Those Gnarled Branches and Fallen Leaves…

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

So said William Wilberforce, a Yorkshire lad and THE leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

If you are like me and love to go in search of elusive ancestors throughout the vale and dale of the County of Yorkshire; this blog could be just what you are looking for as I follow in the footsteps of my North Riding family, and as there are plenty of them, I have many miles to travel!

Taking a Stroll Along Filey Beach in North Yorkshire…

Although I have been properly researching the history of my family since 2004, my interest in the gnarled twigs and broken branches of my family tree began in the early teenage years and having always been a diligent hoarder of the scraps of family keepsakes that have come my way; the process of moving abode as I did some years ago to return to my hometown of York was undoubtedly made all the more arduous by those numerous large boxes of papers, books, photographs and other assorted genealogical matter that I had to shift down and up several sets of stairs.

King George VI once stated that “the history of York is the history of England’ and this ancient city is not only the place of my birth but also for many of those Dalby and Benson ancestors to whom I have since laid claim – although some of whom certainly add more than a little colour to those gnarled twigs and broken branches.

And even though there’s plenty to occupy this history sleuth within the walls of this chocolate box city – I have also been very busy elsewhere!

For during the course of last year and having discovered the identity of another ancestor William Lamb of Whitby who having perished in WW1 never lived to see his 21st birthday – I have also been adding to my research into the life of Tuesday’s Child, the elusive Clarice Tibbett from Hull and as my interest has been piqued as of late by the other female ‘greats’ within my clan that I have now discovered, several Yorkshire lasses who have now made a welcome reappearance.

For now with the death of both my maternal grandmother and paternal grandmother, a father and with my mother’s ailing health, my feelings of nostalgia have been triggered once more and the floors of my den are now littered with the fruits of my genealogical findings.

And having decided that I would also go in search of this female line of my family; it would be rather nice to share my musings, mishaps and occasional mastery on this blog under the aptly titled category of The Female of the Species!

Not that I believe that my female ancestors were actually deadlier than their male counterparts…

Earlier this week I watched Who Do You Think You Are featuring the fabulous actress Amanda Redman who I adored in the BBC drama of New Tricks and I listened with interest as she talked about her need to understand why she had always reacted in a particular way and of the ‘inherited behavioural patterns’ she believes that we all possess to some degree or other.

And yes, this resonated with me for as the eldest child of five siblings; my mother having flouted the National Average UK Birth Rate; I have always pondered the reasons for my love of the sea and feeling ‘at home’ in the coastal town of Scarborough; my pleasure in reading, the urge to create my ‘Small Worlds’, a knack for floral design and a passion for history and as the Graveyard Squirrel; I love nothing more than a wander among the tombstones here in York!

An Autumn Wander Among the Tombstones in York Cemetery…

As I have always been quite unlike anyone else within my family, as a child I often mischievously wondered if I had been switched at birth and a distant family member once described me as a ‘throwback’, albeit in a kindly manner!

I admit that it used to bother me as I was growing up but now I glory in being different from the rest of my clan and if in these times of difficulty I can find solace in the company of my ancestors from generations past; who’s to judge?

Welcome along…

AND if you should discover that we have ancestors in common – please drop me a comment as I’d love to to hear from you!

A Death So Final. So Over.

Today commemorates the untimely death of Marilyn Monroe at the age of 36, an effervescent glamour puss and arguably the most famous female icon of all time.

I suppose she was trying to make a phone call before she was overwhelmed. It was just so unbelievable, so simple and final and over. ~ Ralph Greenson

My interest in Marilyn began as a teenager as I was waiting for a flight to Spain for having spent most of my holiday fund on the book by Fred Lawrence Guiles in an airport store and to the consternation of my family, I spent the rest of the week with my head buried within the pages and I have been reading about her ever since!

Her mysterious death on Sunday August 5 1962 has only added to the myth and intrigue which surrounds her complex and fascinating life and with every passing year, the events of that hot and balmy August weekend in 1962 would appear to demand yet more theories and innuendo as the clamour for reasons to refute the official cause of death as ‘Probable Suicide’ remains undiminished

Is it likely that we will ever know the truth of what happened to Marilyn Monroe?

And even if incontrovertible evidence were presented that she did indeed die by her own hand, would we believe it?

For is it possible to accept that a beautiful and talented woman took the conscious decision to end her life one lonely Saturday evening?

“I could see from many feet away that Marilyn was no longer living…”

The answer is ‘probably not’ when one considers the demand for the books which are published in ever increasing numbers with each passing year and which all purport to tell us ‘The Final Truth’.

