and he bagged the entire thing before I got as much as a second glance at what I was buying.


A case full of vintage flip books & other children's books from the 1940s and 50s

Although small, the suitcase is heavy, so the only sensible thing was to take it to the car. Once there, I couldn’t resist taking a peek inside. Imagine my delight at finding not one but eight flip books along with several story books by Racey Helps and Enid Blyton, a sweet story about Humpty Dumpty, one called Merry-go-round, a Vistascreen 3D viewer with slides and other bits and pieces. Time was getting on and anxious not to miss out on any treasures waiting to be found I decided to leave further investigations until I got home. In hindsight, I should have quizzed the seller about the origins of the suitcase. Did he buy it from an auction, a house clearance, did he know the previous owner, or was it his?


Flip books, Honk and Tonk, Jimmy at the Zoo etc., vintage children's books

The case has seen better days, but the contents are joyous. I'm sure everything belonged to the same little boy. His name is in most of the books and in some instances so is his address. His name and address are also on a label inside the case but this time written in a different hand, possibly by an adult. I have an image of a little lad of around eight years old stashing his favourite books and bits and pieces inside his case, but I wonder why someone added his address. Maybe the family were moving home, or perhaps the little boy was going to stay with family or friends.  


Vistascreen 3D printer, Racey Helps Books found in case at Shepton Flea

After a few days, the case and its contents began to trouble me. Obviously, I’m thrilled to have it in my care, but I’m also sad for the little boy and his lost treasures. Where is he now? Is he alive or dead? Why did he part with his case? I will probably never know, but I have learnt a little more about him. Looking through the books I discovered not one but two addresses, one in Parkstone, Poole, Dorset, and one in Alton, Hampshire. Using the age of the books as a guide, I concluded he and I must be of a similar age. 

I have a subscription to FindMyPast so it was fairly simple to find a record of his birth, which turned out to be 1949. He was born in Surrey, England, and spent part of his childhood in Alton, Hampshire, places I know well. He later moved to Poole, Dorset and married there in 1973. I can find no trace of him after 2003, but that may be my very amateurish attempts at searching. He is a year younger than me so if he is alive he is 67 now. I still don’t know why he parted with the case, but I feel an affinity with him and his childhood because mine was probably fairly similar. Between the ages of five and twenty one, I lived just 15 minutes or 6.3 miles from Alton, Hampshire. Without knowing it, he and I were near neighbours. We may even have seen or spoken to one another. 

Noddy, Humpty Dumpty, Enid Blyton old books

Thinking about it now I have to assume the stall holder acquired the case from an auction or house clearance. I have no evidence of that, just a hunch, plus the seller didn't look as if he was in his sixties. I suppose the case could have belonged to his father? It's sad to think of someone's cherished possessions given so little regard or value, but I'm thrilled to have them and will do my best to be a good custodian of the memories contained in a battered case.

My post next week will include a giveaway for followers of this blog. Be sure to call back and don’t forget to follow.

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Monday, 19 September 2016

The Ship's Cat & Titanic Belfast

If you noticed my absence last week, it was because Terry and I were in Northern Ireland. The Titanic Maritime Museum in Belfast has long been on our list of must-visit places, and last week we finally got the chance. The museum is located on Queen’s Island, an area of land reclaimed from the water in the mid-19th century and a short walk from the centre of Belfast.

Titanic Belfast
It's impossible to be unimpressed by this gigantic structure. This is no ordinary building, clad as it is with thousands of individual silver shards. Around its base are pools of water, which appear to be as deep and black as the Atlantic Ocean must have looked at 2.20am on April 15, 1912. 
I’m sure the depth of the water is an illusion as there are neither warning signs nor guard rails. 


Looking up at this immense building, it is easy to imagine the iceberg that sent Titanic to her watery grave. I don’t know if the designers intended to give that impression, but it was certainly the feeling I got as I stood there. 

Titanic Belfast

The inside of the building is every bit as impressive as the outside.


The exhibition begins with an explanation of Belfast’s roots as an industrial centre.  Life-size silhouettes are projected on to the walls to give an impression of daily life.

Titanic Belfast
   

From here you are taken on a journey through the construction of the ship, her launch, a virtual tour of the decks and a peek inside a first, second and third class cabin.  





Titanic Belfast



One of the saddest parts of the exhibition is a gallery where the lighting is low and survivors’ voices (drawn from the BBC's archive) recall the horror of the sinking.  As you listen, you are directed along a series of boards detailing some of the distress messages sent to and from Titanic.






Titanic Belfast


Finally, screens beneath your feet take you on an underwater journey to the decaying remains in the Atlantic depths.



We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and are not surprised to learn Titanic Belfast has just been named Europe’s leading visitor attraction.


If you would like to find out more about the Titanic story there are numerous websites offering information. I found History.com and the BBC history websites especially interesting. The Titanic Belfast website is also well worth a look.

