Thoughts of beards

Recently I’ve been thinking about beards. This is partly at the prompting of the post I wrote about my great-uncle Bill and the safety razor the army returned in his personal effects, having recently been reading about shaving in the trenches. it was also partly in response to a present from my wife,who recently decided that our 25th wedding anniversary required a special present to mark the occasion. I now have a beard comb, bottle of conditioning oil and a pot of  wax. The comb and oil are great – the wax, when used to twirl my moustache, makes me look like a somewhat seedy cartoon cat.

I’ve had two beards in my life. The first was in the winter of 1981-2. It lasted until the end of the cold snap when the water pipes unfroze. The second lasted from the spring of 1982 until the present day.  Having once had a beard  it was hard to do without one.

This decision was helped by the number of people who seemed to be anti-beard in those days (when I was often asked what I was trying to hide) and I quite like being out of step. Shortly after that I joined the Sealed Knot and found myself in an organisation full of beards.

From there it was plain sailing and I haven’t thought about the beard for years apart from the odd bit of maintenance. It was good to be shown a few photographs of bearded family members from the 1890s because we had always seemed to be a smooth-chinned lot. It was also good to read in none of Francis Pryor’s books that he was told by a Scandinavian archaeologist that people with fair hair and red beards were descendants of  Vikings. So take that, all you smooth-chinned descendants of lesser races!

Now it seems that beards are respectable. I even saw a poster in Moss Bros this morning – a bearded and tattooed man modelling a green plaid suit. Not sure which bit seemed most wrong compared to the Moss Bros I used to know. Even the manager had  tattoos and a stubbly growth that often passes for a beard these days.

It’s a strange feeling, suddenly feeling fashionable in your 50s.


Remembrance Day

This is the war memorial in Slaidburn. It’s one of thousands spread all over the country but it has one feature most others do not.- it commemorates one of my relatives. My dad has a photograph showing the unveiling (sometime in the early 20s I suppose). It shows my great-grandmother standing in the front row as they reveal the name of her oldest son.


She had a hard war – one son dead, two seriously wounded and a daughter widowed.

William Heseltine Wilson volunteered for service but was sent back to the farm where he worked as a horseman until he was required.  I’m not sure he was much of a catch for the military, being a bit on the short side with slightly flattened feet and another slight condition I can’t quite make out on his records.

By early 1917 the army had used up all its tall, fit recruits and William was called up for training, where he managed to qualify as a second class shot. He then had an active few months on the Continent, being mentioned in despatches and wounded three times. The third time proved to be fatal and he died in a Casualty Clearing Station on 14th December 1917.

The army, being meticulous about these things, returned his personal effects in two installments – a safety razor with blades and tin box on the 30th April 1918. Photos, wallet, cards, 2 cap badges, 2 numerals, a 9 carat gold signet ring marked WHW, a farthing and a bag followed on 4th May.


There’s nothing special about the story. There were thousands like him – young men who weren’t meant to be soldiers who were sent away to fight. I know he didn’t want to go back after his penultimate wound because he said so in a postcard to my grandfather (who had been medically downgraded and posted to India after being kicked in the chest by a horse). And I suppose that’s the point – he wasn’t not a hero, despite the slack way we use the words these days: he was just one man among nearly nine million who served. It’s just that thanks to the chance preservation of a few of his army records and some letters his mother sent to my grandfather we can add a few details to his story.

Thanks to the internet I’m even able to access a photograph of his grave.


Lilac Wine

I’m definitely getting old. Just been listening to YouTube as I wrote and, on hearing Lilac Wine I couldn’t help myself – I stopped writing and looked up the recipe for lilac wine. You can find it here.

I’ve been listening to Elkie Brooks for years (seeing her in concert  on 5th April 1981 at Preston Guildhall according to her official website – I don’t get out much) but it’s the first time her singing has ever moved me to look up a recipe.

Parsonage House

We stayed here for our trip to the Lakes.

We booked it through and it scores 9.7 on their website. I scored it as 10 when we got back.


It isn’t perfect, as they expect you to have satnav rather than giving proper directions; I spotted two cobwebs during the stay; the times for booking in and out and having breakfast could be more leisurely and er…that’s about it.

As I found it without satnav, can see more cobwebs in my office than I did on holiday and never missed breakfast  I don’t think I have much to complain about.

Somebody complained they don’t have internet access in the rooms. That was one of the best bits of the holiday as far as I was concerned.

It is an elegant and well-appointed house which has been furnished an equipped with an eye for detail. Breakfasts were excellent, linen was crisp and it was all very tranquil. It’s hard to put it into words but if you want to relax I suggest a few days here (avoiding busy times! See my last post for details of why).


Seems a good place to quote Ruskin as he generally seems to say things better than I can and he was almost a neighbour.

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.



A few days in the Lakes

With hindsight we could have picked a better week but it was rather picked for us, being 25 years after our wedding day. If only we’d thought about things like whether and half-term when we set the wedding date…

As it turned out we had good weather. We had for a few grey spells and an episode of freezing rain but that’s positively balmy for the Lakes in November. In fact it’s pretty good for summer in the Lakes, so no complaints about the weather.

However, when we tried eating out at nights it was a different story. Half-term and decent weather meant it was so crowded it was almost impossible to find somewhere to eat in Windermere. We eventually managed somewhere on the first night but gave up on the second and drove to Kendal. On the final night we had pies from the farm shop at Tebay Services..

Earlier in the trip we’d had the beef and ale pies (full of meaty chunks but a touch dry due to lack of gravy and length of time in the warmer). We would have had them again but there were none left so we had the cheese pies (big chunk of cheese, could have done with some onion and soft bits). Maybe they just like their pies solid in Cumbria. Despite this there are no photos, both times we had pies we managed to get halfway through before I remembered.blogs need pictures. That’s about 9 out of 10 for the pies then.

Marks for the Lake District? Difficult to say. Some of it was definitely 10/10 but circling Windermere wasn’t quite so thrilling.


A Kendal classic

I was going to start the blog with a food review. How hard, I asked myself, can it be to review fish and chips? Well, harder than I thought, as it turns out. As the piece began to approach the length of a short story I decided to try something shorter. It’s still a food blog but it’s a shorter one.


As part of our visit to the Lake District last week we went round Kendal Farmers’ Market and the market hall. There was a good variety of stuff on offer, including collectables and second-hand books – two of my favourite things. There was also a good display of mint cake. That’s another of my favourite things – with an ingredients list featuring just four things – two sorts of sugar, water and mint how could it be anything else?

No artificial additives, loads of sugar and a feeling of virtue as you follow in the footsteps of Hillary and Shackleton, can it get any better?

Actually, it could, because we also went round the K Shoe Heritage Centre in the K Village. As a retail outlet the “village” is a bit of a disappointment, with a lot of empty shops, but that’s just a sign of the times. The Heritage Centre, on the other hand, is one of the best museum displays I’ve ever been round and really brought the company and staff to life. Highly recommended: it needn’t take a lot of time if you’re in a rush and it’s free.