A World War 2 Photo Album

Gramps, Autumn 1939


During the Easter holidays, I spent some time at my parents’ house sorting through old photographs.  I love seeing old photographs of friends and family and wanted to find a few favourites of my parents and grandparents to make copies for my collection.

In the big box of delights was a battered old album from World War 2, it begins with this joyous photo of my grandfather, Gramps and then contains fewer photos of him and more of daily life in the RAF.  I was intrigued by this album as so little is known about his military service, I know Gramps was ground crew in the RAF, working as an electrician, his life long career and that he was based for a time in the south of England but that was all the information.  I was always puzzled how a Scotsman could end up in a base in the south but thanks to his meticulous notes on the back of photos and the Internet I have been able to piece the early part of his military service.

Gramps began his military service in Drem in Scotland, close to where he lived.  The photos all show 609 Squadron and following research I understand that this squadron spent time in Drem, Scotland, the north of England, before moving to RAF Northold for Dunkirk and then Dorset and Hampshire for the Battle of Britain.

Gramps’ military bases


609 Squadron was a Bomber and Fighter squadron and I have been brought to tears learning about the squadron, the heroic actions of the pilots and the high number of fatalities.  Gramps wrote details on every photo and I have been able to research some of the individuals featured in the photos.  Its been heart-breaking research and it makes me think that the reason that Gramps never spoke of the war was the sadness at so many colleagues killed in action.  Gramps was so kind, loving and caring, a devoted family man and loyal to all his friends. He was quiet and dignified and I think his silence was his respect to his colleagues.

These photos show F.O. Ian Bedford Nesbitt Russell in Scotland a few weeks before he was tragically killed supporting the allies at Dunkirk. For me it is the difference in the pictures, a relaxed young man in Scotland on the airfield and then the pilot leaving on his final flight.  In doing the research I learnt that Russell was a young Australian from Melbourne.  I am sure that Gramps would be very proud to know that his eldest grand daughter now works as a paediatrician in the same city.


Another photo shows Sgt Alan Feary whom was killed in October 1941, his grave is not too far from our home and I would like to visit it and pay my respects to one of my Gramps’ colleagues  I have seen a number of the photos including this one from the album on the Internet so I am presuming that they were distributed to many of the staff of 609 Squadron.


Whilst the photos have really brought the history of the second world war to me and I have enjoyed researching 609 squadron, I still know little about Gramps’ war service.  My parents are visiting family in Scotland soon and I am hoping that they will be able to find either his service number or NI number so we can request his service record.  This really is a fascinating photo album and illustrates the sacrifices made by Gramps’ generation for us all, they will never be forgotten.

Image from ww2today.com








Snow Days

Over the past few days in the media, there have been some stunning photos taken in our county of the quintessential English snowy dream, picturesque villages and moody sea shots.  However, these images don’t convey the reality of living in this idyll in really poor weather.  Here is my guide of life in a rural setting in poor weather.