Whether it was the tragic 1997 car accident of a Princess who perished for failing to wear a seat belt or the jealous rage of a successful and affable O.J. Simpson leading him to butcher two innocent people on a June evening in 1994; or indeed the probable suicide of the most famous film star of all time; it could be argued that the most logical explanation would appear to be the most absurd.

However; conspiracy theories, motives and explanations aside, all we can know for certain is that the nude body of Marilyn Monroe was discovered in a partially decorated bedroom of her home in Westwood in Los Angeles 56 years ago on this day.

“There she was, laying face down on the bed, bare shoulders exposed…”

For it was the idea of this ‘death scene’ which captured my imagination for the design of one of my more controversial pieces and as Marilyn had died in the house she had bought only months before with a tiled doorstep bearing the Latin inscription for ‘My journey is completed’, ‘Cursum Perficio’ is a recreation of the demise of this icon inspired by the published material and photographic images.

“And as I got closer, I could see the phone clutched fiercely in her hand..”

The ‘Marilyn’ figure is the creation of Jain from the Giddy Kipper and although she is internationally known for her miniature unique characters – several of which have now moved in with the other fantastical folk over in the All Hallows Hamlet – Jain would probably be the first to argue that a ‘deceased’ Marilyn Monroe was far from the definition of a ‘whimsical’ character!

However, having accepted my commission with some bemusement, Jain has created a shockingly poignant figure of some grace and contention and in keeping with the maelstrom of conspiracy which continues to swirl around the death of this lady – even after all of these years!

Sources Used:

Goddess The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe Anthony Summers (UK: Indigo 1985)

A NO ‘Happy Ending’ Bouquet

On July 29 and on an incredible and much more summery day over 36 years ago, the world was ‘lost’ in a sea of enthusiastic flag waving, military parades, dubious hats, the soaring strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, swathes of ivory taffeta and unbridled patriotic fever to celebrate the wedding of the Prince of Wales to the Lady Diana Spencer.

As a young teenager and naive monarchist who would happily spend hours sketching designs for wedding flowers on the odd bit of paper; I remember being the first to claim the best seat in front of the television at the home of my grandparents to watch this real fairy tale wedding.

When some years later we heard the chatter about mistresses, dubious telephone calls, obsessive bahaviour and emotional turmoil; I and the other 750 million who tuned in to watch this unique and frothy spectacle would soon come to learn that this fairy tale had not ended on a happily ever after!

But what of that wedding?

Even though I had been excitedly anticipating seeing THE dress; my excitement soon faded when I finally saw that huge crumpled frock and even as I write this, I can only think of that wonderful quip from Fiona in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral:

Scarlett, you’re blind, she looks like a big meringue.

Five years later on another sunny July day, I watched Sarah Ferguson promising to ‘love, honour and obey’ the Duke of York at Westminster Abbey and even though she couldn’t even find the City of York on a map during a US television interview – she really was a beautiful bride.

Although I had been a florist for some time before the union of the fun-loving Fergie to the boorish Duke in July 1986, I can only remember one or two commissions from brides who wished to emulate her S-shaped bouquet of gardenias, yellow roses, cream lilies and the obligatory sprig of myrtle grown from a cutting of Queen Victoria’s bouquet.

Diana’s bouquet, however was quite a different thing altogether and although it isn’t one of my personal favourites; I remain just as impressed by this betrothal extravagance of flora and fauna even now!

Even three years after this wedding and as an eager trainee florist I would be wiring lily of the valley, stephanotis, gardenias, yellow roses and endless ivy leaves every Friday afternoon as the ‘Diana Bouquet’ was the fashionable choice for every aspiring fairy tale bride and even thirteen years later; a mock-up of this bouquet in silk flowers displayed in my design room would still attract admirers with a request of ‘Ooo! Could I just hold this please?’

And so it was that one summer with time of my hands and the need for a challenge, I created a bouquet designed as a ‘shower’ in 12th scale inspired by the one carried by Lady Diana Spencer.

And, yes, it really was a challenge!

For not only did it take several attempts with varying degrees of success to manipulate the individual flowers into place with a combination of strong wire and determination; I also had to curb my enthusiasm for adding more ivy leaves and risk a creation suitable for my niece’s Barbie doll!

Yesterday and running the risk of an inquisitive peck from one of my resident chickens, I ventured to the bottom of my garden to capture an image of this bouquet on top of the old corbel which has often served as a useful photographic prop for my creations, 12th scale or otherwise.

