Monday, 28 August 2017

A Tale of Beatrix Potter, Manderley, Rain and Roses.

You may be wondering why I'm starting this post with a picture of a house. You might even be questioning what the house has to do with Beatrix Potter. To be honest there isn’t much of a link other than it's where I found the book I will be sharing later in this post.

Nymans House West Sussex

Actually, there is another connection. I took the photographs at Nymans a National Trust property in West Sussex. Beatrix Potter was a writer of children’s stories, a Lakeland farmer, conservationist and a benefactor of the National Trust. On her death, she left 4000 acres, fifteen farms, forests and houses to the National Trust. Sadly, this house is not one of them, but it is a link of sorts. OK it's tenuous but it does sort of tie in. 

Rose and Bee at Nymans

Nymans NT West Sussex

Nymans became a National Trust property in 1953 although the story really began in 1870, when Ludwig Messel and his family moved to England from Germany. A family of Jewish descent they arrived when anti-Semitism was rife but despite that, Messel carved out a successful career as a stockbroker and by 1890 had the means to purchase Nymans and shortly after he, and his head gardener James Comber set about creating the gardens.

Sadly, much of the house is in ruins after a disastrous fire in 1947, but the surviving rooms give a fascinating insight into the life of the Messel family.

The ruins reminiscent of Manderley as immortalised by Daphne du Maurier in Rebecca.

The story of Nymans is well documented online, so I won't trouble you with too many details. But I would like to mention a couple of members of the family. Firstly, Anne Messel (later Countess of Rosse) renowned beauty and socialite and mother of Anthony Armstrong-Jones, who in 1960 Married Princess Margaret and became the Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley. The connection between Nymans and the Royal Family came as a complete surprise to me. I was twelve going on sixteen when Margaret and ‘Tony’ got married, obsessed with The Beatles, Mary Quant and miniskirts.  All that changed when a Royal Wedding was announced and before long pictures of the happy couple started to jostle for space on my bedroom walls. Where John, Paul, George and Ringo once reigned supreme now there was a Princess and her beau. 

Anthony Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones

Messel family photographs on the piano.
Messel family photographs on the piano. 

When we eventually left the house the rain had come on in droves hence we made a beeline for the coffee shop. Once suitable fed and watered Terry decided he wanted to take a few photos in the garden while I chose the dryer option and made a dash for the gift shop. Dozens of people were milling around seeking shelter from the rain, but their voices faded as I immersed myself into the world of Beatrix Potter.

The Story of Beatrix Potter by Sarah Gristwood
The Story of Beatrix Potter by Sarah Gristwood

The Story of Beatrix Potter by Sarah Gristwood
The Story of Beatrix Potter by Sarah Gristwood

Bestselling biographer Sarah Gristwood follows the twists and turns of her story, from childhood to her tragically brief first engagement and her happy marriage late in life. She traces the creation of Beatrix’s most famous characters – including naughty Peter Rabbit and cheeky Squirrel Nutkin and reveals how she drew on her own childhood pets and homes as the basis for her stories. Within a few years, her books were appearing all over the world and the merchandise industry, so familiar today, was gathering momentum.  

Hunca Munca with her babies.
Hunca Munca with her babies.  From a book on my bookshelf.

Although she had a younger brother, Beatrix was a lonely child, educated at home and kept away from other children by her parents. A brief engagement to her publisher Norman Warne ended within weeks when he died from leukaemia. Eventually, aged 47, she married William Heelis, a Lakeland solicitor, with whom she lived until her death in 1943.

Beatrix taking Benjamin Bunny for a walk
Beatrix taking Benjamin Bunny for a walk in the vegetable garden where he would graze on the cabbages.  Page 43 The Story of Beatrix Potter by Sarah Gristwood

Proceeds from her books and merchandise plus a legacy from an aunt gave her the means to purchase Hill Top Farm. In the following decades, she became a conservationist and a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick Sheep. She continued to write but her diminished eyesight, and her enthusiasm for farming meant that The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, published in 1930, was the last little book.

