Archive for the Family and Friends Category

Bad news, good news

Posted in everyday life, Family and Friends on February 1, 2014 by suetortoise

My father was rushed to hospital a few days ago, having had a stroke. Fortunately he was found by friends who called soon after he collapsed, and although the Air Ambulance couldn’t land in the village because of the weather, he was rushed by ground ambulance to Hereford Hospital who did marvels.

The last few days have been total chaos, but he is doing very well so far. His mind and memory are fine, he’s already got his speech back to near normal, and just starting to get some movement on his right side. The hospital are very pleased with his progress. I’m hopeful that he’ll continue to make a good recovery, so that he can go back to his own home. But at 93, it may take him a while. Meanwhile, please don’t be surprised if you get a slow response to comments, emails or your own blog posts – I’ll be rather distracted by hospital visiting and all the other things I’ll have to fit into my life.

UPDATE 12/02/14: Further good news. Dad is now out of the acute ward and has gone to a specialist stroke rehabilitation unit to get his skills and confidence back. He’s very nearly back to normal already – talking and walking well, but he needs to get his right hand and arm working a little better before he can go back home.

The Sand, the Station Master and the Station Master’s Dog

Posted in Family and Friends, History, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 20, 2013 by suetortoise

While looking though old papers of my Grandmother’s, we came across two copies of the L. & N. W. R. Gazette, a magazine subtitled “The Organ of the Recreative and Educational Associations of the L. & N. W. Railway Staff.” In the first of them, Vol. 4, No. 31, March, 1915, I came across the following article:


THERE are many stations situate in different parts of the country served by the London and North Western Railway which are subject to periodical visitations of floods, sandstorms, snowdrifts, &c.  Doubtless some account of the effects of such boisterous atmospheric influences and the manner in which they are met might prove interesting to railwaymen. Take, for instance, Swansea Bay Station, which is situated about midway between the stations of Mumbles Road and Swansea, Victoria.  This portion of line runs practically along the seashore, being subjected to very severe sandstorms, and great are the difficulties to be contended with by the Station Staff and the Permanent Way employees when a south-easterly gale is raging.  Sand extends on the sea front for some miles, and in rough weather it gets carried in clouds on to the railway and the station premises, sometimes blocking the lines and occasionally necessitating the adoption of single-line working. 

Immediately a storm arises the Permanent Way local gangs are called out, and, as is often necessary, men have to be requisitioned from each of the stations on the line up to Pontardulais, and even from places as far North as Llandovery and Knighton.  The shoveling of the sand from the metals, whilst it continues to enshroud the men, is very hard and difficult work, and great caution is necessary in watching the approach of trains.  Recently about 70 men were engaged in day and night shifts continuously for several days in the task of keeping the lines open, and it will give some idea of the effect of such weather when it is mentioned that several trainloads of sand are shovelled from the railway into trucks during and after a “fair gale,” representing many hundreds of tons all blown over the sea wall and fencing in the form of clouds.

The station lamps get badly damaged with the sand (which fact the Gas Department would gladly corroborate), and trying is the duty of the Station Master and Staff in attending to the trains and station duties, the sand even penetrating into the innermost recesses of the offices.  The only means of moving with safety outside during such storms is by wearing goggles as a protection to the eyes.

Mr A Thomas and his dog

Swansea Bay Station Master, Mr. A. Thomas, and his dog

We reproduce a photograph of Mr. Andrew Thomas, the widely-known and respected Station Master, who has been associated with Swansea Bay Station ever since it was opened in 1892.

In the photograph appears the Station Master’s dog, who is nearly as well known as the Station Master.  It is his practice to meet the trains, fetch and carry the ticket bag from one platform to the other, &c., but he always runs into the office when a goods train passes the station, having, we presume, recollection of once having been run over by a goods train.  On the other hand, he never runs away from a passenger train.

Mr A Thomas was my great grandfather. My father recalled being told about the dog being hit by a train. Apparently the dog was on the line between platforms when the train came along and Dad’s grandfather ordered him to lie down, which he did. However, it was a particularly long goods train and the dog stood up just too soon and was clipped by the brake van. Dad always thought that was the sad end of the dog’s story, so he was rather pleased to discover that the dog survived and carried on working at the station with Great Grandfather Thomas.

