Monthly Archives: May 2023

Nothing Going On at the Moment

I have just ground to a halt. It’s probably easier just to accept it, rest a while and then start again instead of stressing over it. Worrying never improved anything. (In case you are wondering, no, the writing is not going well).

I’ve been looking for  Victorian name brooch tonight. I am, of course, looking for one that says Julia. Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of Julias about during the heyday of the hollow silver name brooch (about 1880-1914). If I wanted one that said Martha, Dora or Ada I’d have had a choice of dozens. Gertrude, Lizzie and Ethel too. They are all perfectly good names, and I have had several aunts with those names, but they are names of former times. I did find two with Julia.

One of them is used in an article on name brooches, the other is for sale.

I checked with Julia before buying it, as I had reservations. You have to weigh up her grateful surprise at an unexpected gift against the downside of the mournful  subject matter on the decoration – particularly the prominent cross which looks rather like a grave marker. It was the first thing she mentioned, so although I blew the surprise I avoided the gaffe of buying a brooch she wouldn’t wear.

The Victorians were keen on death and mourning in a way you don’t see these days. I suppose we have anti-biotics and a fascination with youth. They had cholera and a struggle for survival. I suppose this leaves its mark on you.

Most of my “brooch” pictures feature military sweethearts. In fact all of them do. The one pictured here is from No 56 Squadron RAF.

Good Intentions. Ha!

There are three important things to bear in mind when writing.

One, you must start. Lots of people have a book, or an idea for a book, fermenting in them, but it won’t become anything until you sit down and start.

Two, you must finish. Lots of people have incomplete manuscripts which, for a variety of reasons, they feel unable to finish.

Three, you must use rejection as a tool to improve. It is badly named, to be honest. It isn’t rejection, it’s simply non-acceptance. It’is, I think, one of the reasons people don’t start and don’t complete their work. If you don’t finish it, you can’t be rejected.

This applies to all sorts of tsks and written work, not just books, but it’s simpler just to write “book”.

Why, you ask, am I telling you this. well, it’s not so much that I’m telling you, it’s more that I’m reminding myself. I’ve become quite haphazard lately and I need to get back to work.

I am the owner of an unfocussed brain and I need to keep myself in check. Recently it has been getting worse instead of better. Part of this is due to me starting to read books again instead of skimming the internet. That takes hours out of my day.  It also means I haven’t been reading other blogs. This is not good.

However, to focus, I have to stop looking at other things. I have to cut out reading random stuff from the internet and I really ought to stop watching birds in the garden. There are a lot of tits about. I think we may have a Great Tit nest somewhere in the neighbourhood as they were out yesterday gathering caterpillars. We’ve also had Long-Tailed tits out plus the usual pigeons, magpies and blackbirds. We even had a buzzard fly over earlier this morning, which is a first. They have been as close as half a mile away (over the school playing fields) but they have never flown over before.

I also have four poems to write. They are in my head, I just need to get them onto paper.

As I have today off (an unexpected bonus) I have decided to work at then computer instead of watching TV. Let’s see how it works out.

Photos are of the right birds, but not today, as you can see from the lack of leaves.

Great Tit at Wilford

Soup, Medallions, eBay

As usual, there have been all sorts of things happening, but five minutes later they are forgotten or I have decided that they aren’t interesting enough to write about.

At the moment, Julia is out at a meeting (she’s still on the committee of a local group and has been for about ten years. She must have been Chair for at least five.) I keep telling her it’s time for a change. They need fresh leadership now. She’s not doing badly, it’s just that I think she’s done enough and could do with a rest from it. She was on the phone this morning when I ws still dressing and continued for another hour. This our day off!

I have two pots of soup on the go – Tomato and Lentil and Lentil and Bacon. Yes, I always have plenty of lentils in. And tinned tomatoes. And somebody gave us some leftover ham earlier in the week. It’s all from a pig so it’s bacon enough for me.  We will have soup and sandwiches tonight, with a salad garnish to try to look healthy. Tomorrow I will have soup for lunch, and the same again on Friday. I’m having Saturday off so we may well have soup for lunch then too. It’s cheap, healthy and convenient, which are all good.

