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Reinvent yourself! Travel back in time with Jane to become a Tudor
I love history and visiting historic sites. It is therefore with special pleasure that I bring you an interview with Jane, who does Tudor re-enactment at Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, near Sudbury in Suffolk.

How long have you been doing Tudor re-enactment for and can you explain what period that covers? Who is on the throne of England when you are living as a Tudor?

I’ve been doing it since 2008. It’s always Tudor but the year changes and in practice is early 1500s to 1600. The year is chosen by the owner of Kentwell Hall, and he tends to go for years when something notable happened. Since I started, we’ve had a couple of years in the 1530s, a couple in the 1550s, one in the 1570s, 1588 (the Armada) twice, and (this year) 1600. It’s amazing how much the fashion changes and so if you are anything but the poorest working class you need to either alter your costume or make another one. I have 3 – early Tudor, mid-Tudor, and late Tudor. I have been a Tudor in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth. I’ve been rather amused how the neckline for women moves – upwards in protestant years and more buxom-y for Catholic years!

Is it a family thing for you? Can you share with us what all is involved in this hobby? How many days a year do live as a Tudor? 

My grandparents lived in the historic ‘Colonial Virginia’ area – Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown. When we stayed with them I always enjoyed the re-enactors in those places. We went there and other living history places as a family in 1998 and Harriet, our eldest, was smitten. A friend suggested we look into going to Kentwell Hall, which is the largest and oldest example of ‘living history’ in Britain. Kentwell Hall is a moated Elizabethan manor house in Long Melford, Suffolk. At various times of the year they have up to about 250 people aged a month to 80+ years old acting out a Tudor estate.  

We applied online then went through a process of filling in forms and visiting Kentwell before they assigned us each a role. The arrangement is that you agree to be a first-person Tudor in your role to the best of your ability and you provide your own costume. The costume must be made to VERY exacting standards – I jokingly tell people it is the traumatic experience that bonds us all together! In return they give us free rein to play our role as we see fit, and they feed us and provide a field to camp in.  

We generally stay for a week, if possible. The first year Harriet went with the friend who had recommended it. The next year her sister joined her. Then my husband and son joined them, and finally I started. Harriet tends to rotate between the roles of working in the bakhus baking all the bread for 200+ Tudors in the traditional manner (kneaded entirely by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven), working in the dairy making soft cheese and butter, and being an ostler (handling the horses). My husband is the head brewer in the brewus and makes ales in the traditional Tudor fashion. I am a scrivener and work in the main house. My ‘back story’ is that my husband is a merchant in the village: the secretarial and accounting work for merchants was always done by the wife. My son began as a page in the big house and has also worked in the bakhus.

The roles are hugely varied, and are determined largely by the skills and inclinations of the participants. This year we had glassblowing for the first time. We also have a forge, a foundary, basketmakers, potters, woodcraft (using a pole lathe), felters, dyers, spinners, weavers… In addition there are merchants of spices, alchemists, limners, archers, soldiers, musicians, a stillroom where they make various herbal remedies, embroiderers, mummers, gentry doing dancing and music,…..
How do you get your wonderful costumes? 

There is a growing cottage industry of people making the costumes. And the scholarship on their appearance, the colours, the fabrics, etc is also growing all the time. It’s not particularly cheap to have something made as the patterns are made from scratch and it is an extremely professional role because of the necessary attention to the costume details of the particular year. Any visible stitches must be done by hand. Therefore for the average person the only option is to make their own.  
This is one of the ways in which one chooses one’s role. If you go for something working class, the costume doesn’t change much over the century, and you can wear it year after year because the more battered it looks the more authentic. I play a middle class role so need 3 costumes for early, mid, and late Tudor. If you play gentry you need to be fashionable and it’s amazing how much things changed! So the people that do that either love making expensive costumes (think of the yards and yards of fabric) or are in a very well-paid job and can afford to get things made. But that would be many hundreds of pounds. I had an English gown made. It’s a simple front opening floor length black coat, and that cost about £250. On the other hand, once you have your clothes and accessories the holiday is free!