  1.  The first day of snow is magical.  It is so unexpected as little snow falls at the coast.  It is amazing to watch the flakes fall, the hills and fields surrounding the town become dusted white and the joy and excitement of the children captivates and delights all.  The children run home from school to make snowmen, throw snowballs in a blizzard of snow and simply squeal and dance in delight.  The photos taken from this afternoon will give you the feels for years to come, that look in the childrens’ faces of pure happiness is perfection. We love the snow.
  2. Later in the evening, the reality of the poor weather becomes clear.  We are so rural in a very large county that our roads, many minor or country roads have not been treated in advance.  Colleagues have had accidents on the way home from work in blizzard conditions.  Some have been sat in cars on country roads for 4 hours, others are in rescue centres, others have abandoned their cars and walked, whilst others have been able to turn around and return to work.  Suddenly snow is not quite so magical.
  3. The poor road conditions mean that our town is now completely cut off, the emergency services have closed the routes to  town due to serious accidents and incidents.  There is no chance of gritters tonight, they are focusing on the dual carriage ways which themselves are blocked with accidents, the county is in gridlock.  And then along with the snow, the freezing rain starts to fall making difficult conditions, lethal.  You are thankful to be safe and warm at home.
  4. A new snow day and whilst the scene looks beautiful and picture perfect the conditions are the worst you have ever seen.  The freezing rain and temperatures mean that every surface is now under at least two inches of thick, black ice. There are no vehicles on the roads and the very few people you see trying to gingerly walk along the road all fall.  We live on a steep hill and are now house bound, no fun walks for snow ball fights and sledging, we are stuck in our house.   Snow is beginning to lose its charm.
  5. Time for some community action, messages on social media ensure that the doctor has a volunteer driver in a 4×4 for urgent home visits, neighbours check on each other, those with the appropriate skills and equipment try to help others.  This is the feel good moment, when you are proud of living in a community.
  6. Its time for planning now and careful rationing of food.  You start to make calculations of how much milk and bread you can have per day and how to best use the food you have in the house.  We have been here before, 7 years ago, so we do have a carton of UHT milk in the cupboard and there is enough food in the fridge and cupboards to feed us comfortably for the days to follow.  There’s no panic buying here, simply because nobody can get to the supermarket and we’ll all survive!  In our house, we use the time to enjoy preparing warm, filling meals, a parsnip and apple soup, casserole with homemade dumplings.  At least the snow days have given us the time to employ a little hygge.
  7. At last, we have some gritters on our road, it is now Friday afternoon and the snow started on Tuesday.  Today’s heroes wear high viz vests.
  8. Cabin fever is apparent, Mr S catchphrase ‘Close the door, keep the heat in’ is said on repeat and we have exhausted our family favourite activities, craft, cooking, screen time, movie, table football etc.. The children desperately want to play outside as it looks so gorgeous yet we can’t even go down the steps outside the house because of the ice.  We reluctantly conclude that a snow day is only fun if you get to be in the snow. Our entertainment now is carefully watching the temperature slowly rise in percentage points on our thermometer.
  9. As we go to bed we open the back door and start to hear the crackling of the ice, the dripping of water, what a relief.  It looks like the forecast is correct and we may get grey, mild and wet weather tomorrow and we’ve never been happier for such a dismal forecast.



February half term


Of all the school holidays in the year, I find the February half term an odd one, it’s not a holiday when a lot happens and pre children it was simply spent pottering and relaxing whilst Mr S worked.  Our half term this year was one full of simple pleasures, there was no big day out or special event just local activities.  The weather was pretty awful, so cold and wet and this affected our plans too.

As Mr S wanted to decorate our bedroom, I took the children away to my parents for a couple of days at the beginning of the week to give him some time to do the job without distractions.  I had great plans and was very excited to have been able to organise for my parents to take the children out so I could visit the big shopping mall with a long list of shopping.  Unfortunately I had a horrendous migraine for the days we were at my parents and spent the two days in a darkened room alternating between being sick and sleeping, so not quite my anticipated visit but a lot cheaper!  The children loved the day out I had planned for them in Bristol as they got to visit the local Air Hop and try out all the trampolines and rides.

We were back at home for a pancake tea and it was nice to have Shrove Tuesday fall in the holidays as it was more relaxed and fun.  I did take the traditional toss a pancake photos, I have one every year of the children and they’ve become one of those measures of the children growing up.

Ash Wednesday was also Valentine’s Day this year.  For personal reasons I find it a tough day so whilst Mr S and I do exchange cards and a little gift, we don’t really do anything lovey dovey on this day.  The weather was so awful we spent the morning watching the children skoot around in an indoor skate park and then drove out to a pub for a lazy lunch en famille.

Thankfully Thursday was a gorgeous day, the best of the week with bright blue skies and warm sunshine.  We ended up on the beach and met lots of friends who had the same idea too.  The trip to the beach was one of the highlights of this holiday, watching the children skimming stones with their friends, running up and down the beach and laughing.  I have a lovely photo of a whole gang of children balanced on the groyne, the bright colours of their wellies beautifully contrasting the blue skies.  Simple pleasures can be the the best.

On Friday we had a few jobs to do over in big town and whilst they were not the most fun for the children we stopped off at the country park on the way home to run off some energy and explore the woods and fields.  I do find my children need a good walk or exercise every day to keep them more relaxed and calm.