Citizenship Medallion – est Lothian Council (reverse) by Tower Mint

Over the last few months I have been making a collection of British Citizenship medallions – they have been giving them out since at least 2005. This afternoon I listed all the ones I know of. It’s the sort of thing that collectors do. I have a list of 15, including two different varieties for Birmingham. There is a vast array of prices, anything from £2 to £45. I buy them when I see them at up to £10, as that’s about what they are worth in my opinion. The amusing one is the Brent Council one from London. It’s a well produced medal and very rare. I know it’s very rare because on of the eBay sellers currently selling one tells me so. Two others are rare and the other five haven’t offered an opinion on rarity.

If there are eight on eBay they aren’t rare. When cataloguing things some people put a rarity rating in the catalogue. Eight on eBay means it’s common. Like a lot of other things, people see one described as rare and decide to use the description themselves. They are all about £35 – £45 and I have news for them on that score too. They hardly ever seem to sell. But eBay dealers are born optimists . . .

London Borough of Harrow, but I expect you spotted that already.

 . . . and the back.

Talking of which, I put a medal case on eBay yesterday. It is custom made to hold a particulat pair of medals – the 1902 and the 1911 Coronation medals. The dates are gold-blocked on the lid and the 1902 medal has a very recognisable shape.  We hummed and hah’d on price. Someone who wants one would probably pay a lot of money for it.  But someone who wants one is probably a very rare customer. We went for the lower end of the price scale and set a new selling record – 11 minutes!


Victoria Bun Penny


Tonight has been spent watching TV, doing research and, around 11 o’clock, sleeping in my chair. I woke just before 2am, made sandwiches for tomorrow and sat don to gaze at my blank screen whilst wondering what I have done with my life. This is, I believe, vaguely in line with my plan from last week.

A lot of today was spent photographing pennies. A lot of Saturday was spent doing this too. We have several drop-down menus of Victorian Pennies on eBay and two of them were nearly sold out. There’s something about this, particularly when you also have to remove the photos of the ones that sold and enter new prices, that requires precision. Unfortunately this is easier said then done as all pennies look much the same and it can be confusing. At one point to day I had to stop and double check my work, but fortunately it all went well. Saturday was slightly more difficult, but I was beset by a variety of customers and phone calls on Saturday, which never helps.

1884 Penny Britannia

1884 Penny – Britannia

They were the ones known as “bun pennies” today –  the young portrait of Queen Victoria where she is wearing her hair in a bun. It was current from 1860-94. Before that the pennies had been a little larger, and made from copper rather than bronze. After 1894, they carried a veiled head portrait, also known as the Old Head. She didn’t do badly – being depicted as a teenager on copper coins from 1837 to 1894. I think that makes her 75. They changed the silver coin effigy in 1887, but left the copper for a few more years. All in all, it’s quite complex as a series, due to various small differences in the dies used for making the coins, but I try to avoid most of the complexity by claiming to be the tea boy when asked questions of a searching nature.

As kids, we used to find bun pennies in our change, because they were still circulating until we went decimal in 1971. By that time they were worn virtually flat, which is the typical state of 99.99% of the pennies that now come through the door. They were good times for coin collecting in those days, as you could form a collection from pocket change, even if it was a poor quality collection. When decimal coins came in coin collecting declined as a hobby. It returned when the Mint started producing new designs every year, but after Covid it seems to have declined again.

Soup and a Senior Moment

In an effort to pick up the pace I’m falling back into old habits. The last post, which was meant to be Saturday’s second post became, after much revision, Sunday’s first post. This is Sunday’s second post and, in a nod to previous bad habits, is being started while I have ten minutes as I wait for a pan of soup to simmer. It’s tomato again, made with onions and tinned tomatoes, water and a stock cube. I could probably do without the stock cube but it’s a habit.

Last night whilst writing the first of three versions of the last post, I discovered that my hearing was actually better than i had thought. My Dad was deaf in one ear so I wasn’t surprised to find my hearing had been worsening on one side for the last few years. recently I noticed it was even worse – it’s OK for most normal purposes, as long a people face me and don’t mutter. A couple of weeks ago it became a lot worse.  After putting my ear buds in the wrong way this morning it became clear that my hearing is not deteriorating, it’s the ear buds. This is a bit like my Dad finding out he was deaf in one ear after buying a stereo and earphones that, according to him, only worked on one side.

It seems that the growing resemblance to my father isn’t confined to looks, attitude and dodgy ears. We also share the same sort of senior moment.

The ten minute alarm just went – will be back after making soup.

