Collis Continued

The search for my Collis ancestors has been another example of the frustrations and small victories that constantly accompany any family tree explorations. These are very real people to me and the more personal information I can glean, the more alive they become.

In some places, records were kept faithfully by the ministers of the Church and passed down from generation to generation. In other places, a minister took his parish registers away with him when he left so there are sometimes gaps of decades. Sometimes, the registers were not well looked after, went mouldy, were nibbled by mice, written from memory years after events, or simply not kept up to date.  Eighteenth century records tend to be better preserved than seventeenth century ones, not only because they are more recent but also because of upheavals such as the Civil War and Cromwell’s Protectorate (1642-1661) when in many parishes no written records were kept at all.

I still have a number of mysteries to solve.

It’s always a good principle to work from the known to the unknown, and in genealogy that usually means going backwards, from child to parents to grandparents. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was only just starting in rural Leicestershire, so people were less mobile than later. So we can be pretty sure of finding forebears in the villages around the town of Market Harborough.

Anne Collis’s marriage certificate of November 1836 tells us her father was a shepherd named William Collis, and her baptismal record in 1818 shows her parents were William and Alice (my 3rd great-grandparents). Her mother, Alice Collis, is aged about 55 in the 1841 census so she must have been born between 1784 and 1789.  William doesn’t figure here, so was he away or had he died before April 1841? Who was this Alice?

We have the record on 9 November 1812 of a marriage in Theddingworth between William Collis and Alice Seal. A search for the baptism of Alice Seal shows she was baptised on 1 August 1787 in Great Bowden, a few miles from Theddingworth. Her parents are named as Joseph and Alice, and it isn’t difficult to find the marriage of Joseph Seal to Alice Clarke on 25 August 1775 in the same village of Great Bowden.  Joseph Seal’s baptism is recorded in Great Bowden on 24 March 1744, the son of William Seal (1710-1723) and his wife Mary (1682-1762). William Seal is the son of John Seal and Mary Darnall, married on 24 November 1702. The same register records the baptism of Alice Clarke, daughter of John and Elizabeth Clarke, on 12 March 1755. And there also in Great Bowden is the marriage of John Clarke to Elizabeth Neal on 5 June 1751. My 5th great-grandparents! Triumph! That was easy!

Anne’s father, the shepherd William Collis, is more difficult to pin down. I can’t find him in the 1841 census, so we have scant information. He may have been out and about with his sheep on the day of the census.

However, his father, William Collis Sr, lived to a ripe old age and appears in the 1841 census. I bought his death certificate which tells me he was 88 when he died of “old age” on 1 December 1841 and that he had been a schoolmaster. That gave me his year of birth as 1753, and the Theddingworth parish registers record his baptism on 5 August 1753, son of Joseph and Elizabeth Collis. (I also found more previous Collis generations, back to about 1600 and my 10th great-grandfather. My list is beginning to look like the “begats” in the King James Bible!)

But here, my 4th great-grandparents, was William Collis’s marriage to a girl called – yet again – Alice, making two generations both called William and Alice Collis, so we have to be careful not to confuse them.

This marriage to Alice Vace startled me: 19 October 1769. William would have been only 16 at that time. Possible, but not really likely. Then I saw another entry for the marriage of William Collis to Alice Vice on 19 October 1779. Much more likely, but this really looks like sloppy record-keeping! Or has it been mis-transcribed? It is sometimes quite difficult in these registers to know exactly what year it is and names aren’t always spelled consistently.

Baptisms of children belonging to William and Alice Collis start with Eliza in 1779, and once again I’m scratching my head. This first baby’s baptism is 5 April 1779, her birth is November 1779 and her death is 21 April 1780. Baptised before she was born! It would make more sense if the baptism were April 1780. That would also make her legitimate. Somebody is definitely very careless in these records!

I couldn’t find a record for the baptism of William Collis Jr – it should have been roughly 1785 to 1790 – but the last child baptised belonging to William Sr and Alice is Samuel on 12 November 1794, i.e. after William, so that indicates that Alice must also be William’s mother. I have no information about Alice’s death, and also closed the book on her shepherd son William.