And as I was firing off these images, I couldn’t help musing on my recollection of how much easier it  had been to create the ‘Diana Bouquet’ in ‘real’ fauna and flora!

Flaming June!

It only seems like a week ago to the beginning of last month when I had spent the morning looking at some images of two brides who had both married on the first day of June some years apart and my memories of being surrounded by buckets of glorious sunflowers, fragrant roses and lush foliage as I grappled with scissors, silver wire and the clock!

And although June may have left us for another year, she has been kind enough to leave some glorious weather and as I was sprinkling the lawn with water earlier today for those hens to enjoy some grubbing around – I admit to feeling somewhat nostalgic for the occasional rainfall but alas, with no rain in sight let’s get on with my June Mash-Up!

The Studio:

With the final final dry-build for Nicole’s House finally completed – I’ve been moving sofas and arranging dining room chairs as I plan the logistics of the kitchen design and the creation of a sunken living room.

Having made so many mistakes in the past with rushed constructions, unsatisfactory room plans and abysmal lighting conditions – I’ve learnt to keep my hands off a dry-build and to simply leave it be until I can imagine myself moving from room to room knowing that every window, fireplace, door and piece of furniture is in the right place.

It was only as I looked at what I thought was the final dry-build did I see the need to lower the roof pitch and that I could also squeeze in another full length window!

As more images of Nicole’s House can been seen on the Brentwood Ghost Blog – there are further exclusives to feast over.

AND having donned my Crooked Hen apron – I have also been experimenting with wire, tape and Mod-Roc to create some trees but as they will be eventually find themselves among the weird and wonderful in the All Hallows Hamlet – these won’t be any kind of ordinary tree!

However, by the time I’d finished plastering these strange little trees, I also looked very far from ordinary with a face of fetching white freckles and those ghost-like hands and you can catch the big ‘Reveal’ with a free flight over to the world of the Crooked Hen…

Ancestor Sleuthing and Grave Hunting:

As you can usually find me in the genealogy office at York Cemetery on a Friday, I’ve been busy ancestor sleuthing for our visitors and grave hunting all manner of interesting folk for my two guided tours in July and August.

The ‘Walk on the Art Side’ in July will celebrate the lives and legacies of the writers, artist, sculptors and other creatives from whom York Cemetery is their final home and in August I will be leading an evening walk of ‘Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths’ around the graves of those who met with an unusual end – and given my penchant for storytelling, there should be a surprise or two along the way!

The Other Stuff:

With the demands of my work and the responsibilities as a full-time care giver; I tend not to stray too far from home these days but with a ‘day pass’ on a sweltering hot afternoon, I took the train to Leeds for the opening party of the5th annual exhibition of Sketch That – a collection of work by a group of West Yorkshire artists: Elizabeth NastHelen DrydenKat ArchibaldLetty McHughLouise GarrettPixiebiscuit and Rejectamental

As I champion Helen on social media, it was an opportunity to meet up and to treat myself to her delightful ‘Lettuce on a Chair’ who will be coming home with me when the exhibition comes to an end later next month.

And as I made my way home I couldn’t resist popping into the Leeds Samaritans shop and came away with some fabulous steam-punk inspired necklaces perfect for the ‘ Little Folk’ over in the All Hallows Hamlet and all for the bargain price of £1.50 as grumpily modelled by Ted!

And it never ceases to amaze me when I discover the felines enjoying a cat-nap in the most unlikeliest places but perched on top of a Papier Mâché model was a new one for me!

As we’re basking in a July heatwave, it’s just as well that it seems so wrong to be working on this model for the All Hallows Eve tale now that I have a problem with a squatter of the feline variety for he certainly looks like he’s ‘Living in Clover’ on his bed of Papier Mâché doesn’t he?

And if your imaginary inhabitants are in need of a little of that Leprechaun ‘magick’ with a pinch of ‘Heather’ and a pinch of shredded paper money suspended in resin – there is still a vial or two available for sale in the Crooked Hen Gift Shop

My Bookshelf:

Blessed Are The Weird – Jacob Nordby (At last! Someone who sees the world in the same crazy way as me!)

A Very Private Woman – Nina Burleigh (An interesting biography of a very intriguing artist)

Frances Burney Journals and Letters – Penguin Classics (A fabulous and authentic letter writer and novelist who actually lived through the the glorious 18th century)

The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer (Crowdfunding pioneer and musician)

The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club – C. David Heymann (An eavesdrop among the movers and shakers of the Washington elite)

Finding Sarah – Sarah Fergson (A poignant memoir from one of the most colourful members of the British Royal Family!