There is a merchant who sells pure wool and linen cloth cheaply at the open day at the beginning of the season, or you might be able to find something on ebay. The wool cloth must be pure wool as the Tudors used a lot of fire, and pure wool is fire-retardant – artificial fibres are not. There is a closed group on Facebook for participants and they put costume-making instructions up there. The popularity of living history is growing all over Europe and North America so it is becoming easier to find sources of period shoes and other items that you need. One place to find them is on Facebook – there are various closed groups where people buy and sell new and secondhand.

How do you choose your role?

The form we fill in invites us to indicate our interest and/or level of expertise in various 21stC and Tudor skills. Sometimes 21stC skills can be applied to the Tudor period. You also list 4 roles you are interested in: they provide a list but you can also suggest something new. The felt-making station role has only been around a few years but now there are quite a few people who can do it because we teach each other. I have learnt by experience that if you mention any role that no one else is doing then that is probably the one you’re given! 

So my first year my first choice was still-room but I had met a scrivener at the open day and put that down as my second choice. When the list came out that’s what I was. The only problem was I didn’t know what to do! So I read up a lot on the blessed Internet, figured out how to cut a quill, and photocopied onto ‘handmade’ paper the relevant sections of a facsimile of a 16thC book about handwriting. I made up the pages into a simple leather-bound book. Luckily for me, the script used was changing during the century from ‘secretary’ to ‘chancery’/’italic’. Secretary hand is very fiddly but the italic hand is similar to modern script so I made up a story about being hired to help with the household on an occasional piecework basis, but the mistress had told me I must use the new hand to be fashionable so she could show off to her guests. (Elizabeth wrote in italic, so called because it came from Italy.) My first few days on station I was writing out rows of a’s, b’s, etc.

So some people stick to one role, others try different roles and end up with many skills. If you are wanting to do something fairly difficult like basket-making they encourage you to do some sort of day / weekend / evening course somewhere first …. unless you’re a child. The reason is that occupations tended to be handed down so you would not come across an adult who could not make a decent basket.

Jane with daughter Harriet and husband Jonathan
Where do you stay while you are at the manor?  What’s that like? 

Very unglamorous! We camp in a cow field out of sight around a corner. Some people have ‘authenti-tents’ and they are allowed to camp in view of the house (and therefore tourists). Some people do a lot of re-enactment and have an authentic bed which dismantles, together with handmade furniture, so if a tourist sees inside their tent the 16thC illusion is maintained. Last time I went I stayed in a friend’s caravan. It’s all fairly basic. There is a toilet and washbasin block on the campsite. If you want a shower you have to walk about 5-10 mins to the stableyard near the house. For that reason, most of us just have one shower midweek and then wash with a flannel or use babywipes. Surprisingly though no one pongs. Clothing tends to smell overwhelmingly of woodsmoke instead.

Can you share a rewarding moment with us?
I’m usually positioned just after the kitchen so most visitors have only looked and not interacted by the time they reach me. An essential part of the experience is the interaction because we are ‘first person’. That means we know nothing about anything that happened after whatever date it’s supposed to be. Every year it is a different Tudor year, but the day and month is whatever it is in the current year. So when we do 1588 the Spanish Armada is still somewhere off the coast over the summer and so we do a good line in paranoia of a nation that’s about to be invaded. So the experience is hugely enriched by talking to us. We speak a sort of franglais Tudor. But we have no scripts so we need visitors to talk to us in order to play our roles to the full.

Being a scrivener, I force people to interact by suggesting that I teach them how to spell their name. (Most in the 16thC were illiterate.) Some, particularly men, can be very shy about that. Sometimes they get me to write the name of a special woman in their lives and when they see the beautiful quill pen written name of their loved one their faces light up and I see the depth of their love for that person. This August we had a hands-on week so visitors could have a go. I teased several rather churly men who were being rather embarrassed and stand-offish and persuaded them to let me write their names. When they saw their names written they were overjoyed and went around showing their family members …. And then decided they wanted to have a go themselves. Those were truly magical moments. And almost everyone was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Generally they found it easier than they expected.

