Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Amelia Long (12/08/1885 - 10/07/1960)

Everything I know about my grandmother.

Having just discovered that my paternal grandmother was a cockney from a line of cockney forebears [Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner] I thought I would share what else I have learned about her.

Millie, as she was known, was the only grandparent I ever met. Both of my mother's parents and my dad's father died before my parents even married! Dad's father died when he was only eight so he was brought up as an only child in a one-parent household meaning that Millie was even more significant in his upbringing.

Millie was a widow and lived with my parents in a self-contained flat in the first house that they bought: Spencer House, half of Spencer Perceval House, Blackheath (Grade II* listed no less!). 

This was only months after my parents married and the purchase was made possible by the proceeds from my maternal grandmother's estate - she had died only months before Mum and Dad's marriage. 

The building was divided into three flats: Millie lived in the basement flat, two sisters (sitting tenants) rented the middle floors and Mum and Dad lived on the top floor - not ideal for my Mum having to cart three infants up and down three flights of stairs.

This is Millie with me and siblings in December 1955 in that house in Blackheath. Mark (me, left), Ian (front), Jane (babe in arms).

When we moved to Kenilworth in 1956 she lived in a granny flat on the top floor of Mum and Dad's three storey house in Southbank Road. She kept herself very much to herself, although that may have been at my dad’s behest, he was keen that boundaries were respected and she had to knock before entering their rooms. We used to have regular Sunday afternoon tea and cake sessions with her upstairs in her room and watch Sooty and Sweep on her telly.  

Millie died in 1960 when I was only seven and a half so I never really got to know her. She was the first dead body I ever saw. My father decided that I was mature enough to go into her room and look at her before the undertakers came to collect her. It felt like a privilege that I was deemed mature enough to be allowed to see her. It’s better to have your first sight of a corpse in benign circumstances. I have seen a number of bodies since courtesy of working as a hospital porter one summer at Farnham General Hospital.

Doing genealogical research on ancestry.co.uk only gives you the bare bones of a person's life: dates of birth, marriage and death plus every 10 years a snapshot courtesy of the censuses. It doesn’t really flesh out the details of a persons life.

Towards the end of his life, my father Michael, did a little write-up of his mother’s life for our benefit, as follows (typed up verbatim then edited for clarity):

My Mother: Amelia "Millie"McLellan (nee Long) 

[Millie's] Father: James Long - carman, liked music, Dickens, killed stopping runaway horse

[Millie's] Mother: Alice Long (nee McKearns) - hospital nurse, very sharp and intelligent, passionately interested in politics (firm liberal), [Alice] had been a top matron at Barts  


    • 1885 born Leytonstone 
    • 1921 married [James Kennedy McLellan], age 36 
    • 1933 husband died (she was 48) 
    • 1960 died (cancer) age 74  


[Millie's] mother was told by [Millie's] school teacher, [that even] after a long severe illness, [Millie] could win scholarship but poverty meant early employment and she went into upper-class service of a young American woman in this period [who] tried to persuade [Millie] to come to America and work for her. My mother [Millie] was tempted. She had an instinctive sense of design expressed her clothes and furnishing ([the American] had seen the best in [Millie's] work). This potential could have been heightened if [Millie] had been born at a time when academic education was available.  

Life as a widow 

She had a small pension from my father [James Kennedy McLellan] (£2 10s per week, barely adequate). Ran an upmarket second-hand dress shop behind Selfridge’s with a friend in the mid-30s that closed because of economic slump. 

After living in Muswell Hill she moved to a flat in Kensington and on our marriage she lived with us (separately) in Blackheath and [later Kenilworth] where she died.  

Summary: she was devastated by my father’s death and for some reason found it difficult to make and keep friends (Why?).  

I think, deep down, that she always felt that she had potential that had somehow missed out. She had four sisters and a brother but her relationship with them was always fractured. In the early days they called her ”Lady Mill” (she told me) which says something about how they saw her. 

Objectively I admired her as a mother (She used to read Dickens to me after my father's death) but our life together had some difficulties, perhaps arising from being an only son with consequent pressure. But, she suggested I learn Spanish at school because I might join my father’s firm, dealing with the South American meat trade, but when I turned to architecture she was totally supportive and, with me, interviewed the principal at the Poly. This shows her at her very best.

