Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hone Stone

Do you know what a Hone Stone is?

Until very recently if you had asked me I would have thought along the lines of those stones used in olden days for sharpening scythes and sickles and the like.  I knew that there were stones used by carpenters for sharpening chisels but thought they were called oil stones.

I recently found that one of my great-great grandfathers was a hone stone manufacture in Stair in Ayrshire.
Hone stones from this small manufactory in the mid nineteenths century had two brand names Tam O' Shanter and Water of Ayr and they were famous mainly for sharpening razors and a finer variety was used in the jewelry trade.

The stones quarried in the Dalmore Estate near the small village of Stair in Ayrshire.  How William McKie came to be the proprietor here is very vague and difficult to follow.  It was originally owned in the early part of the century by a James Heron and according to some information it was passed down through the female side of this family.  William McKie was  the son of Janet Heron but we have not established the direct connection between Janet and James Heron..  Work for another day.  

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Old technology still works.

Have you noticed in the recent spell of cold weather  that despite all the latest gizmos in cars you have to revert to  the old ways to get started and they always seem to work.  You might have a satnav which helps you get lost in a strange town or a hi fi radio with 190 stations nione of which you want to listen to, but you still need a shovel to clear the snow from the driveway.unless you are the Highways agency, when you will need four blokes and a aJCB.

And the best way of getting the frost off the windscreen is still a plastic scraper as the heated windscreen system takes too long to work. And when the doors are frozen closed and you have a wireless key with no keyhole, how do you unfreeze the lock?  Such is progress. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Is Remembrance now just a photo shoot?

Those who know me will know that I am not a jingoist of any kind so I make no apology for returning to the subject of remembering the dead of the first world war.
Visiting Tyne Cot Cemetery this week I was appalled to say the least at the sight of young people climbing about on the central memorial cross just to have their photos taken.
I spoke to one of the guides who told me that the steps on the base of the cross where designed to be used for that.  She said that when King George V visited the cemetery he wanted to stand on the place where so many allied soldiers had stood.
I pointed out that standing on that spot reflecting on the dead of war was a world away from using a memorial as a platform for photographs.
She replied "You are entitled to your opinion."

The first time we visited Tyne Cot, we were almost alone there and it was a moving experience.  Unfortunately this time it was almost impossible to think of it in quite the same way.

Hopefully after 2018 this place will return to being a place of remembrance and not the tourist venue that it appears to be today.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A hundred years ago

Frederick Feston died nearly one hundred years ago on 25th October 1917. One of the casualties of the Third battle of Ypres that they called Passchendaele.  Not the only one who died that day so it is all too easy to lump them all together as casualties and forget that each of them was an individual: son, father or husband.
Fred Feston is a real man to us even though we never knew him. His daughters never knew him,   the first only a baby and the second born after he died. His widow remarried so his memory gradually faded.
We know him because of our interest in family history and we have been able to piece together his life before the war and the events surrounding his few brief months in the army in France before he disappeared into the mud of Flanders.  No grave-just a name inscribed on a long wall among so many others and an entry in  memorial book.

The Third Battle of Ypres ended at the beginning of November, too late for Fred Feston and for close to three quarters of a million men who died there in less than a month.  In a poem, Sigfried Sassoon put it "I died in Hell, they called it Passchendaele."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A crowd, a host

To borrow from Wordsworth "I saw a crowd, a host ..........of people"

I was in my early twenties and hadn't seen a crowd like this before. I had seen crowds, of course, London rush hour, football matches and even from in a CND march, but they were moving crowds. This one was standing still and I didn't know what was going on.
This was a Monday and I was on my way to work at the GPO in the City of London from where I lived in Downham, just over ten miles.  I cycled everyday and never had a problem but that day I was completely baulked. Cycling in London back in in the 1950s was not as dangerous as it is today, a lot less traffic then but there was a special hazard of the tramlines which are not there anymore.
I discovered that the reason for the crown  was the Lord Mayors Show and the way to work was completely blocked.  I might just as well have been on the other side of the river as the other side of this mass of people just waiting to see a  hangover from medieval times. But of course a free show always attracts crowds.
The show was always held on the 9th November in those days no matter what day of the week it was and at the time I remember thinking it should have been held on the fifth! They have a bit more sense about it now and it always held on a Saturday, probably because when they changed it people still worked a five day week!
No matter which diversion I tried, down towards Cannon Street, up every side street but was still blocked.   I was still stuck until the parade had left the Guildhall area and some of the barriers had been removed so that I could get through.
Even without the bike I would still not been able to get through.  Have you ever tried to push your way through to the front of a crowd? Over an hour late for work, stopped two hours pay which I could ill afford still being on the lowest pay in the place.
I was never greatly enamoured of pageantry and stuff associated with the aristocracy and the upper classes before, but this confirmed an innate antipathy.  Almost joined the Communist Party!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

First bath for forty years

Went on holiday recently and the bathroom had no shower so I had my first bath for about forty years.
Had forgotten how relaxing it can be wallowing in a tub full of warm water.  But getting in was not easy I hadn't worked out the logistics of sitting down in the bath when my knees refuse to bend sufficiently, however I managed it without creating a tidal wave.

Getting out again also required a great deal of thinking about before it was achieved.  I managed eventually.  Yes it was nice, but I don't think I will do it again.

Difficult to remember when baths transitioned into showering.

There were no showers when I was young and when we were evacuees during the war there were often no  baths either so it was off to the public baths. Slipper baths they were called then and I have no idea why. The towels supplied at the public baths were called huckaback, I have no idea about that either but I do know that they were linen, a bit like a tea towel with no drying capacity so you often walked home almost as wet as when you had got out of the bath.

We had no bath in our first home when we were married so it was like going back to childhood days and the slipper baths. They were still using huckabacks so we took our own towels.


Monday, July 31, 2017

In Flanders field

July 2017 marks the centenary of the Third battle of Ypres  By most definitions one of the bloodiest and controversial of all the dreadful battles of the First world war  By November the battle had gained very little for the allies but had cost the lives of close to a quarter of a million men, with debatably a similar number of German soldiers.

We shall be visiting the Tyne Cot Cemetery this October which is one of the largest of the Ypres salient. It contains the graves of 11,961 British and Commonwealth soldiers including close to 600 Australians, 450 Canadians and close to 200 from New Zealand. There is an astonishing number 8373 graves of men whose names are not known and whose headstone bears the inscription "A soldier of the great war.  Known unto God"   

There were over thirtyfive thousand men who were  never found or identified, most lost in the mud. Their names, including that of our grandfather Frederick Feston, at least are known and  are inscribed on a memorial wall 150 metres long.


War cemeteries like Tyne Cot are never easy to visit. They are not places of possible quiet contemplation like many a village churchyard in England.  The serried rows of stark white headstones appearing to stretch into the distance defy any attempt to view them without emotion even though they record events which occurred a century ago.