How about something challenging?

Definitely it’s making the costumes. And then a new piece of scholarship comes along and something which was fine for 1588 ten years ago now has to be remade. Ten years ago I trimmed it with a sort of handwoven braid which we now know was worn elsewhere but not in Britain. Also, I was told I had to have tabs of fabric around the bottom and armholes of the bodice and now they’ve decided that the portrait they based that advice on was a one-off at the time and not a standard fashion.
As I get older the eyesight thing is going to be an issue. At the moment I wear disposable contact lenses but sooner or later people will begin to comment that my eyes are good for my age! Therefore, the next thing I’ll need to get is properly researched eyeglasses. Luckily, believe it or not, the amazing cottage industry I mentioned earlier has even plugged that hole with !
If our readers wanted to get involved in historical re-enactment, what do you suggest they do?
Look out for living history events and go and chat to people who are doing it. They are quite common at English Heritage, but sadly more unusual at the National Trust. You’d be surprised how many re-enactors there are. When we started we thought no one else for miles around did it and then later found out that the person who had written THE reference book for Tudor tailoring and dressmaking lived only about half an hour away! Google ‘living history’. Here are two examples of links.

Thank you for sharing your exciting hobby with us, Jane. I hope you get to keep your head on!

(Toria, September 2017)

‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself 
in the service of others’. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Are you a volunteer?
two men volunteering
Do you feel that the world is spinning out of control? That you don’t have the power to change things? Well, that’s how I sometimes feel. When this sense of impotence threatens to overwhelm me, I think about the small ways in which I impact on the world around me. Now that I’m on the other side of 50 I grudgingly accept that I won’t find the cure for cancer or bring about world peace. On a bad day, that depresses me. These feelings serve their purpose though, as they lead to soul searching, a vital ingredient in personal growth. And you are never too old to keep growing.  

I have had satisfying worthwhile jobs in my varied career, but it’s the work I’ve done as a volunteer that I now think of the most. We can’t know the impact we’ve had on our fellow humans – think about the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (Frank Capra, 1946), where it takes an angel to show a suicidal George Bailey (played by James Stewart) that his life was worthwhile after all. The smallest kindness can make an enormous difference, either directly or through a knock-on effect. So that’s why I want to talk about volunteering today. 

volunteer feeding people
There are as many reasons for volunteering as there are volunteers.

Many of us have some deeply held desire to heal the world and "do unto others" through offering a helping hand. But volunteering also brings benefits to the volunteer. It is well documented that even low thresholds of volunteering, say two or three hours a week, elevate mood in most people. This phenomenon was dubbed "the helper's high" by Alan Luks in the early 1990s, and has subsequently been assessed biologically in brain imaging studies. It has also been looked at in research on endorphins. So there you go, volunteering can release endorphins and unlike my frequent endorphin chocolate fix, has no calories!

Some benefits of volunteering:

• Helping others can make us feel good 
• We have a reason to get out and meet up with others. This reduces a sense of loneliness or isolation
• We can use our gifts to make the world a better place
• We can pass on our experience and knowledge
• We can gain work experience
• We can increase our confidence levels
• We can gain a sense of satisfaction and achievement
• Volunteering can help with career development
• Feed your soul by interacting with animals or the natural world
• Some volunteer projects involve foreign travel and meeting people in different continents.  
• We can learn new skills and discover talents we didn’t know we had, such as leadership skills…
man picking up rubbish on beach
Unfortunately, not all volunteer experiences are good. Some organisations don’t manage their volunteers very well and sometimes other volunteers can be terribly annoying. Don’t give up volunteering altogether if this has happened to you, try a new situation. There are organisations you can find online which will help you to find a suitable volunteer placement in your area. 