The other copy of the Gazette was Vol. 6, No. 61, September 1917. I found this piece in STAFF AND GENERAL NEWS:

On May 10th last, Mr Andrew Thomas retired after 40 [hand-corrected to 46 by my grandmother] years’ service with the Company. Entering the service as a young lad at Knucklas station, and after being employed in various capacities at many of the Central Wales stations, he was put in charge at Swansea Bay in the year 1890, which post he held for 26 years when, owing to ill health, he had to give up the position, and for some little time past he has been performing less arduous duties in the Swansea Goods Offices.  At the time he was appointed to Swansea Bay, the station was still situate at that part of the line known locally as “The Slip.” Two years later the station was demolished and the existing one erected some little distance from the site of the old one. 

Of the subject of our sketch it can truly be said that during the whole of his railway career he served his company well and honourably, and there is no doubt the Service and his fellow men will be the poorer by his retirement.  If any social function or any general collection was being made for the benefit of a necessitous cause, one was always assured of a most sympathetic and active interest on the part of Mr. Thomas. Of an unassuming personality, he did what he did unostentatiously, and there’s many a poor traveller who found in him a good friend.

For many years, until his retirement, he took a keen interest in the work of the North-Western Temperance Union and was the treasurer for the local branch. He also associated himself and took a keen interest in the St. John’s Ambulance.
The hope of all his friends is that now he will so far recover his health that both he and Mrs. Thomas may live long to enjoy his well-earned retirement.

And he did. Here he is with his wife Annie, as my father remembers them in the early 1920s.


Andrew and Annie Thomas

Finally, a couple of links: the London & North Western Railway Society has a website with a considerable amount of information on the rail line in its heyday. And the Heart of Wales Line Travellers’ Association (HOWLTA) works to promote the interests of passengers on the line today.

Well past Year’s Turning

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, Family and Friends with tags , , , , , , , on January 19, 2013 by suetortoise

Here we are, already beyond the middle of January, so about time I popped in a quick everyday life and stitchery update before I post anything else.

Christmas at Bucknell was very wet and gloomy weatherwise, but very pleasant. Dad and I were both getting over norovirus, so it was a quite event, but we managed to tuck into a fine Christms dinner cooked by Alan, my sister’s partner. We spent a lot of the time looking at old family photographs that Dad’s mother had put in a box, most of them unlabelled. (We’d come across them while sorting paperwork.) Frances, my sister, is working hard on the family tree. She and Dad managed to put names to quite a few of them, and Dad had lots of stories to tell about uncles, aunts and cousins.

Curiosity WIP 2: grown another foot

Too wet for my usual excursions with the camera, and not much light for stitching, but I managed to get a little further with ‘ The Curiosity’ – the chain stitch picture on silk which I have been doing for several months. I posted the first work-in-progress picture last year. Here’s another teasing little section (you’ll have to wait a good while before I show you the whole picture). As you can see, it’s grown another foot!

Since Christmas, I’ve been back in Shrewsbury, back at work and being rather lazy outside of work. I’ve been dabbling with a new stitch. It is a slight variation of French stitch, a canvas-work stitch, adapted for counted thread embroidery on fabric. I call it ‘pineapple stitch’, because the texture reminds me of the outside of a pineapple. It’s surprisingly quick and easy to work, and doesn’t require a frame, so this small mat is my current carry-about project for odd moments and wet lunch breaks (or, currently, snowy ones).

Pinapple Stitch mat WIP corner

I’m using a small oddment of fabric from my stash for the pinEapple stitch mat, and various colours and makes of pearl cotton 12, also from stock. I have to use what’s in the house – I don’t usually make New Year Resolutions, but I am banning myself from buying any more fabric or thread or needlework books before Easter. That’s a hard resolution for me to keep (especially as I’ve also banned non-essential stationery purchases) but necessary: I can hardly move in here for stuff and it needs using-up, not just storing. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to see that I’ve chosen spring flower colours for this piece of stitchery – I call it ‘Spring is Just Around the Corner’.