However, going back to the 1841 census, William Collis Sr (88) is living with Elizabeth Collis (70). This Elizabeth Collis also appears in the 1851 census, where she is recorded as an 80-year-old widowed schoolmistress, born in Great Wigston (another Leicestershire village) about 1771, so I suppose she was William’s second wife. However, I can’t find a marriage record, so I don’t know her maiden name, nor when she died: there are several women of this name but the death records available to me online don’t state the age.

I’m intrigued by the fact that this couple are schoolmaster and schoolmistress. This Theddingworth history website says (my emphasis):

“There was a schoolmaster in Theddingworth in 1634. The present village school appears to originate from the generosity of J. G. Cook (d. 1856), vicar 1810–41, although the building and schoolmistress’s house were erected in 1844 after he had resigned from the living. His brother John Cook (d. 1867) of Hothorpe Hall, the patron of the church, may also have contributed to the cost. The first known trust deed was dated 1856, the year of the vicar’s death, but as early as 1819 he had been paying for the education of 12 children in a small day school of 25 children run by a woman in the village. The status of this school is uncertain. In 1832 the archdeacon reported that there was only a Sunday school containing 40 children, but the parliamentary return describing conditions a year later referred to a day and Sunday school for 35 children, educated partly at their parents’ expense and partly by charity. The building of 1844 was extended by the addition of an infants’ room in 1902.”

Perhaps my 4th great-grandfather and his wife were the pioneer teachers of this little school?

Perseverance Pays!

Theddingworth churchyard

All Saints Church, Theddingworth  Photo: Wikipedia

I’ve been asked how I find relatives and ancestors as I build up the family tree, especially for people long dead and forgotten. Before the Internet made it a lot easier, you had to physically go out and pore over archives and parish registers. Nowadays, much has been digitised and it’s mainly a matter of armchair detective work. It can be time-consuming, which probably explains why so many amateur genealogists are retirees.

In England and Wales, the registration of births, marriages and deaths in the national index began in 1837, and the first nationwide census was conducted in April 1841. These usually provide enough information to allow personal histories to be followed back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, so that in most cases the last 200 years are not too difficult to reconstruct, and there is enough evidence to back up the course of events, often in surprising detail. Prior to those dates, though, a lot depends on good luck!

Here, for instance, is the story of my sleuthing in the case of my great-great-grandmother.

The widespread tradition of giving a mother’s maiden name as a child’s middle name has proved useful in tracking and verifying relationships. I have traced siblings as well as children and grandchildren, simply because they bore a familiar second name.

A name that has been – and still is – frequently used as a second name in my mother’s family is Collis. My mother’s eldest brother was known in the family by his middle name of Collis, and it has been passed on to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, without any of them really knowing where it came from. They are happy to perpetuate the memory of a much beloved (great)grandfather.

I was intrigued by this name, which I like (I was fond of my uncle, so I’m biased), and it isn’t overly common. At least, not as common as Smith! If I had had a son, he might well have been called Collis.

I knew that my uncle had been named for his maternal grandfather, Charles Collis Cheney, and I discovered that Charles Collis Cheney had a son who died in infancy, also named Collis. This indicated that the name held real significance for him, but where did it come from? Was it his mother’s maiden name? Disappointingly, records showed that his father Eli Cheney was married in the last quarter of 1841 to a young woman named Anne Knight, not Collis. I wasted a lot of time trying to find baptismal or birth records for Ann(e) Knight but drew a blank. However, thanks to census records, I did know her approximate year and place of birth, a vital factor: about 1818 in a Leicestershire village with the lovely lisping name of Theddingworth.

Unlike later censuses, the first UK census of 2 April 1841 gives only basic information, and it usually rounds the ages of anyone older than 15 up or down to the nearest multiple of 5. My great-great-grandmother would have been 23 in 1841 and on page 5 of Theddingworth, the village of her birth, I found a 20-year-old Ann Knight employed as a servant to a grazier. That seemed plausible.

As it was such a small village, I glanced through the other pages and suddenly discovered two 55-year-old women called Elizabeth Smith and Alice Collis living with a 4-year-old girl named Elizabeth Knight. Collis and Knight in the same household: was this a coincidence?