Further reading:

If you would like to know more about the Messel family or discover the history of Nymans why not visit Nymans/National Trust

The Story of Beatrix Potter: Sarah Gristwood: Published in the United Kingdom in 2016 by National Trust Books.  ISBN 9781909881808

For anyone wishing to know more about Beatrix Potter's work, I recommend The Writings of Beatrix Potter written by Leslie Linder.  It contains facsimiles of fourteen picture letters, including the Peter Rabbit letter to Noel Moore, which started it all. The correspondence between Beatrix Potter and her publishers shows how involved she became in the production of her books, and it sometimes reveals unexpected aspects  of her character - she once lectured Warnes (the publisher) for being 'a great deal too much afraid of the public' for whom she never cared 'one tuppenny-button'. Nevertheless, she was very particular about her writing, often revising the same story until it was to her satisfaction; several of these versions are quoted, including the privately printed edition of The Tailor of Gloucester.  A valuable feature for book collectors is the Appendix section, which will help to identify first editions. The copy I have is a second edition from 1971 but there could well be an updated version available now. A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter: Leslie Linder: Frederick Warne & Co Ltd London and New York. ISBN 0723213348

A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter: Leslie Linder:

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone in South-East Asia and Texas, stay safe.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Giving, Writing and Receiving

This is a guest post by Jenna Zark 

I was a newly single mother, recently separated from a husband of 13 plus years, with a three-year-old son. I was living in said husband’s home and working on moving, trying to stay sane and trying to sell a couch.

Moving was going OK, but the other two points in my three-point plan were less successful. I have found that the more I need money, the less it tends to come my way, and this instance was no exception.

All I knew was I didn’t want that couch to follow me to the new apartment I’d picked out for myself and my son. I wanted and needed to start fresh. So instead of selling, I decided to give the couch away.

I called up someone I know in the Russian community, and she put me in touch with a place that communicates with immigrant families. Within a day, a Russian man called and asked if he could come by.

We sat on the couch together while my son played with his toys on the floor. The sun poured into the room, and I couldn’t help but wish it was a happier occasion. Yet, the man told me stories that made me feel a lot better than if I had just sold the couch.

“In Russia, you live like wolf,” he said. “You get up and all day you are just trying to get something—food, clothing, shelter,” he continued. “In America, you have no idea.”

I knew where he was coming from, because being a suddenly-single mom when you were not expecting to be is certainly no picnic. Still, I had found an affordable apartment pretty easily and even had an appointment for a job interview that week.

Listening to the Russian man made me count my blessings. It also helped me realize that giving away your possessions can make you feel rich in a way that selling never can.

The man and I talked a bit more and he said he would stop by later with a van to take the couch away. We said our goodbyes and I took my son out to the playground. Some weeks later, the man called and invited me to dinner with him and his wife. It was another way to connect to the world at a time when I was feeling pretty lonely.

If you’ve had a chance to read my book The Beat on Ruby’s Street, you know that my main character Ruby is dealing with issues in her family, too. While nothing in the book is the exact same as my experience, there is a lot I went through that informs the story and how Ruby reacts to crises that befall her.

I bring this up because I think writing and giving things away really saved me. When I think about it, I see those two ideas as connected. Because writing is also giving up something of yourself to (hopefully) reach others who may be going through some of the same things you are.

And because giving can make us feel so rich, when the world and universe brings us empathy and friendship in the form of readers and friends.

This guest post comes from Jenna Zark a columnist, lyricist, playwright, and novelist. Her play A Body of Water was published by Dramatists Play Service and produced regionally after its debut at Circle Repertory Company in New York. Other plays were produced in the Twin Cities, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and St. Louis. As a former staff writer at Scholastic Choices magazine, Zark wrote extensively for middle school and junior high students. Columns, poetry, essays, and articles have been published in TC Jewfolk, Stoneboat literary magazine, Minnesota Bride and numerous other publications. Zark is also a member of a lyricist’s collective in the Twin Cities that performs at local cabarets. She’s still trying to figure out if it’s harder to write a play, a novel, or a song. To share your thoughts on that or to learn more, please visit

Find Jenna at

Author Website:

The Beat On Ruby's Street;

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home. As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart - Goodreads

If you wish to purchase a copy of The Beat on Ruby's Street or learn more, please visit;


Dear Jenna, thanks for sharing your book and a little of your life with readers of my blog. I smiled when I read your comment about needing a little more money only to have far less come your way - I've been there and know exactly what you mean!  As regards giving to feel richer, you are absolutely right. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate gift, a kindness or a smile is often enough. Thanks again, Barbara.  

