Author Archives: titan142

About titan142

I'm a "woman of a certain age" and mother to four beautiful cats, all girls. I'm a budding writer, and have been published for my non-fiction writing. (When do I get to call myself a real writer, I wonder?) Follow me at https://www.facebook.com/susan.shirley1 https://twitter.com/SusanShirley2 www.wizzley.com/Telesto

THE END OF AN INTERESTING YEAR

What a year it’s been.  It started just like any other year and became the Year of the Pandemic.  I don’t feel bad that I didn’t see it coming, well, not too bad, anyway.  Pandemics do seem to happen roughly every 100 years, and when that was put to me in February, I was quite dismissive.  More fool me. 

There is an old Chinese curse – may you live in interesting times.  Never has that curse been more relevant.  I think that 2020 was one of the most interesting years of my life, and probably almost everyone else’s. 

I know it’s been an awful year for many people – deaths through Covid, and not being able to attend funerals of loved ones, businesses folding, redundancies.  Long Covid and the effect it is having on people.  I haven’t had to go through any of these things and for that, I count my blessings. 

But things haven’t been all bad.  We’ve seen some people do some tremendous things, as so often happens when there is any kind of adversity. 

For example, there is little Tony Hudgell, whose birth parents abused him so badly that he had to have both legs amputated.  This heroic little boy decided that he would raise £500 for the Evelina Children’s Hospital by walking 10k on his prosthetic limbs after seeing Captain Tom Moore walking.  At the time of writing, he has raised over £1m.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tonys-10k-walk

Then there was Captain Tom himself.  At age 99, on 6 April, he started walking laps of his garden, intending to do 100 for his 100th birthday, to raise money for NHS charities.  By his birthday on 30 April, he had raised over £30m. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Tom

And then there was Kevin Sinfield.  Kevin’s ex-Leeds Rhinos teammate, Rob Burrow, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019.  Rob wore the number 7 shirt when he played rugby so Kevin Sinfield decided he would run seven marathons in seven days in order to raise money for MND charities.  His aim was £77,777 but he raised over £2m.

https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/news/a34892131/kevin-sinfield-marathons/

All of these are wonderful examples of what people can do, and even more wonderful when you think it’s at a time when many people have lost earnings, so have less money to spare.  And then there have been those who responded to the call for volunteers put out by the Royal Voluntary Service to assist with deliveries to those unable to leave their homes, and to telephone people who need someone to talk to. 

For me personally, I started growing my vegetables again.  Not 100% successfully, but this year will be better, and I did a lot of other work in my garden, so it will look better than ever in 2021. 

I’ve taken a renewed interest in cooking, making things I would never have bothered making before because I used to eat out a lot. 

I published my first books. 

I’ve worked hard to get fitter and, in many ways, am fitter than I have been for about twenty years.  I’ve achieved a few other things too, so I can only be grateful for what I’ve done.

What does 2021 hold?

We’ve got some vaccines now, although it’s going to be sometime before we are all vaccinated – more correctly, all those of us who are willing to have the vaccine.  Will life ever get back to the way it was before?  Somehow, I don’t think it will ever be quite the same again.  People in countries where they’ve lived with SARS tend to wear face coverings as a matter of course, and I suspect that will persist here. 

It will take a very long time for us, and other countries, to recover from the cost of the pandemic, and then there is the long-term effect on young people and children, with their education and how changes in the job market will affect them.  We will all have to work hard to get things back on track.

Who knows what 2021 is going to bring?  Just let’s all hope that we can continue to work together.

© Susan Shirley 2021

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS IN DORSET

My brother, lil ‘sis and I decided we’d celebrate Christmas early this year – I couldn’t get a cat sitter for the actual main event and I didn’t want to put the girls in a cattery.  None of us is particularly religious and we are all agreed that Christmas is not the same without our parents so changing the day was not a big deal.

Bro came to pick me up on a Thursday, which was lovely, and saved me travelling by train.  We didn’t do much when we got back, just dinner, a few drinks, Jay’s virtual pub quiz and a bit of TV. 