It dawned on me that although Ann Knight was so young at the time, she might possibly be a widow. A servant girl with a child would have to find someone else to care for the little one, and an elderly relative would be the obvious solution. These names fitted this theory. Was Alice Collis related to Ann Knight?

Well, yes: further research uncovered a marriage in Theddingworth on 8 November 1836 between Anne, daughter of William and Alice Collis, to James Knight, son of John Knight and Mary Turner. So my 2nd great-grandmother was born Anne Collis. This seemed to be evidence that the Alice Collis named in the census was Anne’s mother, and little Elizabeth Knight was her daughter. At last I knew the origin of the name! It was indeed the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother.

More research was needed, and I struck lucky: a marriage between William Collis and Alice Seal on 9 November 1812 in Theddingworth, and a baptism on 7 June 1818 for Anne, daughter of William and Alice Collis, showing she would have been about 18 when she married James Knight.

Theddingworth is a very small place, and the Collis family seem to have been established there for many generations so it was quite easy to trace the line back to my 6th great-grandparents, John Collis and Martha Sprigg, both born around 1700. Prior to that, parish records become less informative, and I may have found my 6th and 7th great-grandparents, too, but there’s no way of telling for sure. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to Theddingworth and be able to discover more on the spot, including the maiden names of the other grannies. Meanwhile, I’m happy to have solved a family mystery. What a pity that my Uncle is no longer alive to hear where his name came from.

Thoughts that lie too deep for tears

Interesting, that the piece of music that instantly comes to mind when we mention the composer Tomaso Albinoni is the Adagio in G Minor, 90% or more of which was actually the product of a musicologist hardly anyone has heard of, called Remo Giazotto. Who remembers that name? Or anything else composed by Albinoni? But you have only to hear the opening bars and the measured tread of those imaginary footsteps advancing down the halls of eternity, and you know what you are listening to.

Giazotto claimed to have discovered a fragment of a manuscript that survived the bombing of the Saxon State Library in Dresden at the end of WWII in 1945, and to have reconstructed the rest of this haunting Adagio from these few bars. He copyrighted and published it in 1958, under the title: “Adagio in G Minor for Strings and Organ, on Two Thematic Ideas and on a Figured Bass by Tomaso Albinoni”. No official record of it has been found in the collection of the Saxon State Library, and Giazotto never produced any manuscript fragment to back up his story, so the debate goes on as to whether Albinoni’s score ever actually existed.

The Adagio itself, of course, has a life of its own. It’s been used over and over again in films, in popular music and as background music in TV productions and for computer games. It’s also a popular choice at funerals. We should be sick and tired of it, but it never grows stale or hackneyed.

My first encounter with it was in 1962 or 63 as the theme music in Orson Welles’ film of Kafka’s “The Trial”, and then again in the film “Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray”, both of which I saw as a student during my final undergraduate year at the Université d’Aix en Provence. It got under my skin. And I wasn’t alone. It became a kind of theme to our student gatherings, always somewhere in the background, and we never tired of it. Sure, we danced and partied to all kinds of pop and jazz, where the Adagio would never have fitted in, but in moments of tranquility, study or contemplation, it was the Adagio that would be played.

It was a record of the Adagio that I gave as a token of thanks to my fellow student who had acted as proofreader/editor to my thesis (I couldn’t afford to pay her for that kind service), and she was so moved that she burst into tears as she opened the package.

Music is powerful. It can penetrate to the deepest part of our soul. Somehow, it is fitting that this particular Adagio should be associated with the senseless devastation of Dresden.  It may sound corny, but I would like to think that – if possible – when I am on my deathbed, someone will play me this recording of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor as arranged by Remo Giazotto, so that my life here can fade away with those immortal sounds. And if that isn’t possible, then play it at my funeral.