Some people must give up cherished volunteer work because of failing health or mobility problems. There are worthy organisations that could still use your help, for example, writing letters to prisoners of conscience in totalitarian countries. When the humanitarian envoy Terry Waite was chained up in a basement prison in Lebanon for 1763 days, he once got a postcard from a British woman, out of the blue. He speaks very movingly about the impact that postcard from a stranger had on him, how it helped him to survive, when no other mail was getting through. 

I find it interesting that when we try to sell the idea of volunteering to a new generation we emphasise how much we ourselves would get out of it. It’s not good enough any more to say, ‘here, you can help others’ or ‘come and contribute to your society or natural world’. Another sign of the times? I reckon we oldies have a lot to give and that our moral standards and values are sorely needed in this brave new world. 
word graphic volunteering

So much fun to be had with crime! 

I’m still hung over from all the fun and stimulation I had at this year’s Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. Two and a half days of thrillers, mystery and gritty crime! It helps of course if you enjoy reading crime books, but just hanging out at the Old Swan was entertaining. I met some smashing people while ‘hanging out’ – forensic workshop, bar, lobby, beer tent, … for example, I met two interesting crime authors who agreed to give me an interview, so watch this space.

I met two charming ladies, Hilary and Carol, who like me, were there to hear the talks. They enjoy reading Lee Child, Kathy Reichs, Ian Rankin and Peter May, and as these authors were all there, an especially good time was had. Although how they find time to read at all, is a miracle. 

Jill and Sue from Think Forensic examining a crime victim, while others are keeping lubricated between talks. 
Blood Splatter man and two very much alive young men enjoying the sun at the crime festival. 
When Hilary and Carol are not reading, they are playing croquet with Long Eaton Croquet Club (new members always welcome, the age range currently is from late 40s to mid 80s), taking Italian classes, travelling, being part of a fine dining group and a cookbook club (where people get together to dine, having each cooked a course from the same cookbook). But that’s not it. Carol does watercolour painting, plays indoor bowls and sings in a choir (Singing for Fun – they have made their first CD and performed at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham with 700 others, as the Drive Time Choir, with the Manchester Halle Orchestra). 

Not to be outdone, Hilary is the interest groups coordinator for her U3A branch, runs a current affairs club, does photography and organises tours of churches and cathedrals to study their architecture. And no, I’m not making this up. ‘We’ll do it while we can,’ Hilary said, adding that not every activity was weekly. Phew! 
two women
I guess life does start after retirement. So, what advice do they have for us less energetic mortals? ‘Do what you can as long as you can afford it, have the health necessary and can remember’. And I gather that Hilary’s children are happy for her to spend her money this way, at least they don’t have to worry that she might be bored and come and annoy them! Carol chipped in, ‘Don’t put off til tomorrow what you can do today – because if you like it enough today, you can do it again tomorrow.’ Sounds like good advice, perhaps a new motto for Old & Bold.
What was especially lovely, was that the couple didn’t come across as having a sense of entitlement, but feel truly grateful for everything they can do each day. These ladies are certainly ageing with attitude! 

Toria, July 2017

people sitting around picnic table
panellists programme

Calling all thespians - it´s curtains (up) for you!

Sylvia interviewing Ron Wiener – Producer extraordinaire!

Hi Ron, Old and Bold found you because of your work with “Curtains Up Players” a drama group for the over 50’s based in Huddersfield, with links to Kirklees Council, the University and Kirklees Dementia Action Alliance.

Thank you for joining us on Old and Bold today Ron! Hope you don´t mind us peppering some questions at you… Biggie first….

How does a Ph.D from the London School of Economics with roots in Sydney end up producing plays with over 50s in Huddersfield?

My Ph.D was in Social Psychology which led to research in conflict resolution which led to being a community planner in Northern Ireland. I then became an academic for a bit before running a psychiatric day centre. This led to training as a sociodramatist and a practice as a training consultant.  When I reached retirement age I wanted to do something that would make use of my various experiences and that I could continue to do as I aged.  This is how I came to set up two community theatre groups for the over 50’s – one in Leeds and one in Huddersfield.