The Newt in Somerset

I’d found out about cider from The Newt watching Saturday Kitchen a few weeks earlier and had ordered some of their cider so we could try it when I went down.  We had it on the Thursday evening, and it was very good.  I learned from Helen McGinn on Saturday Kitchen that cider is closer to wine than beer, which was exactly how it tasted.  I reckon it’s a great drink for summer evenings. It’s a shame that they only deliver to a few post codes, but hopefully that will change as they expand.

Bro and Ali went there a couple of weeks before I went down and decided we should all go again on the Friday of my visit. It’s a huge place, with a 23-roomed hotel, restaurants, described on its website as a ‘country estate with splendid gardens, farmland and woodland.’  You have to become a member to enter, but you can use your membership for a whole year without any extra charge for entry. 

It was originally Hadspen House, purchased back in 1687 by a London lawyer called William Player.  The house changed hands a number of times until, eventually, in 1785, it ended up in the Hobhouse family.  At the time that Henry Hobhouse bought it, the property comprised 717 acres and was described as being modern, with six rooms.  The stables had room for 20 horses. Henry Hobhouse carried out much in the way of home improvements including raising the ceilings in some of the rooms, and built a new dining room, drawing room and library.  This was the work that made Hadspen House into what it is today, although his descendants carried out extensions to the house and grounds.

Penelope Hobhouse transformed some of the gardens into a 20th century Arts and Crafts Garden.  These gardens were opened to visitors in 1970.  Sadly for her, when her marriage to Paul House ended in 1983, she left her home and gardens.  Eventually, the property changed hands and has been owned by Koos Bekker and Karen Roos since 2013. 

Since then, even more work has taken place, turning Hadspen House into the The Newt.

https://thenewtinsomerset.com

It’s a beautiful place to visit.  Cultivated gardens, woodlands, a deer park, orchards.  We were lucky enough to see some deer while we were there, although not close up.  They have big plans for work there, hence the price increase, and I’m looking forward to going back there in the spring to see how it’s changed.

In normal times, they have cyder tours – they make cyder from the apples grown on site.  The tours are £20 for two people, including cyder tasting.

You have to be a member to gain entry to the gardens.  At the moment, adult membership is £17.50, but it’s going up to £30 with effect from 1 January 2021. 

Stourhead

Stourhead is a National Trust property.  I’ve visited before with the family, but this time it was Christmas at Stourhead.  I was quite disoriented (somehow, somewhere, they’d made a massive car park that may have been there before, but I couldn’t get my bearings) when I got there and didn’t fully recognise it until we were on the final part of the tour, when we got to the pub and it all came flooding back to me. 

The house and gardens were given to the National Trust in 1946, by the then owner, Sir Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare.  It’s a Grade I listed building and houses a fabulous art collection.  I think the grounds are stunning during the day, but this evening, the Festival of Lights and Music was beautiful. I’ve tried to capture it in the photographs below.






https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead

Castle Cary 

The highlight for me was our Saturday trip to Castle Cary for our treasure trail.  I’ve mentioned these before, but we love them, and will definitely do more.  They are a great way to get to know your way around an area.  And the good thing about this was we got all the answers right without needing any clues.

https://www.treasuretrails.co.uk

Castle Cary is about 24 miles south of Bath, and not too far from The Village Without a Pub, where Bro and lil sis’ live.  There was a castle there once, although there’s not much remaining.  It’s believed to have a Norman Castle, made from wood, which explains the lack of remains.  Another castle was started in the fifteenth century, but it seems that was abandoned in favour of a manor house. 

One of the interesting things about Castle Cary is the Roundhouse, a very small eighteenth century prison, about 7 feet in diameter and 10 feet high, not far from the Market Hall.  The Roundhouse was intended as a temporary prison, mainly for housing drunks or people who would be going to the local court the next day.  One of the other interesting things about Castle Cary is that it is the nearest railway station to the farm where the Glastonbury festival is held.  Must be great for business and awful for residents.  No offence to anyone attending, but it’s much the same for residents of Notting Hill come carnival time.

Sunday Will Never be the Same

Sunday was very, very wet, so I went out for a short walk, and was terrified by the Dorset drivers and, even though I walked in the road.  And I got very muddy.  I didn’t stay out for long. 

I felt the need to take a photograph of the boys in the field at the bottom of Bro’s garden – they were so cute.  They’ve gone now, they’ve eaten all the grass in that field.  I don’t want to think anything but that they were going to another field. 