Thank you to Auntie Uta for leading me to this performance on YouTube:

In the golden olden days …


Dale Hall, Liverpool, December 1959


I was very sad to read in 2014 that Liverpool University’s Dale Hall of Residence was to be closed, and even sadder at the news that it had become derelict and succumbed to a fierce fire (believed to be arson) in December 2017. It has now been demolished and is being replaced by private homes, no doubt much needed, and probably very desirable residences. But there’s yet another milestone in my life that has disappeared.

Dale Hall fire damage

I was one of the very first to live there, and it was my home-from-home from October 1959 to July 1962, the place where I made some really important friendships. It holds many cherished memories for me.

I came up to Liverpool to read French as an immature eighteen-year-old in October 1959. University policy was,  as far as possible, to accommodate in Hall those female undergraduates unable to live at home. Few students had their own transport in those days and in general, buses were our only means of getting about. We would catch the number 80 bus at 8. 45 in order to get to lectures at 9.30, and then again around 5.30 in the evening to ensure we were back for dinner. Most of my lectures were in the Victoria Building, which was handy for the Students’ Union and the Cohen Library, so apart from the odd foray down Brownlow Hill and across Lime Street to Lewis’s and the City Library, I didn’t see much of Liverpool and led a very cloistered existence compared to today’s students.

Dale Hall was a brand new hall of residence generally known as the Virgins’ Retreat, stuck out in the rather posh suburbs of Mossley Hill, with very little in the way of temptation to lead a dissolute student life, or opportunity to indulge whatever temptation there was. My social life tended to be enacted in Hall, where it was easier to stay in our “prison” than to go out. There was a pub in Mossley Hill, where it might have been possible to meet people, especially male students, with the men’s hall only a mile or so away, but that cost money and we were very hard up.

I made friends in Hall in the first few weeks, as we ate our meals at tables of 9 that formed the nucleus of a number of cliques. Our group was quite lively, and although Hall regulations and lack of funds prevented us from going out often, we spent many hours in one another’s rooms putting the world to rights until the early hours of the morning.

We were the very first intake of students to inhabit Dale Hall, and we felt very privileged when we compared our living conditions to those of the other halls of residence, which were mostly converted Victorian villas where 2, 3 or even 4 girls had to share a room and there were battles for the bathroom.

Everything was brand new, clean, fresh, and contemporary in style. We had centrally-heated, brightly decorated individual study bedrooms, with a bathroom between 2, containing lavatory, hand basin and bath plus a tin of Gumption to clean it with (but no shower), and there was a shared kitchen with 2 gas rings and a grill at the end of each corridor. There was also a laundry room next to the kitchen, where you could wash out clothes by hand and spread them to dry on wooden racks, together with an iron and ironing board. In a room at the far end of a ground-floor corridor was a manual sewing machine that anyone could use. Electrical appliances had to be approved, so although there were a few hairdryers allowed, no radios, record players or tape recorders disturbed the hallowed silence.

Breakfast and evening meal were provided, and in addition we had weekly and monthly rations: ¼ lb of tea or instant coffee and ¼ lb of sugar per month plus 2 oz of butter per week, and we could help ourselves to 2 slices of bread daily from the couple of loaves provided in the kitchen – it was a matter of honour not to take more, as you would be depriving someone else if you did, but we would sneak down to the kitchen in the late evening and take any extra slices left over, for toast, which we made on the electric fires in our rooms, a practice forbidden and a bit risky.

Breakfast was served from a hatch in the dining room and was available from 7.30 to 9 am. There was always something hot, though it may have been simply one lone sausage, or a fried egg with one rasher of bacon, and as much cereal, tea, coffee, toast, butter and marmalade as we could stuff into ourselves. Dinner at 6.30 pm was formal except on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, as was Sunday lunch. This meant wearing our well-ironed undergraduate gowns over a respectable afternoon dress (definitely not trousers), and a prompt start all together as the Warden and her entourage swept in to take their places at High Table, with grace sung in Latin before and after the meal. There may have been wine at High Table, but we undergraduates had to be content with plain tap water.

