Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cusworth Hall: Butterflies and Bumble Bees, and what the Butler saw!

If you happen to be passing CUSWORTH HALL near Doncaster today, be sure to check out their BUTTERFLIES AND BUMBLE BEES event this afternoon. The weather seems to be fine today, in spite of a spot of summer rain earlier!

Cusworth Hall near Doncaster

Boring old M.E./CFS has spat on my attendance chances, but don't miss yours!

I have a bit of a vested interest in Cusworth. My poor long-suffering friends and family will know this by heart, but in case you don't, my link is this: my paternal great gran, twin Eliza Barrass, nee Wright (1857-1905) had a sister Lucy, the baby of the family born in 1865.

 Lucy married the love of her life, Charles Betts, on 22nd December 1890 in her native Warmsworth, at the little church now demolished and its site entombed under the M1 motorway! 

Charles became the butler ("You rang, Milady?") to Lady Isabella Battie-Wrightson, her ladyship at Cusworth in the early 20th century. Lady Isabella presided over the Hall in the last of its glory days before it passed after her death to the last squire, Robert Cecil Battie-Wrightson, pictured here in Doncaster:

Robert Cecil Battie-Wrightson in Doncaster

 Charles Betts, a dapper little man, judging by the existing photos, came originally from Thorne and moved to Warmsworth where he met and married my great grandaunt Lucy. As butler to Lady Isabella, Charles moved into The Lodge, the gatehouse at Cusworth with his family.

They can be seen outside the Lodge c1908. In this photo, you can see great grandaunt Lucy (who sadly died shortly after this photo was taken, aged only 42, of colon cancer and cardiac failure in Doncaster Royal Infirmary), their daughter Mary Ann, who became a housemaid at the Hall, and Charles himself.

Lucy Betts nee Wright, my great gran Eliza Barrass's youngest sister, her daughter Mary Ann and husband Charles circa 1908 outside their home, The Lodge of Cusworth Hall. The Hall itself is visible though the gateway arch, while the Betts family lived rather more humbly behind those net curtains! The original photo of which this is only a scan, can be found on p 42 of the wonderful guidebook 'Cusworth Hall and the Battie Wrightson Family'  and remains copyright of its author Gordon Smith.  I was overjoyed and overwhelmed to discover it quite by sweet serendipity while researching my own family history.

Daughter Mary Ann worked at Cusworth Hall until after her marriage to Richard Ormerod Walshaw in 1936. The Betts family is mentioned in some of the excellent Cusworth guidebooks available around Doncaster, including the one that includes these photos, and another,  'Caring for Cusworth: servants recall a bygone era...' by Alison Morrish, the Curator at Cusworth when that book was produced in 1982. I bought mine, giddy with joy as I spotted the name Betts and this photo of Lucy looking the very image of a Barrass, at Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery .

Another photo in Gordon Smith's book, shows Charles (if I'm recognising his distinctive features rightly!) at Lady Isabella's right hand side, enjoying one of the Hall's famous fancy dress balls before the Great War. Her Ladyship is enthroned as a rather magnificent Britannia! 

Fancy Dress Party at Cusworth Hall prior to WW1, showing Lady Isabella and everyone on the Cusworth Estate, including my ancestors the Betts family. Scan of original photo on p 43 of 'Cusworth Hall and the Battie-Wrightson Family' copyright Gordon Smith, Doncaster 1990.

During the First World War, Charles Betts was caught on camera when Lady Isabella entertained the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at Cusworth. My paternal grandfather, Bruce Aaron Barrass, (1891-1973) was in the same regiment.  I wish among granddad Bruce's endless loquacious stories of the past, which so fascinated me as a child, he could have spoken about his uncle Charles, butler at Cusworth Hall! Instead I had the fun of discovering this rich vein of ancestry for myself!

Housemaid, handyman and my great granduncle Charles Betts the Butler at Cusworth Hall, c 1910 (photo detail from p 41 of 'Cusworth Hall and the Battie Wrightson Family' original photo copyright Gordon Smith, Doncaster 1990)

If like me, you've missed those bees and butterflies, don't waste the opportunity through the summer of spending some time with your family, or just relaxing on your own, exploring Cusworth's beautiful and interesting Hall set in its peaceful rolling grounds with magnificent trees, lawns and soothing water features. 