You use the term ´sociodrama´ what is that? I assume it’s not Eastenders for social workers? 

Sociodrama is where a variety of drama techniques are used to help groups, such as work teams, to better understand their situation and, where appropriate, to change it. It derives from the work of Moreno who is better known for the development of psychodrama where an individual works therapeutically with group members to help solve their problems.

You deal with many social issues in your plays including dementia. How do you “lighten up” issues like that for a theatre audience – or do you even try?

In our play about dementia called ‘Seeking Joan’ we have two audience plants who comment on the play as it unfolds , humorously.

Your performers are all over 50 - any special requirements to bring the best out of them? Or are they naturals?

Some have acting backgrounds but most don’t. What they need is the willingness to give it a go. We spend a lot of time doing improvisations to help the actors develop their spontaneity and creativity.

You perform your plays in a variety of venues including care homes, universities and high schools… any funny moments you care to share? 

A few funny or awkward situations come to mind:
We were once performing in a pub when a funeral party started having their wake on the other side. 
In a care home we were told to ‘bugger off’.  
When performing a play about the W.I. an audience member got upset because we called the head person, ‘the Chair', instead of the ‘President’. 
In another play we had audience plants that the audience got upset with when they interrupted the play.

How do you choose what plays to perform and on what topics? Who gets to sit around the table on this discussion? What criteria do you use?

We come to our plays via a variety of different routes – the plays on dementia were commissioned by Kirklees Council and Kirklees Dementia Action Alliance and Huddersfield University. Other plays come about because a community group asks us to perform and we will create a play to meet the needs of that group. We create between 4 and 8 new plays a year. We have a book of these plays – The Handy Book of Unscripted Plays - due out later this year. Our dementia plays can be found on facebook:

Does your group write their own plays or is there sufficient ready-made material for you to use?

We write all of our own plays. They are unscripted. The scenes are plotted out but actors are free to improvise within them so no two performances are ever the same. This saves having to learn lines, a bonus for older people, and frees one up from copyright issues.

How many players do you have in “Curtain Up Players”? Do many of them bring prior performing experience to the group?

We have been going for 9 years so actors come and go. At present there are 10 in the group. They range in age from mid 50s to 86. About half of the group have some prior experience in amateur theatre. We always welcome new members. Please contact me at

You helped set up a performing arts company in New York, how did that come about?

I was at a conference in England and this woman came up to me and said that she had read about my work and would I help her set up a group where she lived. I asked her where that was. She said Warwick. I thought that’s just below Birmingham so no problem. Then she said, no, Warwick in New York State. That seemed like a good adventure. She found the money and I flew over and did a Play in a Day for the older people in the community at the local library. This group then became the core of her group which is still going strong and is going to develop sister groups in different states.

If “Curtain Up Players” were a bottle of medicine what would it cure?

It would help to tackle loneliness and isolation and help to maintain people’s skills into old age.

Thank you very much Ron, we are delighted to have had the opportunity to talk to you – and please continue to let Old and Bold know about upcoming projects and events!

Sylvia, July 2017

Aspiring Book Show Owner?
Are you a reader? Do you love to hold a real book in your hands?

Well if you are and do… I would hedge a bet that you have at least in passing thought about how great it would be to own a bookshop – so I talked to Becky, one of our very own old and boldies who has done just that! For more info on bookshop ownership have a read of our interview…

What made you want to own a bookshop?
I have always loved books and reading but especially second hand books.  These have stood the test of time.  An old book, like old clothes, puts you in touch with the past, readers, writers and also the owners. Their names on the inside covers, their hands on the pages.  And of course the book itself as an object is interesting.  Most people do buy books for their looks, they like the object, the cover, especially if it has a dust wrapper, the paper, the title and the illustrations.  Books from before 1960 have a period feel.  You can tell the era they are from in the same way a building, print or painting tells you.  The preoccupations of people are timeless, so a good novel is as relevant today as it was when it was written 30 or 200 years ago.  It will be about the internal life and its struggle for peace and happiness rubbing up against the external, other people, work, and the environment.  Then buying and selling anything is exciting.  You are always looking for the good deal I am afraid, but then you have to be honest and fair as well, it is a fine art.