Woe betide anyone who arrived late for formal dinner: you then stood just inside the door until you caught the Warden’s eye, whereupon she eventually nodded majestically as permission to enter and take your seat. If you needed to leave during dinner, there was a similar procedure: you stood and waited until she graciously nodded to you. During my second year, I was afflicted with frequent nosebleeds, which were triggered sometimes by the steam rising from the soup in my bowl. Clutching a blood-soaked hanky to my face, I would stand for several long seconds before she noticed me and allowed me to leave, and of course, as I wasn’t going to face the humiliating process of going back into the dining hall, I thus missed my dinner.

The Warden, Miss Leese, was an ex-WREN and a formidable character, trailed everywhere except to formal dinner by her pet pug dog Toby. We were in awe of her, but she really had a very kind heart and if a girl genuinely needed support, she could be relied on to give good sensible advice and make things happen. She and her staff were in loco parentis, since we didn’t come of age until we were 21, which accounts for the strictness of the system. A room at the end of each corridor was occupied by a spinster lecturer, who was our Hall Tutor. I’m not sure exactly what her brief was, but she would invite us for coffee now and then. She certainly didn’t interfere in our lives in any way. Perhaps some girls went to her for advice.

We were always addressed by the Warden and staff as “Miss + Surname”. If there were two or more girls with the same surname, the first name would be added, thus my two friends named Smith were Miss Elaine Smith and Miss Gwen Smith. I was Miss Catherine Williams to distinguish me from Miss Eirlys Williams.

Miss Leese’s aim was to make young ladies out of us, so she would invite 2 or 3 girls to High Table at each formal dinner, to act as hostess to visiting lecturers who, we thought, came under duress or just to get a free dinner. The invitation to High Table included mandatory attendance at a 15-minute sherry party beforehand, where we learnt to sip our sherry (it was considered rather sophisticated to ask for dry sherry, which nobody really liked) and balance canapés, peanuts and twiglets or a cigarette in the other hand while making small talk to people with strings of degrees who overawed us immensely. After dinner, each girl had to take her assigned guest back to her room for coffee (Nescafé), which meant assembling as many of your friends as possible for moral support during the ordeal of continuing the small talk.

My assigned guest was Dr Faithfull, head of the Italian department and father of Marianne, who was still a schoolgirl at that time. He looked like a tramp, had no small talk, and nobody I knew was reading Italian, so conversation was very hard and it was really quite a relief to all concerned when he drained his Nescafe and left. Maybe other girls were more adept at this game, or had more sympathetic and cooperative guests, but I think Dr Faithfull felt just as awkward as we did and was possibly a shy man.

At that time, mixed halls of residence were unheard of, and the draconian rules imposed on us were fiercely enforced as far as it was possible to do so. There was a very hypocritical attitude towards the sex life of female students at that time, at the dawn of the swinging sixties. The official word was “lock up your daughters” (and locked up we were from 10 pm to 7 am), and although in general we all acted as if butter wouldn’t melt in our mouths, blind eyes were turned so long as our behaviour wasn’t too openly provocative. But the sexual revolution had begun, and was quietly making inroads. Thus, one 18-year-old girl who arrived with us in October 1959 from a strict girls’ boarding school, wearing white ankle socks and accompanied by a bodyguard of beefy brothers, was boasting by the end of her first year that she had managed to sleep with over 30 different men. None of us were quite sure how she had managed this feat, but nobody doubted its veracity, and she reaped grudging respect for brazenly admitting it. She was studying Physics, which was unusual for a girl at that time, so had plenty of opportunity for meeting potential partners. But on the whole, we tended to keep quiet about what went on in our intimate relationships and few admitted openly to having lost their virginity.

We had to sign in every evening after dinner on a register at the Portress’s Lodge, and failure to do so by 10 pm would result in the night porter flinging open your door and switching on the light at around midnight (assuming you were in bed by then). I think he hoped to catch someone in a compromising situation or a state of undress, but doubt if he ever did, and we complained about this behaviour. He was subsequently removed from his post and we had quiet, undisturbed nights.