Cusworth Hall is one of the real precious jewels in Doncaster's battered but beautiful crown!

Some more info on this link

and on Cusworth Hall's own excellent website: http://www.cusworth-hall.co.uk/

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Express Yourself! Or why it maybe isn't hotter than a witch's t*t!

Social networking is an education in itself.

One of my Facebook friends who I went to school with in Yorkshire, England has emigrated to the USA where, tonight, he was finding the weather hotter than usual.

'Man, it's hotter than a witch's tit!' he averred.

Only to be advised by one of his own American buddies that this particular part of the said sorceress' anatomy was supposed to refer to extreme cold, not hot temperatures! It was worth it, just to have the amount of laughter and fun it gave us!

It got me pondering through the tears of mirth, the delicious shades of difference between the English language as spoken in different parts of the UK and of course, the fact that US English and UK English are often several layers of translation apart!

The other day another friend, more local to me in Yorkshire and feeling peckish, put as her status:

"I'm that starving I could eat Gandhi's flip-flop!"

Even as a Yorkshirewoman born and bred that was a new one on me! The pictures these sayings conjour up bring a dose of hilarity to carry us through the day!

I tend to be notorious for making my proverbs up as I go along. When I joined Twitter last year for the first time, I blythly proclaimed myself to be "tweeting like a goldfinch in a windsock" which, I fear is indefensible on all grounds. I didn't twitter or tweet for that long or that often back then, nor have any of the goldfinches I've seen ever ventured near a windsock. But people knew what I meant. At least, I did!

Yorkshire is a county rich with crazy proverbial expressions, as was the Erewash Valley of Derbyshire in Ilkeston where my paternal gran lived till she came to Yorkshire as a teenager.

I grew up with a proper mish-mash of such expressions ringing in my ears, from my Dad's broad south Yorkshire and Derbyshire roots mixed with my Mum's odd Sheffieldisms from her parents who came from there before moving to the little mining valley in the triangle of villages between Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham where I was born.

My maternal grandparents bequeathed me daft words like "swilkering" for any liquid's swilled circular motion in a shallow dish, "lading and teeming" for tranferring liquid from one receptacle to another, and "mimimoking" for that way of overpronouncing words sotto voce to communicate delicate matters or when just out of earshot. Then we had "making a pippishow of yourself" to indicate you'd made a unnecessary fuss in a public place, drawing attention to yourself or your mortified parent!

My Grans' Ilkeston (Ilson, to locals!) expressions from Derbyshire warrant a blogpost on their own so I'll leave it there before the Tower of Babel's reconstructed brick by barmy brick!

Remember though, the Yorkshire advice:

'See all, 'ear all, say nowt.
Eat all, sup all, pay nowt. 
An' if th'ivver does owt for nowt,
allus do it for thissen.'

Never followed it myself, really. But I do still enjoy a spot of 'mimimoking' and a bit of a 'pippishow'! Don't we all?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

All hail, English Summer!

Hailstorm in Yorkshire, England at noon 19th July 2011

I love a good storm. Yesterday lunchtime's was truly epic! The video clip on the link above taken on my cellphone doesn't do it justice!

First the clouds took on a a smoky shade, the colour of a drenched woodpigeon's neck. Then a few tickles of electric and chuckles of static and the party kicked off!

A huge thunderclap rattled the windows in the little conservatory where I was sitting. The rain began lashing down in diaphanous sheets of sting and fizz. What one minute was liquid bouncing up from the startled concrete patio, was the next transmuted into rattling white pearl-sized hailstones. Within a few minutes the lawn was white over with nuggets of diamond.

The drains couldn't cope with the sudden downpour and before I could poke my mobile phonecam out the back door, a flash flood three inches deep was pooled along the edge of the patio right round to the side gate. I did a mental inventory of boat-building materials I might have to hand!

Before I could do my Noah bit, though, I heard an ominous dripping from between the edge of the conseravtory roof and the spot where it joins onto the back wall of the house. Towels and buckets in place I watched the show going on all around!