Whilst most of our week was spent together, I did take both children alone on a mummy date each to a local cafe.  Both really appreciated this time together and I learnt a lot of how they’re feeling about things.  It’s surprising how chatty the children can be with cake and a hot chocolate!

Although half term was quiet and full of little trips, it was relaxing in it’s own way.  Sometimes you just need to stop and enjoy the little things, a trip to the beach, a walk in the park or a homemade cake in a cafe.


Creating Childhood Memories

The above is from a tweet which went viral this week and which I have thought about a lot.  I think its simplicity in a digital world is a poignant reminder of what is important to our children.  It also reminded me that it is not material possessions which are remembered but a feeling of being loved, involved and belonging.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what makes my children happy, its always the simple things, playing at the skate park or on the beach, baking cakes and licking the bowl, having a movie afternoon cuddled up on the sofa, a kick around in the garden.  It is often about just being in the moment and doing something as a family or with friends.

Before I became a mum, I knew the type of mum I wanted to be, most of it based on the opposite to my own childhood, which whilst not unhappy was quite chaotic.  I wanted to be a present mum, happy in myself and happy being mum.

When we realised that we would become parents through adoption, I understood through my professional background the importance of secure attachment.  We have worked hard to create a secure feeling for our children. Whilst I recognise how lucky we are to be able to do what we have done, thanks to understanding bosses, reassessing our priorities etc.. our family has always been at the heart of all our decisions.  Its been a journey of trial and error but we now both work part time to ensure that one of us is always there for the school runs, we’re always early so the children never have to fear being left behind and at least one of us is always there for every concert, assembly, sports day, nativity etc.. to wave and encourage.  At home, we always sit down to meals together where we talk,  we make plans as a family and plot it on our calendar, we constantly reassure the children that we are their forever family and that they will always have a home with us even when we’re doddery, old pensioners.  There are so many other little things we do too, all we want is for our children to have that indescribable feeling of being, loved, wanted and belonging.

When I look at the second tweet, I’m quite proud that actually the children do a lot of what’s on the list.  I hope we set an example of being kind to not just friends and family but to all.  We read books; even at nearly 9 and 10 years old, we always read a story to the children every night and I really don’t ever want to stop this.  We spend a lot of time together as a family, but also have started to allow the children more independence (scary but essential)  Fortunately living at the seaside we’re at the beach a lot, there is nothing quite like collecting the children from school and walking to the beach until early evening, its like a mini holiday on a school day!  There’s also a lot of ice cream shops at the seaside so I think we can confidently tick that one off too.

I hope my children will look back to their childhood with happy memories of sunny days on the beach, ice creams, dancing with mummy in the kitchen, helping daddy  in the garden and many family adventures.



An Unexpected Christmas Day


As I write this post, I’m simply trying to make sense of all that has happened in the past 24 hours.  My Christmas day has been very different to how I had planned (and I am a meticulous planner so I knew exactly how it was going to look)  It has been a very scary time but what has shone through is the adaptability of children, kindness of people and our amazing NHS.