If you wanted to go out in the evening, you had to apply to the Warden in person for late leave before breakfast, giving your reasons and saying when you would be back. She was usually agreeable as long as you didn’t stay out too many evenings in the week, and it was OK to go to the University hops on a Saturday night, provided you were back by midnight. As Christmas approached, she also relaxed a little in giving permission to go to Christmas parties. Another queue in the morning outside the Warden’s office was to obtain permission for weekend home leave, and she insisted on our having a valid reason. The drawback to this system from our point of view was that the Warden only allocated about 15 minutes for this, so it was a matter of first come, first served. If you weren’t among the first dozen or so girls outside her door, there was no point in waiting. From the Warden’s point of view, of course, it meant she didn’t have to worry too much about us gadding off!

Men were not allowed beyond the Junior Common Room, just inside the main entrance, except on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 to 4, and Saturdays from 2 to 6. These “men hours” were extended to 10 pm for senior students in their third year, who were usually 21 and thus no longer minors to be protected. In our first year we were issued with keys to our rooms, and on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons many rooms were seen to have their curtains drawn and the doors locked. In our second year, the keys were no longer issued to us, but it was just as easy to jam a magazine under the door if you really didn’t want to be disturbed.

The speciousness of this system was revealed by the case of a girl who smuggled her boyfriend in all night one Saturday. He would have gone unnoticed except that he left his motorbike parked outside. Only one girl in Hall had a car at this time, so the motorbike was highly conspicuous in the otherwise empty car park. The girl who had blatantly violated the rules was severely reprimanded and sent down for the remainder of the term. We all felt sorry for her – there but for the grace of God go I – but on the other hand we felt the boyfriend had been a bit stupid about the motorbike!

How times have changed! Dale Hall was extended to accommodate over 250 students, both male and female, and as they were all of age there was no need for a “dragon” to guard their moral welfare. Now it is no more, and probably many of its earliest inhabitants have gone the way of all flesh, but thankfully I can still treasure my memories. Gaudeamus, igniter, iuvenes dum sumus!

October Stroll Along The Alpine Rhine

The River Rhine is flowing at a record low level following this year’s hot dry summer and autumn. Here, where I live, it isn’t yet the mighty Father Rhine that flows through Germany and the Netherlands, but a feisty adolescent racing impatiently towards Lake Constance. Normally, that is.

This year, lack of rain has turned it into a weakling. I took myself for a walk yesterday afternoon to see with my own eyes how low the level is – I had the feeling I could have waded across, if I had wanted to.

However, I was struck yet again by the beauty of the area that I have made my home, and a stroll that should have taken me no more than thirty minutes at the most lasted more than an hour simply because I just had to keep stopping to admire things, and trying to capture them on my phone. Sorry, but the quality of my pictures is far inferior to reality,

We have two rivers in Bad Ragaz, not only the Rhine but also the Tamina that rises from hot springs and continues to bubble and babble, bouncing over rocks and through a narrow gorge before it gallops through the village and flings itself with wild abandon into the Rhine.

Usually it looks like this:IMG_0025.jpg
















But at the moment, it’s hardly more than a trickle, though still bubbling and babbling: IMG_2948



This house seems to be smiling and I was gratified to find that it is actually a holiday let. I hope the inside matches the outside and keeps its promises of comfort and cosiness.


I resisted the urge to take the path less travelled, and continued along the Tamina until I reached the confluence. A naked red woman standing there is part of the triennial Arts Festival, and probably has some symbolic significance for the sculptor.

IMG_2960   IMG_2967









I didn’t read up on her as I have my own fantasies, and I like to think of her as the spirit of Tamina, inspiring lovers at this romantic spot. In fact, the last little bridge spanning the Tamina is decorated with dozens of padlocks, mostly inscribed with the names of couples and their special dates, fastened there as love tokens.

There is definitely some sort of magic in the air just here, and the sun on the bark of the silver birches against the gold of the dying leaves and the deep blue sky is almost painfully beautiful.

I walked along the Rhine dyke for a while, then turned into the forest – no, not really a forest, it’s a park, but it has such a vast variety of magnificent trees and shrubs, and such a fairy tale atmosphere that Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf must be lurking here somewhere.

IMG_2995However, after only a few metres, the woodland opens onto a camping and caravan site with an impressive open-air swimming pool complex and children’s playground, plus a neat little restaurant and café. I couldn’t resist the attraction, and spent a pleasant quarter of an hour drinking hot chocolate and eating a slice of cappuccino cake as I watched the kids having fun.