Or, if you are looking for an interesting read, I recommend Titanic and other ships written by Charles Herbert Lightoller (1874-1952). Published by Ivor Nicholson and Watson, London in 1935.   Lightoller was the second mate (second officer) on board the Titanic and the only senior officer to survive the disaster. He was also the last man to be taken aboard the rescue ship RMS Carpathia. Just six of the thirty six chapters deal directly with his time on board the Titanic, but I found the rest of his life equally interesting. Titanic and other ships is available on ABE books at time of writing should you wish to look for a copy. 


One final thing - a friend and reader of this blog asked me to keep a look out for the ship's cat. It pains me to say this, but I saw no sign of a cat. However, when I googled Titanic - ship's cat, I found this; 

It’s quite possible there were multiple cats aboard the ship. Many large ships used them to monitor the rodent and pest problem that plagued the lower decks. The Titanic’s mascot and well-known ship's cat, Jenny, was one such cat.

A stoker, Jim Mulholland, volunteered to look after Jenny when she transferred from Titanic’s sister ship Olympia. It was rumoured that the cat had a litter of kittens a week before the ship left from Southampton. But what happened to Jenny on the morning of April 15, 1912?

Reports vary. Some say she, and her kittens died along with most of the passengers. However, others report Jim Mulholland observed Jenny unloading her kittens from the Titanic one by one before it left port in Southampton. He took this as a bad omen, picked up his things, and also left the vessel. He credited the cat with saving his life. (Source

What really happened to Jenny is a mystery. But perhaps this feline photographed in Belfast’s Botanic gardens is one of her descendants?  

Belfast Northern Ireland Cat

Sunday, 4 September 2016

BOOKS FROM MY CHILDHOOD GUEST POST BY STEPHANIE FARIS + GIVEAWAY!

Kids may not believe it, but children’s authors were once children ourselves. Most of us started reading as soon as we could, discovering a love for books that would carry us well into adulthood. I was an avid reader from a young age, often turning to books the way today’s kids turn to their smartphones or iPads. 


While I can’t remember very many of my earlier books, here are some books that made a lasting impact on me.

The Rescuers (Little Golden Book)


I think everyone my age grew up on Little Golden Books. I know I read quite a few of them but one I distinctly remember was The Rescuers, which turns out to be Disney’s watered-down version of a true classic, The Rescuers by Margery Sharp. Disney took that classic and turned it into a movie, complete with merchandising and several tie-in books.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume




If you grew up in the 70s or early 80s, you probably read this one. It’s still considered the ultimate coming-of-age story for girls. As an adult, all I remember from this book was that her father cut his finger on the lawnmower and that she was obsessed with getting her period.

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger


I remember reading more than one of Paula Danziger’s books, but I related to this one as someone who never felt thin enough.

Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key


Two kids have special powers. What kid wouldn’t be fascinated with that? This book was already a movie by the time I read the book, but I didn’t see the movie until later.

Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan


I read several of Lois Duncan’s books, but this is the one I remember best. A group of kids take their English teacher to the woods to teach him a lesson. Things go horribly wrong.

I’m Christy by Maud Johnson


I read a crazy number of books in middle school, but this is one that stuck with me. I’m Christy was the first in a series. I only read the second one to figure out what happened (SPOILER ALERT) after her boyfriend died at the end of the first one. If that ending hadn’t been tacked on, I wouldn’t have remembered it. (Also, I remember it because a boy in band class was always teasing me, asking why I was reading a book called “Jim Christy.”)

There are so many others, but these are the books that I remember most vividly. I think that means the authors did something right! I’d love to see what your commenters say were their favorite books as kids.




Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive. 

Piper Morgan
By Stephanie Faris

When Piper Morgan has to move to a new town, she is sad to leave behind her friends, but excited for a new adventure. She is determined to have fun, be brave and find new friends.

In Piper Morgan Joins the Circus, Piper learns her mom’s new job will be with the Big Top Circus. She can’t wait to learn all about life under the big top, see all the cool animals, and meet the Little Explorers, the other kids who travel with the show. She’s even more excited to learn that she gets to be a part of the Little Explorers and help them end each show with a routine to get the audience on their feet and dancing along!



In Piper Morgan in Charge, Piper’s mom takes a job in the local elementary school principal’s office. Piper is excited for a new school and new friends—and is thrilled when she is made an “office helper.” But there is one girl who seems determined to prove she is a better helper—and she just so happens to be the principal’s daughter. Can Piper figure out how to handle being the new girl in town once more?



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Thanks so much Stephanie. I love the cute photo of you! Many of your favourite books are new to me. I’ve read The rescuers by Margery Sharp and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume but none of the others. 

Like Stephanie, I would be interested to know which books you treasure from your childhood.  Have you read any / all of the ones featured here?


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