Family group

Over the last month, while the dismal weather limited activities in the garden and the dog preferred to lie curled up with his nose under his tail rather than venture out for a walk, I distracted myself with family history research. I started building the family tree of my daughters more than twenty years ago, and over that time many names have been added to it: some famous, most not. 

Banners at Macclesfield democracy rally

It's coming up to the 2nd anniversary of my retirement and already I can't imagine going back to work, or at least working for someone else. All those cliches are right. Retired people are so busy they can't understand how they ever had enough time to work.

wooden roof beams in loft

Now Boris Johnson is off to find a ditch we may still have time to finish upgrading the insulation and replacing the storage floor in our loft before he delivers Brexit, although personally I hope he never does.

Giant wasps nest

Late last year I needed to climb in to the attic to retrieve a couple of old suitcases. The attic is poorly lit and dividing walls and narrow walkways make it difficult to move around. To reach the suitcases I had to wobble past the water tanks, climb over a one metre high dividing wall and jump down into the boarded area where the "junk of ages" is stored. As I approached with only the dim light from my headlamp and its drained batteries I could hear a distinct buzzing. 

As I reached for the suitcases I noticed hundreds of dead flies and assumed that the buzzing I could hear was from their still living relatives. Where on earth had they come from? As I grabbed the suite cases I came under attack and realised that some of the flies were in fact wasps. As I beat a hasty retreat, beating my own personal record for climbing the wall and clambering down the loft ladders I was stung on my thumb. Hatch closed I decided I wouldn't be returning in a hurry.

One of the suitcases was full of dead flies and a few stunned wasps. I rushed through the house and dumped the case out side. At this point I still hadn't seen the nest.

Later in the year I put into action my plan to renew/replace the loft insulation. The current insulation no longer met the recommended standards and I was keen to reduce my energy bills. Given the awkward nature of our attic and the arguments I had with the Webmaster about the best solution we decided to call in an expert. He arrived and duly surveyed the attic only to descend and announce that first we needed to get an infestation of woodworm treated. He could see it had been treated before but it needed doing again, before we did anything with the insulation.

We got in companies to quote for treating the woodworm - you don't want to know the cost - but there was no alternative, it needed doing. We engaged a company, booked a date for the treatment and were told we needed to completely clear everything including the insulation. By now I had forgotten about the flies and wasps and none of the surveyors had mentioned them.

In February we donned face masks, head torches and gloves and set about clearing the attic. It was as we argued about the best way to proceed and what to do with all the junk (or as the Webmaster calls them his old precious things)  that the narrow beam from my lamp lit on the nest.  I nearly screamed. I couldn't make it out and I'd been watching a recorded episode of Dr. Who the night before. Aliens were living in the loft.

Heather on Marshes Hill

The local common where we walk our dog is known as 'Marshes Hill'. My grandmother used to claim it belonged to our family once upon a time, before it was lost to another family through death and a second marriage. For years I could find no evidence of any such connection despite easily tracing my Marsh family ancestors to the local area. Earlier this year I finally found probate documents showing that in the early nineteenth century one of my Marsh great-grandfathers occupied property - Burnfields Farm - on what is now known as Marshes Hill and also a newspaper report indicating he received an allotment of land under the Enclosures Act 1814.

Maybe there is something in my grandmother's claims after all. When I have time I will make an appointment at the Staffordshire Archives Library and look up the maps relating to the enclosures, but I'm not sure I'll ever know if his name and the name of the hill are connected or a mere coincidence.

My walk over the hill takes me past the farm where 5x great grandfather William Marsh lived until his death in 1829. Through his will he left all his property, including land, in equal shares to his children, most of whom were minors, so the farm may have been held in trust or sold. By the time of the first census in 1841 there is a family of a different name living there and I have not (yet?) been able to establish if there is a connection.

Yate's map of 1775 shows there are houses on the site of both the Sticks and gg-father Marsh's farm. Maybe some of both original buildings survive today although after extension and modernisation it is difficult to tell. When I look out over over the fields, woodlands and moorlands from the top of the hill, across the roof of the farm where he lived, I wonder how much has changed since he might have stood in the same spot taking in the view 200 years ago.

The 1775 map identifies Marshes Hill as Brown Edge and what is now the village of Brown Edge is noticable by its absence, but apart from the obvious development of the village at the southern end of the hill, little else seems to have changed. The same farms are still there, few new farms have appeared.

Blue sky and clouds over the Sticks

It's raining again. Looking at the weather forecast it will be overcast and wet until the end of the week, so instead of out working in my garden I'm sitting in front of my computer typing this.

It's my second year of gardening since I retired and I've been a lot more ambitious this year than last; my expectations are higher and my disappointments more acute. Last year my attitude was, well I tried, I'll find out what I did wrong and avoid repeating the problem next year. This year I'm trying to pretend I know what I'm doing. 

Irregular watering in the greenhouse: no problem switch to capillary matting. It seems to be working well apart from the slight problem of a scary looking orange fungal growth appearing on one of the mats. 

Panic. What is it? Can't be sure but let's get rid of it. 

So we move the plants. Phew! It doesn't seem to have infected them and it's only on the exposed parts of the mat not on or under the pots. Must be a good sign, yes? No?  Maybe the plants will be OK fingers crossed. But still, we'd better remove the infected mat. Be thorough: clean everything it's touched with Jeyes fluid - diluted and applied as advised on the can; rinse and dry then lay out new matting, soak mat and replace the plants. There good as new.

But can we save the old mat? We put it to soak  in solution of the Jeyes fluid. We'll leave it overnight and check again tomorrow - recycle or re-use whenever possible!

Later that night I read that Jeyes fluid, which I originally purchased to clean my pots and wash down my greenhouse, is very bad for the environment. Particularly insects and fish if it gets into the water course - but also cats, I read it can be fatal for cats, even absorbed through the skin. Is this true? I have four cats.

Panic again - what happens if one of the cats accidentally falls into the trough where I'm soaking my mat overnight. I feel bad enough using plastic now I know about the micro-particles and the fish. Cutting down on meat consumption and wearing clothes I owned as a teenager to avoid buying new ones even though I'm now a retired pensioner don't seem enough to save the planet. Now I might be poisoning my own land and putting my cats at risk with Jeyes fluid. Arrrgh! Can't do right for doing wrong.

Now I'm stuck indoors. The infected mat is still soaking away in the deadly liquid, but now with a lid over the trough so at least the cats will be safe. 

I'm hoping the gloomy mood will lift and everything will seem better when the sun comes out again. In the meantime it's good weather for the grass ... and weeds  ... and possibly orange mold.