It was good soup, though it lacked a bit of seasoning. One tin of tomatoes and one and a half tins of water made it a bit thin and the modest amount of cumin and dried chilli failed to lift it. I will adjust the seasoning next time I make it. It’s a worry that it seemed slightly under-seasoned despite a stock cube. I may be losing my ability to taste. It’s probably part of getting old. It can’t be Covid because I don’t feel ill and everything else tastes normal.

Due to my bad habits, this has actually slipped to a different day, but it’s not too late. Whether it matches up with my list of tasks is a different matter.


To Buy, or Not to Buy?

I’ve been thinking about the Coronation recently. Having a Coronation, for the first time in my life, tends to bring this sort of thing to the front of your mind.  I’m familiar with them from dealing in commemorative medallions, but this is the first one I’ve actually seen.

I’m told the final cost is about £160 million, which is well up on the estimate of £50 – £100 million we were told beforehand.  Unfortunately, my sources being limited to Google, I can’t confirm this.

Is it worth it? Personally, I had a bonus Saturday off work, then a Bank Holiday on the Monday, so I was happy. I’m fairly sure that the souvenir trade and providers of food, drink and accommodation will all have had a boost too. However, some people have different views.

Sovereign of King Charles III (Obverse)

Sovereign of King Charles III (Reverse)

Sorry the pictures lack detail – they are low-relief and very shiny, which is difficult to photograph in the shop lighting.

After the Lord Mayor’s Show . . . as the saying goes. No matter how good something is, we have a constant stream of people wanting to criticise.

The first quibble was that we shouldn’t have a monarchy. That’s a question for a later post. The second was that we could spend the money on something better.

We could use it to alleviate poverty, for instance. If you take the number of people of working age on benefits and divide the money up between them. It works out at £16 each. It might be a welcome boost, but it’s not going to make a lasting difference.

Or you could divide it up between the 1.6 million people who earn the minimum wage. That’s £100. It’s a nice bonus in one lump, but spread over the year its £2 a week.

To be fair to the Government they have already paid out far more than that in helping reduce fuel bills. Where do you draw the line?

What about buying things that Governments actually spend money on?

Nottingham 1902 coronation medal

We could buy 6oo Javelin anti-tank missiles for £104 million and still have change to buy 5 Challenger tanks. These are always useful when a World War is brewing, and I’d take more comfort from 600 anti-tank missiles than I would from knowing that we’d given people a few extra quid. You can buy cheaper tanks and missiles, but if people are shooting at you it’s probably wise to heed John Ruskin on the matter.

Or you could buy a top of the range F35 jet fighter and still have money left over to hang a load of bombs and missiles off it.

Or you could buy a private island. The truth is that to me (and I assume, to my readers) £160 million sounds like a lot of money,  To some people it’s just a yacht and a holiday home.

Nottingham 1902 coronation medal

Of course, despite the opinions we often see, the Royal Family does pay back. Judging by the amount of Royalty memorabilia we handle, there is a strong market for it. We also have tourism. It’s difficult to quantify how much this actually makes for us. I know it made us several hundred pounds last week after a big sale of commemorative coins and medallions to a keen buyer and that  hotel prices always go up at the time of Royal Events.

As a final thought – the Prince’s Trust has worked hard over the years to help the disadvantaged, and I’m guessing that it has probably done far more to help people than the cost of the Coronation.

I’m ambivalent about the Royal Family, and I’m not but I’m happy that £160 million on a Coronation (if it did cost that) isn’t bad value. It isn’t just frittered on trumpets and velvet, a lot of it goes on security. We live in a dangerous world, as we’ve seen many times.

1911 coronation – Nottingham

1911 coronation – Nottingham

1952 Coronation medal from Mansfield Woodhouse

Day 3 – World Peace

Day 1 and Day 2 of my plan are done.

Day 3 “Probably write an informative piece about world peace. Though possibly not that informative, and possibly a different subject.” Has not yet come to fruition as I seem to have gone straight to Day 5 “Don’t blog. Watch TV.”

In some contexts it is good to make faster progress than anticipated, but in the case of this plan I feel this may not be the an accurate representation of success.

So it’s back to Day 3 and a discussion on World Peace. I’ve spent several days thinking about it and have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we will never achieve it. We may as well just start an arms race and lay waste to the Earth. As Einstein is reputed to have said “I don’t know what weapons the Third World War will be fought with, But the Fourth will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Sometimes you just can’t help a world which won’t listen.