Next to the playground and car park, some shaggy cattle were grazing, including a sweet little black bull calf and a flock of blue (fibreglass) sheep (more Art).

The sun was getting low in the sky by this time, so I turned towards home, passing the park pool with a few more sculptures and some artistically minded mandarin ducks which posed for me on a log. Sorry, my photo is a bit blurry. Art?


Someone in the neighbourhood whom I don’t know has an English telephone kiosk in their garden: why? Maybe one day I’ll find out. Perhaps an expat Brit, or simply an Anglophile?

Anyway, autumn is definitely here, mellow fruitfulness galore.

Not only are the geraniums still magnificent on this grandmother’s balcony, but it’s hard to believe that this cotoneaster is real.

And finally, as the sun sank behind the mountains, home.

More reflections on painting “The Sea” — Norman Perryman: A Life Painting Music


Once again, I’m pointing you in the direction of the one genius personally known to me, who is truly capable – in that hackneyed phrase – of affording us a glimpse of eternity. Timelessness, anyway. And from the height of his 85 years, a true inspiration for anyone worried that advancing age is an excuse for slowing down! I last wrote about Norman here, with links to two previous blog posts. I’m sorry I can’t get to this next concert but look forward to a youtube version.


I’m now hard at work choreographing a continuous painting, to be memorised and performed live in concert to the symphonic poem The Sea (1907) by the Lithuanian M.K. Čiurlionis. This masterpiece offers me perhaps the supreme opportunity to tap into the vast reservoir of Nature with my watercolour brushes, using my own…

via More reflections on painting “The Sea” — Norman Perryman: A Life Painting Music

Shell pattern shawl

As the mother of three and grandmother of four lively kids, my daughter is never at a loss to find some kind of absorbing activity to distract a bored and wandering mind. That ability she also applies to me, so when I was casting around for something to occupy me while listening to podcasts in the evening during our recent holiday, she generously presented me with several skeins of a beautiful soft yarn, Drops Lace. A light, very fine mixture of baby alpaca and mulberry silk, in pale pink and violet, it felt like gossamer. I caressed and cuddled it for a while, wondering what it wanted to become, then took a small sized crochet needle and began to cast on.

I wasn’t sure what I was making, and after several rows of mesh it was clear it wasn’t working. I unravelled it and started again with the yarn doubled, one of each colour. I liked the colour effect but the small-sized crochet hook made the stitch fiddly and the mesh pattern was not at all satisfying. It kept me busy for a few hours, though, and unravelling the fine yarn was even more absorbing than the crocheting so my daughter was able to get on with her knitting in peace.

When I got back home again after the holiday, I fished out my unsatisfactory work and carefully undid it all yet again. The Internet (Jonna Martinez’s youtube tutorial at had revealed a stitch I thought might suit this delicate yarn, a variation on a shell stitch, softer and more feminine than the fishnet pattern, and as I had several kilometres of yarn I was hopeful that there might be enough to make a small shawl.  There was. And even some left over.

Another ingenious idea popped up here on youtube. I love Kristin’s facial expressions as she demonstrates her method, she’s having such fun. I wish I had seen that before I spent so many hours winding up my little balls of yarn, as fine yarn tends to stick to itself and tie itself in knots. But maybe next time.

This time I used a size 4 hook instead of a size 2, which made the work easier. I had three skeins of pink and two of violet, so I used two pink threads to one violet for the main body of the work, then worked four rows of double-thread pink, followed by two pink threads and one violet. I realised I was now running out of pink so swapped to two of violet and one pink, then finally finished off with double-thread violet, which gave a nice shaded effect towards the edge.


The pattern needs a bit of concentration at first, but isn’t really difficult and of course repetition makes it automatic after a while. For me, that’s dangerous as I then lose count and make silly mistakes, but I caught and remedied most of them. I console myself that in Islamic art, there’s always a deliberate mistake because only God can create perfection. Who’s going to notice, anyway? My shawl is far from perfect, but I think the yarn is happy in this form.