Even the feeding birds and the squirrel enjoying the nut hopper had run for cover! The sound of the hail ringing on the roof shut out everything but the white luminous noise of the storm. I got a little footage of the hail and managed to wrestle the door shut again against the capriciously playful elements. I found myself mentally quoting lines from one of my very favourite poems, Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" inspired by his living not far from here, in Lincolnshire:

Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.
A blast was certainly being crammed against my door! But it left as quickly as it had arrived. An hour later, after a further quick shower, the sun was glittering calmly in the puddles and the balmy air hugged me with a reassuring woolly kiss as I ventured out. The dripping stopped, the carpet dried and by teatime, the ground was dry and the grass was only dusted white with clover.
The sun has got his hat on...
I always feel blessed to enjoy days like this. Also blessed to open the mail this morning and find a rare letter from my landlords in London saying they're about to survey my rented house. This month or next they're sending somebody to take an inventory of maintenance tasks that they may need to tackle in the future, funds permitting.
Though I'm not holding my breath, I should probably mention the conservatory roof when they're in the area!
I often wonder if the amount of the national budget spent on the Met Office is wholly justified. I admit that yesterday, for once, we were warned!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Zither and thither!

Just tackled the task of perking up the springs and retuning my autoharp.

Each saggy spring under the 15 chord bars needs to be taken out and lengthened a bit to give the bars and their felt pads a bit more bounce when damping the strings.

Easier said than done! Every time I screwed down those fiddly screws again to retain the bars in place, and looked down the length of the strings, another pesky little spring was peeping out there going: "Haha, look, I've fallen over again - are you coming in to get me, sucker?"

Tuned it to itself. Then discovered my tuning fork and so needed to repeat the whole process to get it singing in tune with the fork's perfectly pitched "E"!

A kind American friend passed the lovely instrument on to me when I worked in Bolivia. They knew I loved music and had seen my guitar and accordion. Apparently they hadn't used it for years. It was just gathering dust in an attic in La Paz!

It came without a tuning key, so I had to source one when a friend was visiting me in the wilds of the Andes from the States. At that time, I didn't know anybody back home in England who even knew what an autoharp was! 

Having seen Brian Dewan opening for They Might Be Giants on his self-built electric zither a few months before travelling to South America, I was keen to give it a go!

I'll never be up to Brian's luminous, genius standards of musical experimentation, but my humble little zither always brings a smile to my face and reminds me of those heady days when the altitude made an instrument you could sit down to play a very appealing prospect!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

They Might Be Giants' "Tubthumping" cover brings a smile to my day!

They Might Be Giants covers Chumbawamba

No apologies for blogging today about my favourite band who can always bring a smile to my day.

TMBG always put life's craziness into perspective for me with their integrity, sense of the absurd, fascinating and irresistibly earwormish musicality, combined with their ethos of fun, exploring the fine line between sadness and joy, laugh and scream.

 And so much more, as fans already know! All this, as well as new generations of kids being taught the alphabet, numbers and science singing along to their amazingly catchy and informative children's songs.

Can't wait for their all-original new album "Join Us" out on the 19th. Tubthumping won't be on it, of course, (this is just them having a blast enjoying the challenge of covering a song they didn't have to write themselves!) but their own wonderfully intricate, clever, funny, thoughtful, life-enhancing stuff will!

Previews, to give us a taster of treats to come can be heard here, courtesy of Amazon.com:

30 sec previews of TMBG's new album "Join Us" out July 19th

Hope this brings a smile to you today also! Enjoy!

*By the way, 'Pinwheels', which was my first experimental blog, has become a real mix of stuff over the years. That's why slowly, I'm trying to start new bloglets to focus on the many different passions in my life! For those who are happy to share my unrepentant fangirling, (too late to hope I'll grow out of it, folks!) most of my TMBG/music/comedy etc obsessive stuff for pure light relief appears now on Tumblr:
There I'm aka "(Dis)carded Folderol", a nom de plume which,  for the (lamentably) uninitiated, is taken from a line in John Linnell's sublime TMBG song "Metal Detector" from their album "Factory Showroom". Fair warning: Here be allsorts!