Last evening, Mr S, myself and my Father in law who was staying with us for Christmas were all settled on the sofa waiting for the children to fall asleep.  The men were drifting off to sleep in front of the tv and it all felt very cosy and a typical Christmas eve.  I’m not really sure what happened next as one minute we were sitting on the sofa and the next I was aware that my Father in law was struggling for breath making terrible noises, then that he had stopped breathing and didn’t appear conscious and then after a terrifying amount of time and some shaking he was violently sick which seemed to restart his breathing. We called 999 and then had an agonising 50 minute wait.  We live rurally and this is the response time on some nights from the closest ambulance station, as not all are 24 hours. We followed the excellent advice of the 999 operator and one of us stayed with him whilst the other collected his medication etc..  Little Miss also got up at this point as she had been alerted by the commotion, so we needed to reassure her and try to get her back to bed (on Christmas eve, of all nights)  The paramedics were amazing and quickly did a load of tests on my Father in Law and gave him oxygen.  Again despite our attempts to get her to bed Little Miss reappeared and found the oxygen the most frightening as Granddad was wearing a mask and clearly struggling to breathe.  It was decided that my father in law needed to go hospital, another 45 minute drive and Mr S quickly followed in his car to give us some transport for his return.  It was now when our neighbours alerted by the ambulance texted us and on learning it was my Father in law offered to come and stay on Christmas eve so we could both get to the hospital, even though they knew we were likely to be gone most of the night.  Whilst we decided I should stay for the children, my neighbour said to call at any time of the night and she would come over, her kindness has continued throughout the day today.  When Mr S and his dad left, I think the enormity of what had happened hit me.  Little Miss was still awake, she was upset and needed a lot of comfort and of course being a child she asked the question outright is Grandad going to die and it was a question at that time that I really couldn’t answer.  We talked about all the specially trained people who would be helping Grandad and that it was a good time to say a little prayer too.  It was at this point that I was so proud of her as she said Christmas didn’t matter and all she just wanted was for Grandad to be better.  After half an hour of comforting and cuddles, she finally fell asleep and then I had to call Mr S’ sister to tell her what had happened.  It was another of those conversations you don’t wish to make and you try to sound reassuring and confident when in fact you’re wobbling yourself.  After the difficult conversations and cleaning up, it was around midnight and I was left with a dilemma about Christmas presents.  Our two still believe in Santa and had left out mince pies and stockings, however the last thing I wanted to think about was the morning, I was living by the minute, desperate for updates from Mr S. However I also didn’t want to create more bad memories from this incident, so hesitantly got the presents together and put them in the front room.  Normally I make such a fuss of this, its a real highlight but I did it very simply.  I also do a stocking for everyone in our house for Christmas and made sure Grandad’s was there in the middle of the pile.  I spoke to Mr S again who said that his dad was still in A&E and on oxygen and that he would stay with him for as long as he was able to but for me to try and get some sleep and to try and carry on as normal for the children.  Needless to say I slept poorly, worried about my lovely Father in law and thinking on how to deal with Christmas morning.  At around 5.30am, Mr S returned as his dad was now on a ward and in a more comfortable state, he managed an hour’s sleep before Little Man who had slept through this all woke us up all excited for Christmas.  The first thing we had to tell him was about Grandad, amazingly he had slept through the whole thing despite the ambulance and the flashing blue lights being outside his window, however he is convinced he woke up and saw Rudolph and Santa’s sleigh last night!

The children were excited about their presents but I think their thoughts were very much with Grandad too, he was missing and he is normally with us for Christmas day if we’re at home.  Little Miss had to be persuaded to open her presents from Grandad as she wanted to wait for him.  After the presents, the children got a bonus visit from their auntie who came in to go back to the hospital with Mr S, she lives 2 hours away and had to be stopped from driving through in the middle of the night.  Christmas day then became a bit of a waiting game, I stayed with the children whilst Mr S and his sister were at the hospital waiting for news.  We’ve spent the day playing with the new toys, watching a bit of Christmas television and having our neighbours popping in to see the children  too.  I swapped our Christmas dinner and tea around (minus the leftover turkey which hadn’t been cooked) but then the later it got in the day I swapped Boxing day lunch (always cold meat, salad and chips) for Christmas day, the children couldn’t believe that they were allowed to have chips on Christmas day!  Mr S returned home around 4pm having survived on one hour’s sleep since Sunday morning, he  played with the children, had something to eat and then exhausted went to bed.  At present, Mr S’ sister is with her dad who is feeling much better in hospital and has been seen by a consultant who has diagnosed a serious chest infection.  The last update is that he is awaiting some drugs and then may be able to go home.  As home is far from both his children, its been agreed that Mr S’ sister will look after him at her home as it is in a big city with easy access to medical facilities if needed. We are due to go on a Butlins break on Wednesday but at present we’re simply taking each day at a time.

Its been a strange old day, worrying but also trying hard to keep everything as it should be for Christmas.  Its also made me reflect on what’s important, not once today have the children complained about Christmas day being a bit rubbish, they are more interested in Grandad.  The people we have encountered in the past 24 hours have all been brilliant, the paramedics, NHS staff, nurses, doctors were superb.  Our neighbours rallied round to help too.  Perhaps this year we didn’t get the Christmas we had imagined but perhaps it showed us all what Christmas is really about, acts of kindness and looking after each other.