We had our Christmas dinner on Sunday, without the Queen’s speech.  More eating and drinking, just like the real thing, and that was that.  On Monday Bro brought me home, and thus, life returned to the new normal. 

© Susan Shirley 2020 

THE PENDLE WITCH TRIALS

In these turbulent times, it seems to me that there is a lot of intolerance, rudeness and lack of consideration for others.  It got me thinking about times gone by when there was a lack of tolerance and the often-fatal consequences.

The witch trials in Pendle, Lancashire, is just one example.  In 1612, twelve people were accused of committing murder by using witchcraft.  Ten were eventually found guilty and executed.  One died while in custody.  During these times when witches were actively sought out, about 500 were tried, so ten at once was a high percentage.

It wasn’t uncommon for people to be found guilty of witchcraft in those days, but it was unusual for so many to be tried and found guilty at the same time.  What was even more uncommon was that the trial was officially documented by the clerk of the court in The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.

The Prevailing Situation in the Country at the Time

Lancashire was, at the time, considered to be a lawless county, but one where most people were still Catholic.  During his reign, King Henry VIII had dissolved the monasteries and expected his faithful subjects to convert to his new Church of England religion. 

Although anyone with any sense overtly converted, those who were staunch Catholics openly reverted when Henry’s first daughter, Mary, became queen.  This was a time of burning heretics – Queen Mary herself would sit in a building near to St Bartholomew’s Hospital to watch heretics being burned.  If you go there, you can still see the place where the burning took place.

There was a complete reversal again when Elizabeth became queen with mass being celebrated in secret in some places.  It was Elizabeth who had an act of parliament passed a law against witchcraft, although the death penalty was only to be imposed where harm had been caused. 

When James I became king on Elizabeth’s death, the country continued to be protestant, at least, that was the theory.  If you refused to attend a Church of England service and take communion, it was a criminal offence.  In 1612, every justice of the peace in Lancashire was ordered to make a list of all those who refused to attend an Anglican services.  James I also had a massive interest in witchcraft and had written a book in which he told readers to prosecute supporters and practitioners of witchcraft. 

The Witches

Six of the witches came from two families, the Demdike’s and the Chattox’s.  The matriarchs in both families were old widows:  Elizabeth Southerns was known as Old Demdike, Anne Whittle was known as Mother Chattox. 

Southerns was known to have been a witch for around 50 years.  It wasn’t unusual for those who had a good knowledge of herbs to be healers and ‘miraculously’ help people who were ill.  If they were good at it, it was a way of making a bit of money.  In fact, if they gathered the herbs etc from fields, it was pretty much all profit. 

The Story

One of the accused, Alizon Device, one of Southerns’ daughters had an altercation with a pedlar named John Law.  Some of the details are a bit hazy, but the essence of it is that Alizon asked Law for some pegs.  He refused to give them to her, so presumably she didn’t intend to pay for them, and she cursed Law. 

A short while after this happened, Law suffered a stroke, and blamed Alizon for it.  Somehow, the local justice found out about it, and when he questioned Alizon she said that she had told the Devil to harm Law.  She also accused her grandmother and members of the Chattox family of witchcraft.  Whether she did this under torture is not known.  It seems that accusing the Chattox’s was revenge for an alleged theft that had happened some years previously.  In addition, Alizon’s father, John Device, blamed Mother Chattox for an illness that subsequently led to his death.  She had threatened to harm his family if they didn’t pay for protection. 

As well as this, the deaths of some villagers that had occurred some years before were brought up and blamed on the Chattox family, as well as various other curses and illnesses, effigies and blood sucking, it all sounds exhausting.  As a result, four of them were detained pending trial.  Soon after, Alizon’s brother stole a neighbour’s sheep, the judge found out and investigated, resulting in eight more people being called for questioning and then attending trial.

The Trials

The trials were scheduled for hearing between 17 and 19 August 1612.  Elizabeth

Southerns didn’t survive the harsh prison conditions to reach trial.  The rest of the accused varied from pleading innocence at one end of the spectrum to believing in their powers and confessing their guilt.  Nine of them, including Alizon, were found guilty and hanged. 