Pinapple Stitch mat WIP detail

I’ll be back in a day or two with a bit of family history – and the Station Master’s Dog, as promised.

Barbara Joyce Jones 1923-2012

Posted in Family and Friends on September 23, 2012 by suetortoise

As some of you will already know, my mother died on the 10th of September. She was 89 years old and had been in increasingly poor health for several years; she had been in hospital since June. My father, my sister and I were with her at the end, and she died peacefully. The nursing staff at Ludlow Community Hosital were wonderful and could not have been more kind.

We will all miss her very much.

Needless to say, I’ve not been in a position to work on blog posts for the last couple of weeks, and probably the next few weeks will be equally hectic as we sort things out at Bucknell and deal with her affairs. My father is coping very well, but at 92 he can’t do everything himself. I will be back.

A Little Progress

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, Family and Friends, museum with tags , , , , , on September 2, 2012 by suetortoise

A quick post to update you on various things.

Zodiac Box 2012

My mother was discharged from the cardio ward in Shrewsbury three weeks ago, and transferred to Ludlow Community Hospital. She is likely to be staying there for some time yet. This makes visiting much easier for my father, and it’s a friendly atmosphere for her. So I am back to making twice-weekly visits on a country bus service which detours from the A49 through various towns and villages on the way. Stitching on the bus makes the long journey seem shorter, but the work needs to be fairly sturdy and shockproof. (Otherwise I spend too much time unpicking my progress when I get home.) My stitched boxes are ideal for travelling as the sections are easy to carry about and easy to see. I finished this one on the way back from Ludlow on Saturday.

It’s a design I’ve used several times before, with minor variations and with various colour schemes, and it is one of my favourites. The thread is acrylic DK knitting yarn for with Twilley’s Goldfingering for the glitter, and it’s worked on 10-mesh plastic canvas.

Here’s a work that’s still in progress:

Heartsease WIP 2

I’m currently working on a little rococo stitch pincushion top (probably a pincushion, it might be used for a needlecase or sachet instead). This is very portable, small enough for my handbag, but too intricate for stitching while on bus journeys. The fabric is not evenweave, I’m not sure of the fabric content but I suspect it is a polyester, or polyester-cotton, rather than linen. It’s rather pleasant to work on, whatever it is. It’s a open-weave fabric with a count of 33×38 – an oddment from a curtain and upholstery shop. That lack of evenness makes it ideal for old sampler designs like this, which look very much livlier when the warp and weft count are not the same. I’m using machine embroidery rayon 40 for this, with the  two roving strands in the twist separated and used together. (In many cases I’ve used one strand each from two different colours to make a blend.) Not the easiest of threads to work with, split like this, but it gives much better coverage on the rococo stitch than the thread used just as it comes from the spool. Here’s a chart for the heartsease flower, which is based on a motif on a spot sampler in the V&A museum.

Viola tricola  - rococo stitch chart

Talking of museums, Shrewsbury Museum service are still trying to find out more about the ownership of the Bowdler Picture before contacting the V&A. They’ve discovered that it came to them a few years ago, but whether it was a donation or a loan or just left with them for an expert opinion is still unknown. Investigations continue… My next major article on the blog will be a piece about some other objects from the museum collection – some old boots – and the story behind them.

Back on the embroidery front. I’ve got another long term project using chain stitch in silk thread on linen, based on a 16th century book illustration. It’s not portable enough for bus trips, hospital visits or wet lunchbreaks, so it’s growing very slowly at present. I’ll write more about it later, when the stitching is a bit further forward, but here’s a quick glipse of one of the figures to pique your curiosity. This chap looks as though he’s rather surprised to see me using something other than rayon thread or acrylic knitting yarn!

Curiosity WIP 1

Thanks for the very positive responses to my trellis stitch pages. Do let me know if there’s some other embroidery technique or stitch that you’d like me to tackle in depth for you. I enjoy a challenge!