Sometimes your heart breaks when you’re a mum …..


Artwork by Little Man

This is a different post to my normal entries. Writing has also been a release so today I’m writing how I feel about our amazing little boy. Sadly I had one of my most heart breaking moments with him this morning and I’m still trying to make sense of it.

Our little man has always loved school, learning, playing and just being with his friends. Today, for the first time ever he cried and said he didn’t want to go to school, however not only did he say he didn’t want to go to school he also took his school uniform off. After much comforting and cuddles our little man explained that he didn’t want to go to school because for some of his learning he is separated from his friends and has to do other work. He wants to sit at the big table and not his little table, play on the interactive whiteboard and not his iPad and get to do 3 digit numbers and not 2 digit numbers. In Year 3 we are beginning to see what we have always been worried about the widening academic gap between him and his peers.

From the moment we adopted him, we knew Little Man’s future could be uncertain. He was a one year old but could barely crawl and was developmentally delayed in many areas. However with hard work and perseverance from little Man and lots of professionals he has made amazing progress and physically and socially is on a level with his peers. I think this is the difficulty for him he loves his friends and wants to be able to do his work with them rather than his 1:1 TA. However his learning difficulties mean he needs the extra support and help, particularly in maths and literacy.

I’m being irrational today, so angry with his BM for drinking heavily and how much it affects our little boy, one of his diagnoses is probable FASD. I’m also raging against an education system where academic work is so strong for 7 and 8 year olds, he’s said he’s missing his play this year and he learnt so much through play in KS1, why stop a successful strategy? I’m just so sad too that I can’t protect him from the reality of his world where he will always be judged on the things he can’t do not what he can. I know how brilliant he is at making his Lego models, solving jigsaws, remembering details about his school topics, how well he can kick a ball or hit a ball in cricket, my little boy is amazing but there’s no academic levels for these achievements.

The school is outstanding in its support. Little Man has had 1:1 support from his first day and his TA is superb with him, he has made so much progress with her hard work. We went into school today to hand over our morning and speak to her and I think she was as upset as us that our bright, sociable and fun boy was feeling so sad about going to school. We’ve agreed some quick fixes so he gets to sit on the big table and try some simple 3 digit numbers but I think we all know this is simply the beginning and we need to work together closely to make school an inclusive experience for him. I’m also going back in to see the class teacher today and discuss more strategies with her.

Sometimes it’s heart breaking being a mum and trying to protect your children. Little Man has been in my thoughts all day today and I really need to see him and just hug him. Tomorrow is their ‘fun’ day with their favourite teacher in the morning and then forest school in the afternoon. Fortunately the forest school is somewhere he will thrive and not be the special needs child so that will get me through tomorrow. I think this is going to be a tough year but I just hope Little Man is secure and confident that he has family and a school team all rooting for him.

A day in my life …

When we were doing our adoption home study, one of the activities was to write a day in our lives. I think the aim was for us to think about how our daily lives would change with a child in our house. There were quite a few activities like this during the home study and our patience was tested a little, however it became another activity to complete to satisfy our social worker that we were ready to welcome a child. I was thinking about this activity a few days ago and whilst my original isn’t to hand to compare with, I decided to blog a day in my life to look back on in the years to come. I chose yesterday, Saturday, it was a very ordinary but typically busy day in the Sparkles’ family.

6.30 am, I am woken by Little Man stirring at 6.30am, no matter what time he goes to bed he is always up, bright as a button at 6.30am. He’s really good, he pops to the toilet and then plays with his toys in his bedroom. When Mr S gets up 10 minutes later to make a cup of tea to bring back to bed, Little Man potters down with him and I can hear them chat away in the kitchen.

6.45am, Tea in bed, courtesy of Mr S and the three of us awake talk about the day’s plans.

7.00am, Up and dressed for a run. I’ve tried to run at different times of day, but this works best for me. 7 – 8am is my hour on Saturdays and Sundays and I run off road through the local country park, it’s one of my favourite times of the week, great views, great music and just me.

7.15am – As I leave for my run, Little Miss wakes up and asks if she can join me. I agree to run past the house at 8am and if she’s ready she can do the last mile or so with me.