Postscript

A funny thing happened while I was writing this….  I write my posts in Word first, have done for years.  As I was writing this, parts of the text kept disappearing…. The third para under ‘The Story.’  I closed Word, re-opened it and the same thing happened again.  It happened about four times.  As chance would have it, I received a call from the dental surgery telling me I had an emergency appointment 20 minutes hence, so I closed word again and when I got home and started typing again, all was well.  Maybe the ghost of the witches helping me to heal?

© Susan Shirley 2020

BLANDFORD FORUM

It was my birthday recently, so I went to see Big Bro and Li’l Sis down in Dorset.  

            “What do you want to do?” said Big Bro.

            “A real-life pub quiz and a Treasure Trail,” said I.

We’ve been doing Jay’s online pub quiz on Thursday nights so I thought a real life one would be fun, although with social distancing, I could see there could be a problem.  To be honest, we are not winners but it’s a bit of fun and we learn a bit along the way.  Anyway, Bro couldn’t find a physical one, so we did Jay’s.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLcSqjJWHJeDWD_SbdorBRw

The Treasure Trail, well, I participated in one a few years ago, in London.  I am hugely competitive, so when my team didn’t win, I was not happy.  I stopped short of a full, public sulk though.

https://www.treasuretrails.co.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwuL_8BRCXARIsAGiC51D3yfBIsoVWKup65MKxCHuU7O4orcXlBAi8V0Y9CYW9kO4sKfe_jp8aAjlMEALw_wcB

They do these treasure trails all over the country and I was pretty sure Bro and Sis would enjoy it.  I asked them to choose the town and trail.  They chose one in Blandford.  It was a murder mystery trail.  You can go to the website, pick your trail and once you’ve paid you can print off your booklet.  There are a series of questions (I think there are 20).  To find the answers you need to walk around your chosen location.  One of the reasons I like them, and Bro and Sis liked it was because you get to go to parts of the town that you probably wouldn’t normally go to.  And we got the answer right for this one, so it was a win-win.

If I’d ever been to Blandford before, it was a long time ago, and I didn’t remember it, and the Treasure Trail was a good way to learn about the town.  Years ago, I spent a lot of time at steam fairs.  What is now the Great Dorset Steam Festival was much smaller and was held at Stourpaine in my day, is now held at Blandford.  Stourpaine is only about three miles from Blandford so the festival hasn’t moved far. 

Blandford is, for the most part, a Georgian town.  There was a fire in the early 18th century which destroyed most of the town, so it was rebuilt in Georgian style by the Bastard brothers.  They were famous architects at the time, despite the name.  Obviously, I had to look up the origin – it’s of 11th century origin.  William the Conqueror was also known as William the Bastard and it is believed that those sharing the name were closely associated with him.  To put the record straight, in those days, it wasn’t an insult, but the meaning was pretty much the same as it is today.

Back to Blandford.  The ‘ford’ part of the name gives a clue: it sits on the River Stour, and there has been a settlement here since Anglo Saxon times.  It had established itself as a market town by the thirteenth century.  The word Forum was added by the 16th century – it means market in Latin.  

As well as being a market town, Blandford was well-known for very fine lacemaking, and later, wool-spinning and button making.  With the advent of the turnpike between Salisbury and Dorchester in 1756, the town’s prosperity increased as a result of travellers staying over at the newly built coaching inns. 

Like so many other towns, the livestock market ceased in the 20th century (I used to love walking past all those little piggies in our hometown when I was a little girl.  If I was good, and quick, I was allowed to stroke them).  There are still outdoor markets in the town and indoor markets in the corn exchange. 

There are three museums in the town:  Blandford Town Museum, Blandford Fashion Museum and the Royal Signals Museum (which is actually outside the town at the military base).  That’s quite something for a town of Blandford’s size.  And it’s other claim to fame: Inspector Frederick Abberline, known for his part in the Jack the Ripper investigations, was born here. 

© Susan Shirley 2020

CATS AND COVID

Cats and Covid

I’ve seen a lot about the separation anxiety and dogs when their owners started going back to work when the Lockdown restrictions eased but I haven’t seen anything about cats.  We cat lovers all know that cats are independent and not people pleasers but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want love and affection.  As I type this, my Telesto is lying on my lap and I have my laptop on my left hand side.  Great typing posture!