Do you get the chance to do much reading at work?

I read a lot, I put short reviews of the books I have read on the Bookshop Website.  But personally I don't read in the shop.  I read in the evenings or on train journeys.  Owning the bookshop has reactivated my interest in reading.  I vary my reading as much as I can.  But I don't waste time on poor books, if the book is bad I put it down.  Bad books are ones written for profit.  The author has chosen themes and characters they think will appeal and sell, not themes that have developed from the author's interests and preoccupations and therefore have a truth.

What have been the most rewarding aspects of having a bookshop?

I like the books, I think that is the most interesting part.  The customers are ok, friendly and polite but you wouldn't open a bookshop for them.  You never know what books are going to appear in the box brought in, each one (excuse the cliche) has a story to tell.

Are there busy/non busy seasons?
The bookshop is never busy.  Such a concept just isn't feasible.  Having said that, on a Saturday you will get more people on than other days, but there will still be hours with no-one.  Usually more sales in the afternoon than the morning, but you really can’t say.  Dealers are the best customers and they can come at any time.

You are an archaeologist. Does this colour the types of books that you stock in the shop?
I sell everything in the shop, including books I would never read myself, these tend to be 'men's' books, railways, cars, wireless, occult, science fictions, and first editions.  I only really read novels.  I can recognise good archaeology books of course, the ones that stand the test of time (very few of these), but what I sell is governed by what comes in.  I try not to buy books that won’t sell, probably 90% of books won’t sell, these end up in charity shops.

Can you give me a definite ´no-no´ and a ´yes-yes´ for running a bookshop?

Don’t spend too much on buying books, second hand books are very cheap, you will never get your money back.  Don’t buy books that won’t sell.  You will probably know what sells because they are books you would like yourself.  Dirty falling-to-bits books won’t sell, whatever the subject.

In this age of kindle readers and online information access is there still a role for a bookshop? How does this affect trade?
Kindle owners primarily read novels. These only sell for £2 in the shop, so no loss.  On-line information enormously affects the book trade.  You will never sell encyclopaedias and probably not dictionaries.  But textbooks with illustrations, maps, good basic quality information will sell, if it isn't dated.  There is huge competition.  Charity shops mainly, and then just about everyone sells books, all shops, look around and you will see this is true.  The main thing though is that most people don't read.  They watch telly, NetFlicks or look on their mobiles.  Very few people read at all. Nevertheless, with 60m + people in the UK, there are always some who will like something, even books.

Do you need a qualification to operate a bookshop in the UK? What skills or know-how would you recommend someone acquire?
No qualifications needed.  You just need to know what will sell, which you probably know anyway.

How does one get started if you wanted to open a bookshop? Would you recommend buying an existing one?
You need a market of people who buy books.  So, if I was starting from scratch, which you could easily do, I would choose a university town of more than 20,000 people, so there are some academics who are usually readers.  Make sure the shop you buy is classified small, so you don't pay business rates.  Buy your shop, don't rent it.  That way you are investing, not paying out.  Make sure your shop has weight bearing floors.  Put in bookshelves.  One of the irritations with modern books is they are too big, so remember that with your shelves.  Get your stock - buy from house clearances or put a note on the door you are buying books.  Don't buy books that won’t sell (see above).  Don't invest in advertising, tills, or anything oriented to business.  Make the shop bookish and attractive.  You will have to have the internet.  Do all this and you will make a living.

Thank you very much Becky for your really helpful insights into running a bookshop – you might have inspired someone to give it a go!