Posted in everyday life, Family and Friends on August 1, 2012 by suetortoise

In the middle of July, my parents Barbara and Eric Jones celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary.
Anniversary 04
It was a quiet celebration: there were presents and congratulations and we went for a meal at the pub across the road from where they live. Mum hadn’t realised it was their 60th anniversary, and was delighted to get a card from the Queen.
Anniversary 07
Ten days later, Mum was on her way to hospital, with heart and breathing problems. She’s currently in the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and likely to be there for some while. But she’s alert and surpisingly cheerful and the treatment she is receiving is obviously doing her some good.

Needless to say, a lot of other things in my life are on hold at present. (I am doing most of the hospital-visiting, as it is a 60 mile round trip for my father, who can no longer drive and is not well enough to use public transport.) So I won’t have very much activity to talk about on the blog for a while.

I have nearly finished the remaining Trellis Stitch Variation pages, and will let you know when they are finally online. I’m also still waiting to hear more about the Bowdler picture. Things are happening: the museum staff have been busy doing some research into how the picture came to them, and are in the process of contacting the V&A for an expert opinion on its age.

In Which Good Things Happen – Eventually

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, Family and Friends, museum with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2012 by suetortoise

PB Test Piece Completed
I promised to post a photo of this piece of stitchery when it was completed. The last stitch went in yesterday, and I have stretched and starched the piece, ready for framing. Considering that it was only intended as test piece for learning plaited braid stitch, I am very pleased with the result. The last few weeks, it has been growing terribly slowly. I was beginning to think it would never be complete. And then suddenly I was on the last leaf, the last length of thread, and it was done. Now I’m looking forward to starting another embroidery project; I’ve already got three or four ideas in mind to choose from.

My mother is out of hospital and back home with my father. She’s very pleased to be back. She was due to be released on Tuesday afternoon last week, and I went down to Bucknell to be there to help my father with her. But she spent the entire afternoon and evening sitting in the ward waiting for the ambulance. At half past eight, it was clear she’d need to be kept in overnight. I had to leave on the nine-twenty train as I was working the next day. Mum finally came back home the next evening, at six pm. Needless to say, she was very frustrated by this long wait. The staff on the ward were very frustrated and apologetic – they were lovely with her. The hospital transport service kept delaying her pick-up time – it was two, it was four, it was six, it was eight…  I think that there’s room for improvement in that service.

The launch of the Impressions exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum was a great success. We had an hour of readings by most of the writers involved, and the booklet of poems and prose looked very tidy and presentable. The exhibition is now running until late June, having been extended by a few more weeks. It was all done in a mad rush – and on a shoestring because all of the museum’s money is earmarked for the new building. “We’re not supposed to be having exhibitions at the moment” said Adrian Perks, a museum assistant and the driving force behind the writer’s group. So our exhibition was sort-of sneaked in quietly. We seemed to be heading for a total hodge-podge of unrelated exhibits at first, along with an equally scrappy and disorganised booklet of writing; but it all came together at the last moment, and we had nothing to be ashamed of.

A Fairly Positive Update

Posted in everyday life, Family and Friends, out and about with tags , , , on April 24, 2012 by suetortoise

 I apologise for the delay in updating this blog. On the Sunday before Easter, my mother was rushed to hospital in Hereford with breathing difficulties. The last three weeks have been rather frantic. At first, Mum was in the emergency ward and we were wondering if she would last until my sister came up to see her on the Thursday. She did. A few days later, she’d rallied a bit, and was transferred to a medical ward. Now she’s made more progress and has been transferred from Hereford County Hospital to Ludlow Community Hospital – much nearer her home in South Shropshire, to a ward with a very pleasant, friendly atmosphere and caring staff. They are trying to build up her strength and recover some mobility. She’s still on oxygen to help her breathing, but she’s looking much better. Life is a little less fraught again.

It takes me as long to get to Ludlow on the country bus as it takes to do the 50-mile trip to Hereford on the train, but it doesn’t cost much and it’s an entertaining journey with several long detours from the main A49 along narrow, winding roads into little towns and villages, with frequent stops to let people on and off, and manoevers to pass other vehicles. All this in the lovely South Shropshire hill country in springtime. (I could go to Ludlow by train in half the time, but at more than twice the fare.) So I’ve been travelling to and from hospitals and dealing with all the various problems arising rather than doing much else outside of work.