There has always been jealousy in my house, they all want attention, usually the second one of the others wants attention.  (To prove the point, I stopped typing to give Telesto a stroke, Artemis heard and came and sat on my chest…)  Has it gotten worse during Lockdown?

One of the things I have learned about having cats is that the dynamic does change, and their behaviour changes over time.  It happens in normal circumstances, so I assume it is something to do with ageing.  It has become more pronounced during Lockdown, but I can’t be sure that’s all because I’m here more.  It could be because we’ve had some hot weather or because Oceana, the alpha, is not well and her behaviour has changed.

Most of the time, when I get up from my desk to go to get a cup of tea/go to the loo/whatever/ she follows me.  (Actually, for a little cat, she has started making a lot of noise when she runs down stairs after me.)  This is a new behaviour, and has only started since she started to exhibit symptoms of cognitive decline.  She also doesn’t roam very far now.  The photograph of her sitting on the top of my neighbour’s outbuilding is the last time she got up there.  I think somehow she knew that she was unwell.

The little ones have changed their behaviours too, Telesto is the only one who hasn’t.  Artemis has started climbing a ladder that I keep in the conservatory.  My friend Kate and I joked that she was going to start working as a handy-cat, but actually, I think it’s that it gives her a good view of me when I’m preparing their breakfast (who needs CCTV?).  Getting breakfast takes longer now because of all the medication little O has to have.  It’s almost as though Artemis is saying, 

‘Hurry it up girlie, I’m hungry.’

Rhea has always been a bit more reticent than the others but she is learning to be more pushy and to ask for cuddles more.  The funny thing is, Rhea, normally so placid, is the one who beats Telesto up more now.  Another change in behaviour.  She also likes to join me in my video conference calls.

And yet other things haven’t changed.  Artemis still eats half her bowl of breakfast and then goes to shove Rhea out of the way to eat hers.  Oceana is still like a heat-seeking missile and Telesto has fits and starts.  Sometimes she wants it, sometimes she doesn’t.  And the little ones still cuddle up together. 

Telesto and Oceana still think anything that I eat is really for them, until they realise I’ve got that green stuff on my plate, which they don’t consider to be real food.  If there is meat or fish they get tooled up and are ready to take me out…. And I thought it was more than cupboard love…

© Susan Shirley 2020

MY FIRST BOOKS

It’s finally happened.  I published my first books today.  I’d actually planned on publishing them tomorrow, 31 August, but e-publishing is not an exact science.  Amazon says it can take up to 72 hours to publish, so to meet my self-imposed August deadline, I had to start the process early.  In reality, it only took a few hours.  

Writing was the Easy Part

I am in the middle of writing four books.  Well, four proper books.  There are other half started works that may never go anywhere, but four that will make it to being published.  They’ve been on the go for varying periods of time.  

When I had a period of illness earlier in 2020, and was waiting for my results, I decided that if I did nothing else, I would publish a little book I had written back in 2012, and another book that was, at that time, just in my heart, not on paper.  

Writing the first book, Owned by Cats, which is only about 20,000 words long, was hard, although that was at the start of my writing career.  I’ve learned a lot in the eight years since then.  

Writing the second, Living with Cats, took longer.  I had to give myself a weekly target and I had to fit it in around my day job and my paid freelance work.  It was fun though, I loved writing it.  But it was hard work.  Checking my facts, eliminating things I wanted to write but couldn’t prove.  And so it went on.  And then the editing, I loved that too.  Then came the publishing…

I decided to self-publish for many, many reasons, not the least being that I don’t like the very low royalties traditionally published writers are paid, especially now when they have to do so much of the marketing themselves.  By self-publishing, I live or die by my own efforts.  

KDP is easy… ish

Publishing on Amazon was a bit of a no-brainer.  Amazon is big everywhere and I wanted an easy way to get my book out there.  A couple of years ago, I went on a course delivered by Richard McMunn.  He said there is no need for fancy software, Word will do nicely and it’s easy to upload onto Amazon when you are done.  I’ll be honest, I felt a bit cheated, I purchased Scrivener years ago, and, although it’s pretty complex software, I like it and still use it.  

Yes, I do write in Word (because I can do that anywhere, on my iPad) but I put it in Scrivener, so it’s easier to move chapters and paragraphs around.  Doing it all in Word doesn’t work for me with a 50,000 odd word document.  