Domestic Management. With Instructions to Servants in General – Multiple Contributors (I can dream, can’t I? Or else I can use this lovely tome for the research of my Lord B house)

My Playlist:

My favourites for June have been: London GrammarTom WalkerEnigmaThe SherlocksBen Howard and Taylor Swift – must keep that last one quiet from my sons!

Here’s to a storybook July!

Happy Ever After? That’s a Privilege Denied to Many!

Yesterday against my better judgement I found myself wasting several hours of my life that I will never get back again watching the spectacle that was the Royal Wedding!

I really hadn’t intended to but before I knew it, there I was perched in front of the television watching a masterpiece of a public relations exercise in all things H.R.H and I’ve been regretting it ever since.

But it was only a wedding I hear you say!

And yes, it was only a wedding but when I think back to that July day in 1981 as a young teenager and naive monarchist watching another fairy tale wedding and later when we heard the chatter about mistresses, dubious telephone calls, obsessive behaviour and emotional turmoil with the realisation that this fairy tale could never have had a ‘happily ever after’ – I felt duped by the House of Windsor and my cynicism only increases every passing year with yet another promise of a ‘perfect’ Royal event.

The cynic in me also knows that we are subjected to these ostentatious shows of pomp and pageantry from a family who live in an absurd cocoon of wealth and privilege in order to keep the interest level high enough to keep their subjects pliant.

But I also believe that the monarchy will eventually stumble to the finish line what with the apathy of the younger generation, the rise of the ‘self-made’ and for those who long for a more democratic and inclusive country – I only wish that I’d got out of that chair yesterday and turned the damn television off!

Alas! I did not…

However, yesterday was also Nicole’s birthday and if she were still with us – she would have been celebrating her 59th year…

And having shared a lovely image of her on the Facebook page, I lit a candle in her memory and enjoyed a rather large slice of this delicious cake!

Ever heard of the ‘Hatched, Matched and Dispatched’ quip?

Although May 19 was also the day that an ancestor of mine was dispatched as she tumbled down a cliff to her death in the picturesque seaside village of Staithes, famous for it’s connection to the great explorer Captain Cook and delicious fish and chips – the story of which is one for this family history blog; I have a different kind of ‘dispatch’ in mind.

Earlier this month I pulled out a May 1995 copy of Vogue and having shared some of the long and informative article from Marie Brenner on Blogger and WordPress; I was struck by Brenner’s interview with Nicole’s older sister Denise during the course of the murder trial.

I don’t want to spend my time thinking about what-ifs, what-ifs. Nicole never told us she was battered! She would say, ‘He threw me against the wine cabinet, and then we went out to lunch’…

“What good would that do?… I want to help other women now. This foundation is my crusade for life. Now I am a happy person. I have a mission and a cause.

In the winter of 1994 and several months after the brutal murder of Nicole and that of her friend Ron Goldman; a foundation was established in her name by her family and although initially known as the ‘Nicole Brown Simpson Charitable Foundation’, this was later changed to the ‘Nicole Brown Foundation’.

In the aftermath of her murder and as the world became privy to the abuse that she endured during her marriage to O.J. Simpson; the campaign against domestic violence was to enjoy something of a renaissance with increased calls from women in search of help, the implementation of vital legislation and the creation of several educational programmes.

Headed by Denise, the foundation pledged to raise awareness about domestic violence through “awareness, education and inspiration”.

What initially began as a poignant tribute to the loss of a loved one and an admirable desire to continue to raise the profile of domestic violence awareness; Nicole’s foundation enjoyed a controversial history from the very beginning:

Nicole Simpson Foundation Management is Questioned

Tax Records Paint a Troubling Picture of Nicole Brown Charity

Charity in Honor of Nicole Brown Simpson Claims Only $66 Left in Assets

20 Years After the Murders, the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation is Gone

Nor did the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice – the charity established by father Fred and sister Kim which promised to offer practical and inspired resources for the organisations supporting victims of crime fair any better if a report from the journalist Brian Heiss is to be believed.

Now, I don’t know very much about the law governing charitable foundations in the US but to have your status revoked by the IRS sounds pretty bad to me!

Although Nicole’s foundation still has a Facebook page, the website domain now belongs to a dubious looking ‘Health & ‘Lifestyle site and Ron’s foundation website has been hijacked by an ambulance chaser BUT when I think of the continuing success of other high profile foundations including the Suzy Lamplugh Trust –  it saddens me that Nicole and Ron’s legacies supported by much public goodwill have been dispatched in this way.

Now, I need to console myself with some more cake…