One of the delights of the season: Balwen Black Welsh Mountain lambs - with their black and white markings, they look like a cross between the sheep and the sheepdog.

One other thing that I have been doing is working on a forthcoming exhibtion at Shrewsbury Museum – this is of writing inspired by items in the museum collection. I’ve been helping Adrian Perks, the curator of it, to prepare the written material for display and create the object labels; we are also producing a small booklet with the same material. It is something I’ve never done before, and has proved quite an interesting challenge.

The Elizabethan-inspired embroidery test piece of my last blog post is progressing slowly. I am about two-thirds of the way through now, and having fun making little strawberries with corded buttonhole stitch. This isn’t something that I can do while sitting on the bus to Ludlow, it’s too fiddly, so I am also making another one of my stitched boxes. These are ideal for travelling: portable and easy to see. So long as the bus is not too crowded, I can make good progress on a box as we judder and twist through Condover and All Stretton, Leebotwood, Wistanstow and Onibury.

Strange Folk

Posted in Family and Friends, Music, out and about, shrewsbury with tags , on September 11, 2011 by suetortoise

I am pleased to welcome Tortoise Loft‘s first ever Guest Blogger, Mr Kevon Kenna of Australia.

Kevon came over here on holiday in August. We started with a day at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. Where Kevon’s pleasure in the musical fireworks of the Band of the Coldstream Guards was equalled only by his pleasure in the musical fireworks of the, er, musical fireworks – Kimbolton’s pyrotechnic finale being the best I’ve seen yet. We spent a couple of very pleasant days in York – with time to see the National Railway Museum and the Castle Museum as well as stroll around the walls and along the riverside. The holiday ended with the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. I asked Kevon if I could post his comments on the Festival here on Tortoise Loft. I’ve added a couple of pictures that I took at the event; the words, the links – and the opinions – are Kevon’s own.

Lucy Ward


The third day of the festival found us in the Sabrina Marquee. The Shrewsbury Folk Festival is neither small nor cheap. It has about 6 venues in fairly continuous use from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon of England’s famed August Bank-Holiday Weekend. The venues range from a circus tent with computerised coloured spotlights and smoke machines, down to more intimate spaces that only hold a couple of hundred. The opening performance in the circus tent was all amplification and coloured lights, which is not my idea of Folk Music. I want to hear the words; not be pummelled by the bass. Perhaps the smaller Sabrina Marquee will be an improvement?
The first act was three old men with fiddle, melodeon, and I forget what else. They sang traditional songs and I could hear the words. This was good. After them came four young poms, one of whom works for NASA in the USA. They began with a quiet song; restful, contemplative; full of long silences and instrumental solos; perfect for a warm Sunday afternoon. As near as I can recall it went:

(Start with refrain)
This is the sound-check; this is the sound check, baby.
This is the sound-check; this is the sound check, baby.

This is the sound-check, we’re just checking;
That our instruments are all plugged in.
(repeat refrain)

This is the sound-check, it’s not a song.
We make it up as we go along.
(repeat refrain)

They also did the story of Rhys and Meinir; the traditional Welsh love story that ends when Rhys finds his beloved’s skeleton in an oak tree, still in her wedding dress. He dies too; and all live happily ever after.

When they had finished a girl wandered onto the stage and told us that she had a sticky mouth from the lunch she had just eaten. She had a guitar. She also had green hair and the strap of a thong showing above the waist of her leggings. I considered leaving. I checked the programme notes : “Her …strong, pitch-perfect, delivery and the maturity of her songs can reduce an audience to tears, …” It can. She favours songs about women’s hardships. She was the best act of the day. Her hair wasn’t green either; it was blue. It looked green in the light that filtered through the yellow canvas of the tent. Appearances can deceive. —

The last act, the one that I had come to see, was a group of five mature men singing sea chanteys. They were good too, but Lucy was better.