This, of course, won’t be an easy policy to sell.

As a gentler choice, I would like to push the benefits of renewable energy. If there is no need for fossil fuels we might be able to preserve the world a little longer and make World Peace something worth having. We would also remove the question of oil from politics. We all have access to wind and sunlight, which should make things simpler.

It would, of course, be harder to impose sanctions on producers of oil (Russia, being a case in point). But it would be simpler in other ways, as Europe would not have become reliant on Russian gas. I blunder through life as a happy idiot, but even I could see that importing gas from Russia was bound to be  problem eventually. Importing energy is a bad policy, full stop.

And there you have my policy for World Peace – more renewable energy. Politicians will then have to find something else to quarrel about. I predict water will be the one, so let’s start desalinating now, before Water War 1 breaks out.

This is officially “Day 3” for planning purposes, for those of you who are keeping count.

The picture choice? When the whole world is left in ruins, we will still have soup.

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 - Obverse

Post 3,001 and the Plan Continues

I say “the plan continues” but it’s not quite as simple as that. The original post I had in mind was going to discuss how things had changed since October 2014, but that sort of post can easily turn depressing if you strike the wrong tone. Or be too boring and introspective. Well, the first two tries turned out that way. In the manner of such things, their existence has been erased and their pixels scattered to the four winds . . .

Instead, I will revert to one of my specialist subjects. This is the Tribute Medal given to the servicemen and women of Sacriston, a mining village in County Durham on their return from the war.

I bought it on eBay a few days ago as I don’t have a specimen and the research has already been quite interesting. According to the research I did last night there were 760 people who served in the war, including at least five women. Of these 104 died. The medals were given out in a series of dinners at the local Institute. I have traced two lists of recipients in the papers, and am trying to find others – there is mention of a plan to hold five or six dinners.

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 - Obverse

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 – Obverse

As usual, there is no reward for the people who kept the country running during the absence of the soldiers, including miners, nurses, munitions workers and the Women’s Land Army.

Over the years I have developed a formula for calculating the approximate size of issue of tribute medals. If I can find out how many people were killed from a village I can calculate the approximate total of people who served. It’s not very precise but I usually multiply by seven to get the low end of the issue.  In this case that would have been 728, so it was close. It’s just a way of working out comparative rarity – telling me if I’m ever likely to find one.

One thing to note is the excellence of the design and production. Corners were not cut with the production of this medallion and it is made from silver. It is made by Walker & Hall, who were makers of high quality silver goods, and it is marked as sterling silver.

They are also named, which doesn’t always happen. The nearby town of Ashington gave a smaller silver fob, and left it blank for the recipient to engrave their own name. So, after forty years of looking, I still haven’t found a named example.

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 - Reverse

Sacriston Tribute Medal 1919 – Reverse

Finally, note the dates – 1914-19. The war, we tend to think, ended on 11th November 1918. It didn’t.  We were still fighting in Russia until the end of 1919, having originally become involved after the revolution when we tried to prevent resources falling into the hands of the Germans. It wasn’t the best organised of interventions and nobody really took a grip of organising it. The fighting finished in the autumn of 1919 and all British personnel were withdrawn.  Czechs, French, Americans, Greeks, Japanese, Chinese,  British, Canadian, even Australians, all ended up fighting there, as did many others., so I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t even attempt to describe it. Over 900 British troops were killed when they should have been safe at home.

I have a pair of medals in my collection to a coal miner from Yorkshire. He was called up in the summer of 1918, when the war was almost over, and sent to Russia, where he served for a year and then came home. I can’t imagine he was happy. I know a lot of mothers weren’t, because the papers of 1919 are full of letters from mothers wanting to know why their sons are still in danger in Russia when the war is supposedly over.

Hallmarks Sacriston Tribute Medal

That’s it then, the first post of the next 1,000 and the second day of my new plan. Day three indicates that I must “Probably write an informative piece about world peace. Though possibly not that informative, and possibly a different subject.”

After struggling for a subject tonight, I’m not sure whether I may have set the next bar a little high.