Her birth certificate showing her Cockney origin being born in Leyton:

Dad told me that when he was evacuated to Buckden, Cambridgshire, because of the war (WWII) Millie found work in a private boys' school to be near her son much to his chagrin.

The bit about the fractured relationship with her siblings would explain why we never saw anything of Dad's aunts and uncle apart from my great-aunt Kit (Kathleen Grant née Long). 

It was one of Kit's daughters, Dad’s cousin Joan Budd (née Grant), so the family story goes, worked in Hatton Garden and one of the perks of the job was having the pick of the seconds when sorting pearls. Millie had a string of pearls she received as a present from Joan, later passed down to my Mum and, on the occasion of our marriage, to my wife Mary. 

We spend two family holidays in Southend with Millie's relations when I was a small boy aged about 7 or 8, probably in 1958/9, but after the second year something went down, we don't know what. That Christmas our presents were returned unopened and we never saw them again. My Mum had no idea what caused the estrangement, nor does Kit's granddaughter who I managed to track down and establish contact with.

One quirk I did find out from my research is that at some point in her life Millie decided to go by the name Mildred. She also shaved four years off her age when she got married to her husband, James McLellan, my grandfather! 

She claimed to be 32 on her marriage certificate when she was in reality aged 36. The name and age on the marriage certificate and my father’s birth certificate are in accord but differ from those on her birth and death certificates. It wouldn't be the first time a spinster has lied about her age in order not to deter a suitor.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Elles Bailey at The Caves

Edinburgh, Scotland. Thursday 16-March-2023. 

This was our fourth time of seeing Elles and her best concert yet by quite a margin. The previous time was Elles Bailey at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut where the sight lines were poor and the sound guy needed a stern talking to. This venue is s-o-o much better: it is a fascinating vaulted space beneath the city streets of Edinburgh and the sound engineers did a great job - the sound was excellent. As well as great sound both artists talked about how lovely it was backstage.

We treated ourselves to VIP tickets which gave us a small audience, pre-concert set with Elles and the chance to ask questions. It was fascinating to hear about the inspirations for her songs and experiences when touring.

In between chat she sang four songs and was joined for the last one by the singer from the support act, Morganway.

After the private show there was an opportunity for a selfie with Elles. She comes across a lovely lady, genuinely nice and down to earth.

After a short break to refill our glasses Elles reappeared to introduce Morganway. Normally a six piece band, we got the reduced version comprising a husband and wife guitarist and vocalist. They did 45 minutes of Americana, apparently all their own compositions. I was particularly impressed by the guitarist's playing, he elicited a very mellow, melodious sound from his instrument. SJ, as the singer is known, has a really beautiful voice.

Elles Bailey and her band's set was something akin to a greatest hits, but mainly the tour is to promote her latest album Shining in the Half Light (review by Rock and Blues Muse). It is great when I recognise most of the songs as she is a regular on our play list at home. She is very good at the chat, giving the background to the songs and thus adding an extra layer of appreciation.

Her range is impressive from a gentle lullaby for her infant (Spinning Stopped) to a scathing polemic against politicians (Cheats and Liars). She did an interesting cover of a John Martin song (Over The Hill). Given John Martin's unique vocal delivery it was a bold move to cover one of his songs and her version really rocked. What comes through very strongly is her joy at singing to a live audience, her exuberance is infectious and she has a dedicated following, us included.

We bought two CD's: Shining in the Half Light (Delux Edition) and Morgansway's debut album. We do like to support keeping music live by buying direct from the artist. The money goes straight into their pocket, no middle men and better than the rubbish rates that streaming pays.

Because we were going to Edinburgh for this concert we decided to fly straight from there to Puglia (via Milan) so that is what we did the next day!

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner ...

... that I love London Town. [Hubert Gregg, 1944]

Cor blimey! Strike a light, Guv! You’re a real toff and make no mistake!

I identify as Londoner. I was born sarf of the river in Greenwich Memorial Hospital and lived half my life in “Lunnun”. My father was also born south of the river in Battersea. Visiting my sister to clear out some old paperwork belonging to our late parents, we came across a piece of paper which noted that my paternal grandmother was a Cockney! I went and checked. Sure enough, she was born in Leyton, East London and the map shows that this is just within the sound of Bow Bells [Source: Quora]

Her father and his father before him (my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather) were both born in the parish of St George in the East. Wapping is definitely cockney territory. Unfortunately even with a change in the wind direction I find it hard to convince myself that it would have reached Greenwich and anyway I don't think south of the river counts so alas I am not true Cockney. However as far back as my genealogy research goes I am descended on my grandmother’s side from a long line of Cockneys. 