At least once every day there was a ceilidh in the dance tent. In deepest England; as far as can be from crofts, skerries, bogs and uisge beatha; we are having traditional celtic night gatherings in daylight? Wikipedia explains :

What is now called English ceilidh [ … ] has many things in common with the Scottish/Irish social dance traditions and can be considered part of English Country Dance [ … ] English ceilidhs always use a caller who calls the dance figures the dancers need to make. [ … ] Most of the dances involve couples staying together for the whole dance, though people often change partners after every one or two dances.

The one I went to was lively, crowded, and great fun. The caller invited couples to form fours, or parallel lines, or concentric circles. Some of the couples were boy and girl, many girl and girl, some were parent and waist-high child, and one “couple” was a wheelchair with pusher, occupant, and occupant’s partner. The caller described the steps of the dance and talked the dancers through a few sequences, then the music and mayhem began. There was Strip-the Willow, The-Dashing-White-Sergeant, and I know not what else. Couples galloped between lines of their fellows, ducked under arches of outstretched arms, separated to swing around strangers and meet again 4 bars later. Groups of six or eight formed mini-centrifuges. There was a lot of flailing about, looking for the correct hand to grab next but, remarkably, things mostly kept skipping, galloping, spinning, and swinging, more-or-less in time to the strong beat of the band. Perhaps some of them had done it before.

Morris and Clog

It’s hard to describe Morris Dancing without making it sound ridiculous. A half dozen or so grown men, with solemn mien, tie bells to their legs and caper in unison. You can get a bit of an idea of the leg-work by watching John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Walks. There are many styles, but to the uninitiated the main difference is that sometimes they wave white handkerchiefs,
Hankies Aloft
and sometimes they bang sticks together.

The dancing is accompanied by a Melodeon, a kind of squeeze-box, but where normal dancing follows the music, a Morris Melodeon player follows the dancers. It they need more time for a step, the player will extend the beat as required. This can sound awkward, and it requires the musician to walk backwards when leading a parade. The antiquity and origin of Morris is uncertain, but it may have originated as a celebration of casting the Moors out of Spain. Morris = Moorish, perhaps? In any case it is old.

Along with the Morris dancers we had cloggers. Clogging is not old. In the Industrial Revolution lots of mills were built in Northern England, and lots of lasses worked at t’mill. The traditional mill-girl’s shoe was a wooden-soled Clog, and a Clog makes a satisfying bang when stamped on a wooden floor. Clogging is girls having fun; and it is fun to watch.

We also had Rapping. Weavers must periodically push the weft threads together to close them up. At t’mill this was, apparently, done with a rapper. From a distance a rapper looks like a sword with a handle at both ends. Some teams danced with these, and wove them together as they swung around each other with the rappers held aloft. This must require great skill and fitness,  but the clogging looked like more fun. I could have watched Morris and
Clogging all day.

Thank you, Kevon. ‘I could have watched Morris and Clogging all day?’ You are a braver man that I thought. (I had not realised the Folk Festival would be your first real exposure to it – we take chaps wearing bells for granted in these parts.) I prefer to have Morris in much small doses. But you were right about Lucy Ward’s fine singing – definitely a name to watch.

Happy Christmas from the Tortoise Loft

Posted in Christmas, Family and Friends, Storytelling, Uncategorized, Writing on December 19, 2010 by suetortoise

Enough pictures of snow, I can see all the snow I want outside the window. Here’s a story instead of a card. One for reading aloud. And my good wishes for a very happy Christmas season to all who hear it:

This story was beautifully read by Allan Price on the programme Genevieve Tudor’s Sunday Folk (BBC Radio Shropshire, BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester and BBC Radio Stoke), on Boxing Day evening, 2010.  

The Antisanta


Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus… Call him what you will, he is older than those names; older than the religion of the Christ Child; older, even, than the pagan faiths that gave us the high feast of Yule. The protector of children in mid-winter, that cruellest and most dangerous time of year: the time of the gnawing hunger and killing cold, the time of darkness and of famished wild beasts, grown desperate by that same hunger and cold. Continue reading