Post 3,000, and I Love my Job

The header photo is nearly all that remains of a young life. There are a few letters and army forms, but they don’t photograph well. It had barely got going when he volunteered for the army and it wasn’t destined to last long. He went to France in August 1915 and, as far as I can tell, spent the next 26 months there. He wrote a letter to his mother in August 1917. It’s not very interesting, these things seldom are after the passage of 100 years. It’s a letter from a son not wanting to mention anything that would get him censored or upset his mother. It ends with him saying that he is hoping to get home soon because of his toes. It didn’t quite work out like that.

People have often asked me over the years if it concerns me that I’m selling the remains of people’s lives. They often add that it’s a shame they can’t be left with the family or given to a museum.

Medals and Plaque – Great War

In reverse order – don’t give anything to a museum. Unless you have something of national importance it will be dropped into a box or a drawer and never seen again. This isn’t idle speculation, I know of many cases where it has been done. Museums are generally good, and should be encouraged, but they don’t need more stuff.

Left with the family? I know of one case where the recipient wasn’t even cold before the family had his medals down to the local antique shop. And where do people think the medals all come from? The family sells them. Sometimes recipients sell medals – they don’t necessarily represent the same thing to the recipient that they do to a collector. We bought these off the family. However, when you think about it, you would have to be over 106 to have known this man. When families sell us medals they are often two or three generations away and sometimes don’t even know where in the family the medals have come from.

And three, no, I don’t have a problem with it. I have given L/Cpl Louis Thornley a good write-up on eBay and have done something the army couldn’t do for him – I’ve spelt his name correctly. The army had him as Lewis Thornbey on their medal index cards, and they named his medals incorrectly. This is an echo of what happened to my great-grandfather – not only did they name his medals incorrectly but when they sent his widow the (correctly) named memorial scroll they spelt her name wrong on the address label.

On top of that, I have taken his documents and medals out of a tin where they have clearly been for many years and I have brought his story into the open. They will go to a collector who will value them for the sacrifice that Louis Thornley made, and who will bring his story back to life.

It’s something I’m able to do regularly at work, after family members have forgotten all about them. It’s not their fault, it’s just that time passes and life moves on. It’s a privilege to be able to ensure that people aren’t forgotten.

Louis Thornley’s Plaque and Scroll

On 12th October 1917 Louis Thornley, who had been with his unit through six major actions, lined up in the driving rain and muddy terrain on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.

It’s a battle that has become synonymous with the mud and slaughter picture of the Great War, and when it was finished the Allies had lost over 300,000 men, 42,000 of them have no known grave. Louis Thornley, who is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, is one of them.

Two week’s later, Mr and Mrs Thornley received an Army Form B 104, telling them that their son had been killed in action on the 12th. According to the Derby Evening Telegraph in January 1940, when they were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary, they had four sons who served in the war, the other three surviving.

Poppies in wheat field

One Post to Go

This is it, my final post where I will allow mediocrity to rule. Tomorrow, my 3,000th post, will have to be a lot better. Yes, I know it’s only a number, but there are some numbers which make you want to try harder. This is one of them. When I get to 3,001 I won’t feel quite the same, but I’m going to try to maker more effort in future.

I’m even taking a leaf out of LA’s book and planning ahead, because she is a well known planner. Here is my plan for next week.

  1. 3,000th post. Write something good.
  2. 3,001. And again.
  3. Probably write an informative piece about world peace. Though possibly not that informative, and possibly a different subject.
  4. Stare at screen wondering where my life went wrong.
  5. Don’t blog. Watch TV.
  6. Blog about watching TV instead of blogging.
  7. Blog a list, pretending that I have a plan for 7 days and that I am going to keep to it. This is one of my tried and tested time wasting techniques.

It’s likely that I may fail with Number 1, but I reckon if I can make it to Number 4 I’m in with a chance of seeing the week out.

Based on events in Number 7 I’m going to add Number One of next week’s list.

1 Write a reflective report revealing the relaxing nature of writing alliteratively.

And with that, I will add a bit of fluff to the bottom of this post, hit my pitifully low self-declared word limit and go to bed.

High point of the day: hot buttered toast, made to perfection. It seems so simple but it’s hard to do. It could well be another year before I get it right again.

Low point of the day: just now. When writing this I realised that somewhere along the line I seem to have lost the urge to add un-necessary capital letters to things. I could go back and write “High Point of the Day” but it all seems so meaningless . . .

A man that is tired of Capital Letters is tired of Life, as they say.

The header picture is a cat drawn by one of Julia’s group in the gardens.

Photo by Min An on