If you would like to visit Becky´s bookshop online you can find it on:


Introducing the Coffin Club

Which oldies have enough sense of humour, imagination and sense of community to start something as amazing as a ´coffin club´? Our friends in New Zealand!
Our enterprising Kiwi old and boldies are building their own coffins and having a great time doing it… as the photos attest. At a general meeting of Rotorua University of the Third Age (U3A) it was muted by one person that she wanted to build her own Coffin. Dead silence! No pun intended.

So where has this idea gone from there? To find out I spoke to Katie from the Coffin Club…

Where did it start?

When people had time to ponder the idea, there was a small group that were interested. These folk met and a carport at the instigator’s home became the “coffin face”. Some could build, some could paint and a retired paper-hanger came to the party. It was rather a long but dedicated making of the first few coffins. Lots of fun was had and the socialisation was grand.

I started the Coffin Club in February 2010 and it has grown like "topsy". It is totally run by volunteers (no paid members) and operates on charging minimum prices for our coffins and the small profit is what keeps us going, hence our survival financially. We now have approx. 100 members.

So, you actually make your own coffins?

Yes, some have made and decorated their coffins ages ago. Some are in the middle of their project and some are coming to plan and to do their underground furniture.
The men in the workshop make three in a day with help as able, from the owner. Decoration is done to their own design. It is wonderful to see these wooden boxes made to depict the owner’s life and interests. How splendid we can have control of our last journey. The help given by the knowledgeable volunteers is wondrous. Nobody need go it alone.

What do you find most special about the organisation?

The special things are many.  The socialisation must feature in BOLD print. So many oldies who live on their own do not have a loving touch.   At the Club there is lots of hugging and kisses galore.  If a member does not come and we don't know why, another member will get in contact and check they are OK.  This just happens because they care about each other.  They get fed well on Club days and some go home with Doggie bags. Excess fruit and veges are shared by the growers, among us.  There is also a jigsaw and book swap going on.  Approx 50 -60 people pass through each Wednesday. So plenty going on. We have had help from a few who have health probs, both mentally and physically.  The latest chap is blind. He can undercoat coffins with guidance and his dog looks rather like a Dalmatian instead of a Lab.  All is good.

Taking control of your exit from this world id pretty important, as well.  Going out with style in a way that shows who you were. Allowing talk with family rellies and friends, in an open way, is great.  We have quite a lot of family involvement.

What, in your opinion is the key message that the coffin club sends internationally?

To celebrate life and the ultimate end in death in a celebratory way. A huge benefit of the Club has been the opportunities of family involvement in the planning of their loved ones wishes at the end of their life.  It has often been a taboo subject and it so good to see it out in the open.

Do you only make your own coffins?

No, we make other things as well and we try to help others. We have been making small boxes (4 sizes) to use for Foetal deaths from about 22 weeks gestation to full term still births.  These are lined with delicate fabrics and lace.  Each box has a little teddy bear or animal in it.  These are stored at the Obstetric Unit and offered to the extremely sad and grieving families.

If you could bottle the coffin club what remedial medicine would it be?

Remedial medicine for LONELINESS, COMMUNITY, DEVELOPING NEW SKILLS AND GAINING CONFIDENCE. (Note: Katie told me those had to be in capital letters – I do as I´m told).
So here is a question for our international boldies – if you could make your own coffin what would it be?

Check out the coffin clubs -

Editors note: these boldies have now made their own musical too (dying to see it) watch this space and I will try to get interviews with the stars!

Have a spare room? Convert it to cash…

My experience of running a B&B has told me that if you have a spare room, can keep it clean and are a welcoming person you can make good cash pretty much wherever you live. Having touted my B&B on has sent me great guests and I´m convinced people need places to stay, even if they are not in a touristy area.

Check out an online site like and find out what is already in your area and how much they charging, bet you are surprised!

Working in an office day in day out looking into a screen non-stop can really get you down, and after 20 years there I felt I had paid my dues. So even though countless people recommended I wait until retirement I felt that life is for living now and who knows if any of us make it that far…

Risky? Yeah. Crazy? Probably. Regrets? None.