So I wrote in Word, put it in Scrivener and used that to organise my books. When it came to publishing, I downloaded the KDP app, as advised.  I probably should add here that I am notoriously bad at reading instruction manuals.  I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in that.  So I didn’t get it right for Owned by Cats, and I just uploaded the Word version.  

Living with Cats was bigger, and I did a better job with that.  Not perfect, I missed off the notes at the back on both, but that’s easily sorted now they are published.  It took me hours, to get the formatting the way I wanted it.  Who knew that you can’t edit tables in KDP?  So I, who has been so disparaging of so many self-published writers’ grammar and editing, now understand how hard it is.  I am eating my words as I type.  

I have always liked writing; I just didn’t always think I could do it.  Now I know I can.  Not everyone will like my work.  That’s ok, I don’t like everything I read by everyone else.  Even books that have won Booker prizes.  I am always gentle in reviews for books I don’t like, if I leave a review at all.  I would ask that you all do the same for me.

 © Susan Shirley 2020

HAMBLEDON HILL (NOW KNOWN AS MUCH PANTING)

I went to stay with my brother and little sis’ last weekend, my first trip to them since before Lockdown.  There was much social distancing – elbow touches rather than hugs, so it wasn’t ‘normal’ but none of us wants to get this virus.  Nor do we want to be responsible for passing it onto anyone else who may be less healthy than us.  

None of that probably matters anyway, I think my brother was trying to kill me off by taking me up Hambledon Hill.  Let me explain.  My brother and his wife live in Dorset and yomp up hills and over fields regularly, and have continued to do so throughout Lockdown.  I have not done much walking for the past few months, and certainly not hill walking.  So there really was ‘much panting’ from me.

About Hambledon Hill 

Hambledon Hill is a prehistoric hillfort in the Blackmore Vale, just by the village of Shroton or Iwene Courtney (we’ll come back to the name later).  The hill is now owned by the National Trust.  It is 630 feet high at its highest point.  It is a Site of Special Scientific Importance as well as being a National Nature Reserve.  

The National Trust says that it is considered to be one the best representations of unimproved calcareous grassland in the country.  It is home to a number of rare species of plants and animals: 28 species of butterfly have been recorded here.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk

The hill was first occupied back in the Neolithic, whilst the area was still mainly woodland.  Various skeletons have been found over the years that give information about what happened here, but I’m more interested in recent history, the Battle of Hambledon Hill.

The Battle of Hambledon Hill

During the English Civil War, there was a defence force called the Clubmen.  They were neither supporters of the Royalists nor the parliamentarians.  They simply wanted to protect their local areas against the ravages of the other armies.  (Like it or not, not much has changed in war since these times, and the soldiers would come around, steal food, rape the women and generally cause mayhem.) 

The clubmen were so named because they did not have fancy weapons, they were armed with various agricultural tools and clubs.  They were predominate in Dorset, and somewhere between 2000 and 4000 of them camped on Hambledon Hill in 1645.  

The Roundheads had not long captured the Royalist Sherborne Castle, and Cromwell ordered the Clubmen to be dispersed.  Cromwell’s New Model Army did this efficiently and the leaders were arrested, but Cromwell soon sent most of them home saying they were ‘poor silly creatures.’  Not doubt the ones that weren’t sent home were tortured and executed because they were not so silly.

The views

I took the opportunity to take photographs as a means of getting some air into my poor, laboured lungs. The views are stunning, even though the weather was overcast as we were going up.  The heavens opened while we were on the hill, which meant we had to go into a local pub afterwards.

What?  Shame, I hear you say.  I know.  But it was a duty to help the local economy pick up after Lockdown.

We went into the Cricketers www.thecricketersshrtoon.co.uk What a lovely pub!  One-way systems and plenty of hand sanitiser in the pub, although we were the only ones in there for a while.  We’d gone in for a coffee and decided to stay for lunch, which was fab.  Bro had a root vegetable soup, Alison and I had starter portions of whitebait.  Yum.  

The Village Names

It seems a bit greedy, not to say confusing, for a village to have two names.  It seems that the name Iwerne Courtney (the Iwerne bit) is a Celtic river name which means either goddess or yew river.  The Courtney part comes from the land being owned by a family named Courtney during the 13th century.  The Courtneys were the Earls of Devon.  