 “Give others all that is alive in us—our interest, understanding, our knowledge, our humour, everything in us that’s good. In doing so, we enhance the sense of aliveness in others while enhancing our own. When we give, we get a “heightened vitality” of what it means to be human.”  Erich Fromm

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Reunited with Natty Nora and Tatty Tilly!

Some months ago my blogging friend Marcia shared a post about paper dolls. I left a comment saying I remember sitting on the floor at my grandma Daisy’s house cutting dolls out of magazines. My memories are hazy, but I thought they were quite small and usually printed in black and white as well as colour. I also recalled a boy doll as well as a girl doll or dolls.

Woman and Home Magazine February 1962 (left) and March 1956 (right)
Woman and Home Magazine February 1962 (left) and March 1956 (right)

Marcia kindly replied saying she had discovered a Nora and Tilly (and sometimes Paul) in Woman and Home Magazine. The name Tilly jumped out at me but when I looked online I wasn’t sure. Tilly looked ‘right’, but the clothes were too brightly coloured and where was the black and white I so clearly remembered.

Nora and Tilly from the February 1962 issue of Woman and Home
Nora and Tilly from the February 1962 issue of Woman and Home

This all took place in May 2016, and I had more or less forgotten about it until idly browsing on Pinterest the other day I noticed a pin featuring Natty Nora and Tatty Tilly. This is how I remember them! 

Nora and Tilly Cut Out Dolls
Natty Nora and Tatty Tilly as they first appeared in Woman and Home magazine in the 1950s.

Nora and Tilly Cut Out Dolls
It wasn’t long before Natty Nora, and Tatty Tilly became simply Nora and Tilly. 

I’ve now found a couple of old copies of Woman and Home (first picture), and it’s obvious why I was confused. The pictures I originally found online were from a new series of dolls published in the 1960s not the ones I remember from the 1950s. 

Natty and Tilly also had a brother Paul which must explain why I was remembering a boy doll.
Nora and Tilly Cut Out Dolls
Natty, Tilly and brother Paul 

The pictures that follow are from the March 1956 and February 1962 editions of Woman and Home Magazine. Enjoy!
Hoppity bunnies and garlanded elephants to embroider. Woman and Home February 1962
Nursery Frolics ... Hoppity bunnies and garlanded elephants to embroider.
Woman and Home February 1962  

time to try out a new Hair-do.  Woman and Home March 1956
Have you fallen into discouragement about your looks? Then it is time to try out a new Hair-do. 
Woman and Home March 1956

An advertisement for the very first issue of Look and Learn a weekly British magazine published by Fleetway from January 1962 until 1982.
An advertisement for the very first issue of Look and Learn a weekly magazine published by Fleetway from January 1962 until 1982. 

This Pattern Has Everything! Princess lines to suit every figure, a swirling skirt to please the feminine in us, and a big important collar. The Woman and Home March 1956.
 Princess lines to suit every figure, a swirling skirt to please the feminine in us, and a big important collar. 
Woman and Home March 1956. 

Something New!  From toddlers to early teens - designs for everyone.  Woman and Home March 1956
Something New!  From toddlers to early teens - designs for everyone. 
Woman and Home March 1956

Cussons Imperial Leather. Woman and Home March 1956
Advert from the March 1956 issue.

With massive thanks to Marcia for helping me find these long remembered dolls. 

See previous paper doll post here 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Final flight of the DJI Phantom 3

Keeping in touch with family is always important and never more so than when they live on the opposite side of the world. With that in mind our son in Adelaide made this video of him and his two little daughters in the park. Just so you know who is who Lilly is on the swing while Zoe is running around. You may be wondering why this is the final flight. If so there is a simple explanation. Just as Steve was finishing filming his drone, camera and all smashed to the ground! Some might say good job, but we would have to disagree. It was a sad day for Steve and for us, but it makes this film all the more precious.

Thanks to Steve for letting me share this and to everyone who takes the time to watch.
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