While Alan was still teaching at the local high school, we were lucky enough to have a group of teenagers who were willing to babysit for us on a regular basis. They were The Little Gems! As far as I can remember, we didn't pay them, but each time they came I baked a cake, usually chocolate, and there was seldom any left when we got back, as was only proper. They made up stories to tell our two kids,who were good and bad for them in equal measure! Some made up the story and one was a talented artist and drew the pictures. the arty one went on to write books and illustrate them and all spread their wings and we lost contact with most of them. I think they had quite an influence on our two, as one went on to become a designer and the other studied cabinet making. Recently we have met up on facebook. How good is that, love technology! So if any of them should read this, just a great big thanks from me and him outdoors. And look what I saved for ever!
I sometimes had the joy of looking after my first grandchild Kate when she was a baby. So if it was warm enough I pushed her in her pram down to the little wood that we have planted at the bottom of the field. I would sling an old hammock between the spreading branches of the willow tree and with one hand on the pram and the other swaying myself in the hammock, dream and be amazed at my luck at being a grandmother!
Now I am five times lucky with five gorgeous grand daughters. They say that five is a quiverful, so I am "satt"....german for full!
You know how there are always stories floating around in your family about past generations and their "goingsons"! You know what I mean. The ancestor who was a member of royalty, the German professor at Cambridge, the brewer of poteen who went to jail, [ hang on there that one was true!]. Well one of my favorites as a child was about the relative who was the first Britisher to walk the Wall of China after the Chinese rulers opened up their country to foreigners. In the bookcase at home in Belfast was one entitled ," Old Highways in China". I didn't think then to read it. It was next to the 12 volumes of Arthur Mee's Childrens' Encyclopedia, and dwarfed by the volumes of The Great War. I had a look at The Seven Pillars of Wisdom which was there as well, and found very little of use in it for my teenage years! So on my last visit back to Ireland I borrowed the book from my sister and read it. I was astounded at the amazing travel story that I read there. The book was written by Isabelle, the wife of Dr. Williamson a relative on my mother's side, and is an account of her travels through a part of China in the mid 19th C.
The photo on the right is the inside leaf with I presume her own neat hand writing. I also presume that she would have been dressed similarly to this woman in the picture found at the back of the book advertising more exciting stories!
How difficult then would it have been to traipse around the tracks and lanes of that area, following her husband in his work. Most of her travelling appears to have been either on a cart or riding a pony.
The vehicle without wheels would have been agony for both the woman and the man and I don't think the cart much better.As we would say in the family, "mind your derriere"! Is the top one the precursor to the sand buggies that we see on the long beaches of our west coast? It would be fun to think so, but this was no fun for Isabelle. Yet in the telling of her story she didn't grumble.
The area she was travelling in was Shan Tung. Now how often had I heard mum and Aunt Helen talk about "a nice shantung frock", without having the slightest idea that it was silk coming all the way across the world, and a world that was much less available than our one today.
Isn't this fantastic! A wedding couple dressed in their absolute best, just like any couple today, except that these garments had most probably been passed down the generations along with the beautiful jewellry. I suppose that the nearest I got to this was my daughter wearing my wedding veil and my mum's pearls on her day.
Isabelle took notice of every thing that she saw and every situation she encountered. She spoke to the people in their language often surprising those who bad-mouthed her by answering their accusations, and stayed in the same hostels as the rest of the party.She observed the way that the buildings were constructed and watched what the people planted, listing the various fruit and vegetables which were the locals every day fare.
Music,especially the unusual instruments that the Chinese played was all carefully written about. One page reminded me of Gilbert and Sullivan's work, The Mikado, as it was for girls and they had to sing in a high pitched voice. It could have been a bit like those kids on Idol who screech to get their top notes! As the passage says "screaming trebles".
These landscape prints are etchings I think, showing streets,buildings markets. I wonder if she collected these as she travelled. If so then she was thinking ahead in order to let folk in the west see the life of those she met.
School taught me that the Chinese invented gunpowder and here is a cannon for firing it. Da Vinci eat your heart out.
Here is an officer to fire the cannon.
And this merchant sells his silk and other goods on the silk route out of China.
While the official keeps a beady eye on them all!
So there we have it . The real story of my ancestor Isabelle Williamson. She actually existed. Aunt Helen was a Williamson as was mum and therefore I'm not at all surprised that they were as fiesty as they were, although actually there was none of Isabelle in their blood as she died without giving birth. However there is not a single reference to her Dr.Williamson having walked the Wall so that may be just a great big family tale. And just like a pig's is really curly!