Shroton is from the Old English and means ‘sheriff’s town’ or ‘sheriff’s estate.’  Apparently, the locals call it Shroton.

© Susan Shirley 2020

VACCINES

Pretty much all we keep hearing these days is that we need a vaccine for COVID-19 but what exactly are vaccines and how do they work?

What is a vaccine?

Quick biology lesson: when we are born, we get an acquired immunity to various diseases through drinking our mother’s milk.  For the most part, this acquired immunity will only last about six months.  Acquired immunity just means an immunity that is conferred on us, rather than made by our own immune system.

A vaccine is something that confers and acquired immunity which may last anything from six months to several years.  A weakened or inactivated form of the pathogen is used in the vaccine to make the immune system react.

As adults, we get a natural immunity by being exposed to various pathogens that our body fights off.  Our bodies produces antibodies that fight disease, and in many cases, once we have the antibodies, they will provide us with an immunity against said disease.  As we know from the doubts about immunity to COVID-19, we don’t always get an immunity.  In any case, it normally takes our bodies about five days to make enough antibodies to really fight an infection, which may be too long in some cases.

History

There are accounts of smallpox inoculation as far back as the 1500s in China and India.  Other reports say that is started much earlier, in around 200 BCE.  It is thought that the procedure was carried out by variolation – some of the toxin is taken from a recently infected person and rubbed against the skin until there became an open wound.  Variola is the generic name of the virus that causes smallpox, hence variolation.

Over the centuries, many physicians searched for a cure for the often-deadly smallpox, without success. And, as has so often been the case, Western and Eastern medicine did not really converge.  

However, in 1721 in Boston, USA, during a smallpox outbreak, 248 people were variolated.  Six of these people died, so it wasn’t perfect, but the mortality rate for those who had been variolated was lower than for those who hadn’t.  Later the same year, Lady Mary Montagu brought variolation to England.  

In 1770, the English physician Edward Jenner started to investigate the folk law that infection with cow pox would confer protection against smallpox.  (Although it wasn’t known then, the viruses that cause these diseases are from the same family.)

In 1796, Jenner successfully used a vaccine made from cox pox to inoculate against smallpox.  By 1853, a law was passed that made it mandatory for children to be vaccinated against smallpox by the time they were three months old.

Fast forward to 1899 and the British army vaccinated almost 15,000 soldiers against typhoid in the Second Boer War.  

By the late 1940s, vaccines for smallpox, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough had become established.  Despite vaccines for more diseases being discovered since then, there are surprising number of people who don’t take advantage of them – for example, it took until 2002 for polio to be eradicated in Europe.

How do they work?

Basically, vaccines make our immune systems think that we have been exposed to a full-on version of a disease.  

It is very common, after a vaccine is administered, to feel some soreness or redness in the area, and perhaps a low-grade fever.   

Vaccination, Inoculation or Immunisation?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are all slightly different.  

Inoculation is where something that will grow is inserted inside the body, not only to protect it against a specific disease but also to help it protect against that same disease in the future.

Vaccination is where a weakened version of the bacterium or virus is put into the body so that the immune system produces antibodies against that weakened version. When the body later meets that same disease, it will readily fight it because it has encountered that weakened version before.

Immunisation is the process whereby the body can respond quickly to a pathogen.  We can have either active or passive immunity.  Active immunity happens when we have been exposed to a pathogen.  Passive immunity happens, for example, when a baby gets immunity from its mother’s milk, or we are given an injection of antivenom after a snake bite.

So there you have it, a very basic guide to vaccines, what they do and how they do it.  Personally, there is no doubt in my mind, once a vaccine has been tested and found safe, I would have them every time.

© Susan Shirley 2020

VIRUSES – WHAT EXACTLY ARE THEY?

We keep hearing talk of the Coronavirus or Covid-19 but what exactly are viruses and why are they so problematic?