8am – Little Miss is dressed and keen to run with me so we head off for the last part of the run together. She’s a good running partner and we chat away whilst running.

8.30am – Back home and Mr S is making breakfast. We all sit down together to eat.

9am – Shower, dress and apply some simple make up.

9.30 -10.30am – Household jobs, laundry, tidying etc.. I try not to do much housework on a Saturday but this hour gives me time to do the daily jobs and keep on top of things.

10.30 – 11.30am – Little Miss and Mr S pop out to visit a friend and Little Man and I walk into town for our normal Saturday routine, the children return and choose books in the library, we go to the bakers for fresh bread for lunch and WHSmith for the Times, (I buy it for the excellent column by Caitlin Moran, Nadiyah Hussain’s bakes and the weddings page!) We might pop into a café, but today Mr S phones to say they are now at the festival field and we go to meet them and pick up a takeaway coffee here. In our town there are festivals and fairs most weekends in the summer, but this is the last and a really popular one for locals, our good bye to the season.

11.30am – We meet up with Mr S and Little Miss and there’s a great atmosphere in the field, we bump into lots of friends and acquaintances and its lovely to catch up and potter around the stalls. There’s also live music and story telling for the children in the late morning sun.

1pm – Back home and lunch is a little later today than normal after our trip out. In the autumn and winter its always fresh soup and bread for lunch at weekends. My lovely Father-in-law bought me a fantastic soup maker so 25 minutes later we sit down for lunch.

1.45pm – I have a cup of tea and read Caitlin Moran’s column and Nadiyah’s recipe in the Times magazine.

2pm – Normally I wouldn’t do homework on Saturday but the weather forecast for tomorrow is awful and we need to do a nature walk to collect examples of seeds and fruits in our local environment. I did a little reccie on my run this morning, so I return to the country park and the children enjoy finding the seeds and berries and burn off a bit more energy running around and climbing trees.

3.00pm – There’s a craft fayre in town today, again the last of the season, so Little Miss and I head down to look around, whilst the boys stay at home to do some Lego. The fayre is excellent, definitely the best of the season and I buy a necklace and some greeting cards. We may have sampled the fresh fudge too!

4.00pm – Back home and I’m preparing dinner in the kitchen. I love my kitchen and Saturday is the day to try new recipes or make more special dinners. I have Zoe Ball on the radio and it’s another of my happy times and places. After a busy day, it’s a simple tea, I’m making a potato gratin, with fresh veg and gammon steaks. Normally I have a helper but both children are busy playing a new game on Wii U.

4.30 – 5pm – Tea prepped I’m watching the football scores come through with Mr S as the children continue to play. There’s a late winner for Bristol City so I’m happy with the day’s results.

5- 5.30pm – Back to the kitchen to cook tea and set the table etc..

5.30 – 6pm – Tea around the table in the kitchen. I am a stickler for all the family around the table for meals. Whilst we have had a healthy menu today, we do have treats too, last night was pizza!

6- 7pm – Whilst Mr S does showers and pyjamas I tidy the kitchen before sitting down with a cup of tea to read. My current read on my Kindle is Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.

7pm – Strictly time. I LOVE Strictly Come Dancing and it’s my time that nobody dares to interrupt. Fortunately the children love it (and secretly Mr S too) so its family time around the television. Mr S takes Little Man to bed around 7.30pm for a story and Little Miss and I cuddle up to watch the rest of SCD.

8.40pm – As Little Miss watched Strictly with me she managed to get a later bedtime, it’s a quicker bedtime routine and the promise that she’ll go straight to sleep. She’s really good tonight, but I think she’s hoping that if she’s good this first week, she’ll be able to stay up late in the weeks to come.

9pm – Mr S and I sit down together. I get out my laptop and finish the Little Loves post I’ve been writing since Thursday, it’s been a busy week. There’s nothing much on the tv and we end up watching sport and chatting before bed.

11pm – Bedtime. On my way to bed, I always go into the children to check on them and to tell them I love them, I want the last thing they hear everyday to be something reassuring and loving. When I’m in bed, I rarely read but prefer to listen to music and often play a game of scrabble on my phone before sleeping. I’m lucky in that I never have any problem falling asleep and will sleep straight through to 6.30am