Another reason is my dog (really) he spent all day every working day on his own in our suburban house, waiting for us to get home so that he could get his measly walk before we dashed to finish our household tasks. Not the life a puppy dreams of… and now he has me home all day! Lucky old dog, although he does tell me to shut it when I jabber on at him…
When we got here we needed to get the B&B started quickly to get some cash flow in, as the house we have here is pretty big, but you can do it with even one room.  I did some key updating, just the essentials, making sure all the toilets worked and cracked sinks were replaced etc… I bought sufficient sheeting and towelling and inquired with the local tourism office what formalities were involved and registered with the relevant government department and got to work. `
I love it, sure the cleaning and the laundry can be tiresome when you are coming to the tail end of a busy season, but you are your own boss and can set your own schedule. I can fit my work around my interests and not my interests around my work. I open and close my room availability to make time for friends and family, and I limit the number of rooms available when I have other projects on the go. It´s perfect for us really.

The best bit though is meeting the amazing people who stay with us, we get really interesting guests; from the gorgeous Dutch motorbike woman who told me about her plans to open a florist shop just using common weeds (while she smoked her cigar and drank a cold beer on our terrace), and the Spanish farmer's son who disobeyed his father’s wish to take over the farm and ran away to become a world class barber with barbers schools all around Europe (he was from Valencia, not Seville, just in case you’re wondering); to the Ukrainian financial expert who quit the cut-throat financial world to write children´s books about guardian angels, and even Eurovision Song contest winners, remember Getty from Teach-in? Din-a-dong? 1975?… Honestly, the stories these people bring to our breakfast table would make having a B&B worth it, even if it did not make me a cent (which fortunately it does!).

Our breakfast table conversations fill me with hope for the future too – seeing people from all around the world get on with each other and converse over passing the butter and jam.  Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

(Sylvia, June 2017)

Family History Addict

Are you addicted to the BBC programme ´Who do you think you are´? It makes gentle but riveting viewing… who can resist finding out that Brooke Shields´ ancestors include Catherine de Medici, Lucrezia Borgia and William the Conqueror. Or how about the Olympic Rower Matthew Pinsent being related to God? Top that.

Matthew traced his relatives back to Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, Edward I and also to William the Conqueror. And since both he and Brooke are related to good ol´ William it leads them even further, Matthew discovered a medieval scroll that said the Norman King was descended from Adam and Eve and ultimately God. Now that´s one hell of a family lineage (no pun intended)… I wonder if they are getting together for a family gathering…don´t worry about BYOB, just cart along some water.

Our family tree is not quite so illustrious (as far as I am aware) but logically speaking it would also have to go back to Adam and Eve (if you believe in the old Testament that is)… so hah! take that Brooke and Matthew.

But every family history is interesting nonetheless, in ours there are a fair share of rogues and heroes represented. But what I envy the participants in the series most is the services of first class genealogists who help them trace their family roots, who rootle out records and information and who help piece the family DNA puzzle together – bit by bit.

It has made me also wonder about the ordinary muckers (like myself), how would we get hold of someone to help us do that? Hmmm… which led me to thinking – would it not be the perfect retirement job? Work from home, do some sleuthing and researching, records are online and if not some interesting travel to get you out and about... Rewarding work and possibly the opportunity of earning some pin money while you are at it.

In the USA and Canada private genealogists earn in the region of $35 to $60 an hour and in the UK 20 to 50 pounds an hour. So, no, you are not competing with Bill Gates or Warren Buffet on these wages, but I can safely assume that this would not be your raison d´etre anyway…

Have you done family research or are you a genealogist? Are you related to God too? We would love to hear from you…

There are lots of sites to research with regards to qualifications available to become a professional genealogist, here are some that I found that might be of interest:

List of skills and helpful advice:

Professional Association for genealogists:

Correspondence course in genealogy at the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS) in Canterbury.

For Canadians information can be gained here:

There are also professional family history blogs

Free resources and links can also be found on the BBC website:

Sylvia, June 2017

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