Prokaryotes

In the simplest of terms, viruses are what scientists call prokaryotes – single-celled organisms that don’t have a nucleus.  (A nucleus is the ‘brain’ of a cell, it controls the activities that take place within that cell.). There is much debate within the scientific community whether viruses should be treated as living organisms because they are dormant when they do not have a host in which to live.  Some viruses can remain dormant for thousands of years, if the conditions are right.  When I say they remain dormant, I mean that they cannot reproduce or feed or carry out any other metabolic process without a host.  

Genetic material

Viruses contain either DNA or RNA as their genetic material.  In humans and other mammals, the genetic material is a double helix of DNA.  In fact, the vast majority of organisms contain DNA as their genetic material.  Diseases such as Smallpox and Chickenpox are spread by DNA viruses.

Other viruses, such as the Coronaviruses and Rabies, are RNA viruses.  Conditions such as AIDS, transmitted by the viruses HIV-1 and HIV-2 which are also RNA viruses, but they are retroviruses, which means that the viral RNA incorporates itself into the host’s DNA (which was one of the reasons that this was so hard to treat in the early days of the disease, although thankfully, it is now very controllable).  

Parasites

In biology, the simple definition of a parasite is an organism that gains benefit at the expense of its host.  It logically follows that parasites want their host to survive for as long as possible.  Viruses are no different although we could all be forgiven for thinking that is not the case when we are in the depths of a pandemic, but in reality, it is rare for a virus to kill off a whole population.  Covid-19 is no different, it is not killing everyone.  In some people, the effects are very mild.  

There are lots of other pathogens (disease causing organisms) out there: bacteria, fungi, to name but two.  We live in a sort of harmony with most of them and we will continue to do so.

© Susan Shirley 2020

PETER RABBIT’S CREATOR – BEATRIX POTTER

Most children will have heard of Peter Rabbit, and maybe read the stories.  A film, starring Renee Zellweger was made about her in 1982, but like most films, there was a lot of artistic licence, it was perhaps not the best representation of her.  So, who was Beatrix Potter?  This is the short version.

Her full name was Helen Beatrix Potter and she was born in South Kensington in 1866.  She died in 1943.  She had a younger brother, Walter Bertram.  Beatrix was educated at home by governesses.  She and her brother kept numerous small animals to which she was devoted.  

The family spent their holidays in Perthshire until she was aged 15.  When the property there subsequently became unavailable, they spent their holidays in the Lake District where she met Hardwicke Rawnsley, a local vicar, who went onto become the founding secretary of the National Trust.  Rawnsley inspired Beatrix to her great interest in the countryside.  

Beatrix was interested in natural science and became increasingly interested in mycology – the study of fungi as she grew older.  As well as drawing them, she became interested in how they reproduced.  Although she proposed a theory of germination and submitted a paper to the Linnaean Society, she could not introduce it herself because she was female.  In fact, she withdrew the paper anyway because she believed some of her samples had been contaminated.  The paper has been rediscovered.  Her paintings of fungi are still used to help in identification.  

In September 1893, Beatrix told the story of four little rabbits to one of the sons of her former governess, Annie Carter Moore.  The rabbits were called Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.  After some editorial changes, and unable to find a publisher, she self-published in December 1901, but only for her family and friends.  Eventually, on 2 October 1902, the book – The Tale of Peter Rabbit – was published by a traditional publisher and became a huge success.  The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Gloucester followed the following year.  She subsequently published two or three books every year – and if you think she was slow, remember that she didn’t have a computer – totalling 23 books in total.  

Beatrix became unofficially engaged to her editor, Norman Warne, in 1905.  Unofficially because her parents did not approve.  Sadly, Warne died only a month later.  Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.  The tenant farmer agreed to continue to farm the land for her while she learned the trade.  

She met, and was proposed to by a local solicitor, William Heelis, whom she subsequently married on 15 October 1913 at St Mary Abbots in Kensington (that’s the one on Kensington Church Street).  

Beatrix continued to write and farm, expanding her love of sheep farming – she raised Herdwick sheep, a long-haired breed native to the region.  She became one of the major Herdwick sheep farmers in the area and won many prizes at local shows.  She was also a great supporter of the National Trust and in 1930, she and her husband went into partnership with the Trust until such time as the Trust bought a number of properties from her.  

She continued to write, mostly just for pleasure.  She died in 1943 and left most of her property to the National Trust.  When her husband died less than two years later, he left the remainder of their property to the Trust.

© Susan Shirley 2020