This prompted me to order my great-grandfather's death certificate to see if there was any truth in the family legend that he was killed trying to stop a runaway horse. That is possible given his occupation as Brewers Carman (carman = driver of horse-drawn vehicles for transporting goods). The death certificate gives the cause of death as "Exhaustion due to delirium tremens consequent upon injury received in accidental fall off dray he was driving on 27 Sept".

I am assuming that it is not DT in the alcohol withdrawal sense but shakes caused by some kind of brain injury. He died six days later on 02 October 1901. It is entirely plausible that the fall from the dray was caused by his horse bolting so I'm going with the heroic family legend. 

Well, would you Adam and Eve it! I am inordinately pleased about my Cockney roots.

See also:

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Wine Tasting - France vs Rest of the World

Bassenthwaite Lake Station, Cumbria. Thursday 02-March-2023.

An interesting wine tasting in the uniquely quirky venue of Bassenthwaite Lake Station. The venue includes replica railway carriages from the Orient Express. Not the real train but ones made especially for the movie set from the 2017 film. To quote from the history in the back of the menu: "At the age of 50, Simon and Diana sold their house to buy a replica train carriage ..."

Even if we have done the theme of “France versus Rest of the World” before (e.g. New World versus Old), it is always different because the wines are different. You get to learn something new every time and discover new wines.

The event was hosted by the owners Simon and Diana, and it is the first time I've been to tasting with a resident dog - a very laid-back black lab, Poppy.

We tasted 12 wines in pairs. Our hosts deliberately chose wines that were readily available and all around the same price. It was a semi-specified tasting in that we knew what the grapes were but we did not know which wine was French nor which country the other wine came from. The tasting price included nibbles of crackers, cheeses, bread and pate.

At the end of the evening we thought there were two standout wines: a Canadian Riesling and a Swiss Pinot Noir - partly because of the quality but also because of the unexpected origins.

We had prudently booked ourselves into the nearby Pheasant Inn for the night as neither of us wanted to stay sober and drive. Locals from Keswick or Cockermouth could taxi home but for us the public transport option stopped at Keswick and a taxi to Penrith would have been almost as much as the hotel’s winter break deal. So we had the luxury of dinner at the inn and a short walk to and from the tasting plus a full English in the morning.

The next day we drove up to Glasgow including a detour to an Aldi to buy six of each of the star wines!

Full list (notes are from the producers / vendors).

Name of wine; Shop or Supplier; Retail price; Grape; Country

Tasting notes.

0l Cremant de Bordeaux; Aldi; £8.99; unknown; France 

Dry rose with rich salmon pink hues and red fruit aromas on the nose and refreshing strawberry and vanilla on the finish.

02 Charles Fox reserve rose; Lake District Wines; £22.00; unknown; South Africa

Pale salmon in colour with beautiful persistent bubbles. Fruity aromas of red berries and spices on the nose with flavours of redcurrant fruitiness and a fresh creamy intensity and long length.

03 Kuhlmann-Platz, cuvee prestige 2021; Majestic; £9.99; Riesling; France 

Just off-dry, this classic Riesling displays ripe pear and peach fruit with a steely acidity. Clean and pure on the palate and with a citrussy freshness, it is ideal as an aperitif or great with lightly-spiced dishes, seafood or creamy fish dishes. 

04 The Falls, Pelham Estate; Aldi; £7.49; Riesling; Canada 

Off-dry but not cloying with lemon acidity to cut through the ripe nectarine flavours. Typical of the variety, it pairs well with light spiced fish or vegetables and creamy seafood dishes. The wine achieves a delicate balance that is elegant and fresh.

05 Villa Maria private bin, 2022; EH Booth; £11.00; Sauvignon Blanc; New Zealand

An iconic New Zealand wine displaying the essence of Marlborough with vibrant flavours of passionfruit and fresh kaffir lime. Intense zesty flavours and fresh acidity make it an ideal pairing for shellfish.

06 Vaux St Georges Touraine; Majestic; £9.99; Sauvignon Blanc; France 

Sandy, flinty soils bring rich minerality to this vibrant wine. Notes of citrus, elderflower blossom and a touch of cedar, its 2021 crisp acidity makes it an ideal pairing for fish or shellfish.

07 Glace & Rocher, limited edition 2020; Aldi; £9.49; Pinot Noir; Switzerland 

A light to medium-bodied wine with ripe strawberry aromas and tart red fruit flavours. 

08 Louis Latour 2020; Majestic; £11.99; Pinot Noir; France 

Both delicious and affordable, look for cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant and a savoury edge with dried flower notes. This is silky and fresh perfect with charcuterie.

09 Argentinian Malbec 2021; EH Booth; £9.50; Malbec; Argentina 

With heady aromas of raspberries, blueberries and cherries, this vibrant malbec has a smooth palate and a delicate fresh fruity finish.

10 Beefsteak Club, pays d'oc 2020; EH Booth; £8.75; Malbec; France 

Deep in colour and full-bodied wine from Languedoc in the south of France. Concentrated red berry and plum notes with a juicy, layered palate and soft tannins with a hint of warming spice on. the finish. 

11 Chateau de Pitray 2017; Majestic £8.99; (special offer normally £13.99); Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec; France 

A great value Bordeaux from Castillon, right next to St Emi!ion. This blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Merlot creates a complex wine with ripe dark fruits, hints of earthiness, cedar and chocolate. Fine tannins make It a perfect accompaniment to meaty casseroles.

12 Ben Marco, special edition 2021; Majestic; £9.99 (special offer normally £14.99); Cabarnet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc; Argentina

Ripe, juicy, seriously concentrated. Packed with flavours of blackberry and oaky vanilla spice. Perfect with steak.  

Coda: We enjoyed it so much we immediately booked for the May tasting.

PS. If you want to see the real thing we went on the Orient Express - London to Venice for our 20th Wedding Anniversary.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

How Not To Drown at Theatre by the Lake

Keswick, Cumbria. Tuesday 30th-February-2023.

A thought-provoking performance. Powerfully written and performed by the asylum seeker himself in a small talented cast. 

After our last trip to this very enjoyable repertory theatre, we booked ourselves in for a repeat visit. This time to see "How Not To Drown". It was a joint production by ThickSkin and Traverse Theatre Company. Mary knew of the Traverse Theatre Company by reputation so this was a good bet.

As last time we had a pre-theatre supper in the friendly and very handy cafe next door.

It tells the tale of an 11-year-old boy from Kosovo, who is sent to England by his father to avoid the violence and conflict. It covers his journey across Europe with people smugglers and his early teenage years spent in the British care system with various foster families. What makes this more remarkable is that the playwright and lead actor is the man himself telling his own story.

The production was theatrical in the best sense of the word. With an absolutely minimal stage and a few well chosen props, they conjured up the war in Kosovo, the travel across Europe and his life in a variety of locations. The small cast of five rotated roles and at times the play almost merged into a dance performance. The flyer mentions "ThickSkin's trademark physicality and slick production values" and those were very much in evidence.

The sort of experience you can only get with live theatre.

Germana Stella La Sorsa at PizzaExpress Live

London. Sunday 26-February-2023. 

We were in London for a weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The original plan had been to return to Penrith on the Sunday, but engineering works meant it would’ve taken forever (5½ hours instead of the usual three). So we decided to travel back on Monday, have an extra night in a hotel and enjoy the bright city lights on Sunday.

Ronnie Scott’s was sold out, we had already been to the Spice of Life for live music on Saturday evening. Fortunately, PizzaExpress Live in Dean Street had availability for Germana, so we booked ourselves in.

We arrived in good time, and were given excellent seats, a table in the second row. Before the show, Germana was standing in front of us and chatting to her friends who had front row seats including a man who, it turned out, was her husband. An added advantage of this venue is having the full Pizza Express menu so we enjoyed a meal of pizza leggera for me and a healthy salad for Mary.

She sang in a style I really don't know how to describe. Some of the songs had lyrics, others were scat singing and other vocalisations. It reminded me very much of one of my records: Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, featuring Flora Purim on vocals. That was very much Germana's style. 

Between sets, she was standing right next to us, and we were able to exchange words, telling her how much we were enjoying the show. She had apologised a couple of times saying she had the generic Italian trait of talking too much. We were able to tell her how much we enjoyed hearing the back stories to the songs so she should keep on talking. 

An excellent last minute concert.

Learn more at https://www.germanalasorsa.com/; listen or buy at https://fanlink.to/gDN5.