A Letter to my Children : Visiting the ancestors in Hankerton.

Dear Children,

Today I went to Hankerton, in Wiltshire. It’s a hamlet, a scattering of houses and a tiny church set in the Wiltshire countryside. It’s where my granny was born and raised, and is full of family history. It is your history too, so I will tell you about it, because one day you might visit on your own.

Granny was born in Pear Tree cottage. She lived there with her parents, Mark and Mary Woodward. Mary washed clothes for the surrounding houses, and there was a well in the back garden, and a wash house next to the cottage. Mark was a busy man. I think he built part of the roof for the church, so maybe he was a builder. Mainly he was busy, because, it was later discovered, he actually had two families – my granny’s mother and another wife and children in the nearby market town of Malmesbury. Not sure which one was first, and therefore the legal wife. I have no idea what became of the other family, or if they resemble us or know of our existence. But Mark Woodward died in his fifties, and there is no stone to mark his grave. His wife was buried alone.

The story I grew up with, was that when he died, both wives went to claim the body, which is how they discovered the other existed. I have since been told that isn’t true, and that Granny’s mother was shopping in Malmesbury, when she overheard someone talking about Mark’s other wife. I’ve no idea which is correct, so believe whichever you like. It makes for an interesting bit of family history though.

I visited the cottage once, when I was very young. I remember the big room with the fireplace, and the well in the back garden. When I went back today, I met the people who now live there, and they invited me inside. The ‘big room’ is now their lounge, and they’ve extended the cottage on both sides. The well is now at the front, as the original cottage faced away from what is now the road, so when they extended they made a new front door (at the back, which is now the front, if you see what I mean).

The church is where my granny was married. It is also where many of the family are buried, and as you wander around the graveyard, lots of the stones belong to Woodwards. One grave is for Frank Winwood. I never met him, though I know he had a heat attack while driving, and his wife, Nell, had to grab the wheel. I did meet Nell. Aunty Nell lived in Peartree cottage after everyone else had left. She went a bit nutty towards the end, and had to be put into a home, which she didn’t like, so she used to turn the fire hose on the nurses and phone 999, asking to be rescued. She was buried with her husband Frank (her real name was Eleanor).

Granny’s other sister, Elizabeth, died before I was born. She had two sons, David and Ken, and we used to meet David and his family when I was little. Elizabeth died when Ken was born, so I think my granny helped to care for the two boys. Certainly they feature in lots of the stories my father told.

Inside the church, is a document showing all the vicars. In the 1600s were two vicars named Beale, who are also our ancestors. Some of my cousins have Beale in their names (not sure why my brother doesn’t, guess my mum didn’t like the name).

Next to the church is the old school house. When my granny’s mother was dying, Granny went to nurse her, and so my dad (your Grampy) went to school there for a few weeks. You will find his name in old registers.

You never met my granny, but you’d have liked her. She had a wicked sense of humour, and she told stories. I wonder if that’s where me and Aunty Ruth get our love of stories from. Most of her stories were ghost stories though, and tales about people in the village. I’m not quite sure now which ones were true, and which ones she made up. When her father died, when she was fourteen, she had to leave the grammar school in Malmesbury, and join her mother washing clothes. I sometimes wonder what her life would have been, if she’d been able to choose.

So, that’s a little family history for you, an eighth of who you are. If you ever go through Hankerton, remember to stop and visit the church. It’s a lovely place, and has a comfortable feel to it. It’s where our roots are, and I think you’ll like it.

I don’t know much about my Grampy’s family, but I do know about my mother’s relatives, who seem to have owned most of Huntingdon. Now there are some stories for you – but that will have to wait until another day.

Have a good week. Take care.


Mum xx


Thank you for reading.

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Instow, Devon, continued

3rd Day

Went for an early walk along beach. Dog happy. Then I went to church, walking up to the little white hall I found yesterday. I’m not sure how old it was, but it wasn’t modern. Nor was it huge – it was pretty full, and I think there were 18 of us. It’s always a bit scary going to a new church – will anyone speak to you, or will people just stare and make you feel uncomfortable…This church was fine. People looked up and smiled when I arrived, which is always a good sign, and the Vicar came out from wherever he was hiding, just to say hello and ask where I was from. He was a retired policeman, and worked part-time, covering a couple of little churches. The service was nice, very traditional, with an easy, friendly atmosphere. You felt like everyone knew each other well, and it was nice to sit at the back and absorb it all. (Apart from the singing – you wouldn’t want to absorb that – despite the best efforts of the man on the keyboard, it was somewhat rough…)

We had a quick lunch in John’s Cafe (best cafe in the world). Then we drove to Abbotsham, which is sort of attached to Westward Ho. We parked near the cliff, on the edge of a caravan park, and set off for a walk.

The first thing you see is a house. A superb house. It’s huge, facing right out to sea, and is very beautiful. Unfortunately it appears to be falling down the cliff and is now derelict. I walked all round it, looking for a place to break in, but the security was pretty tight. Shame. I would like to die in a house like that. When the medics announce that my end is near, I hope my relatives will break in and rescue me from the beige, airless, machine-filled world of the hospital, and dump me in a derelict house on a cliff edge. Preferably with a stash of morphine, so nothing hurts. Then I can die looking at the sky and listening to sea-gulls and waves. But Husband said this was a morbid thing to say when looking at an old house, and hurried me away along the cliff.

The cliff walk is pretty perfect. There is grass, and gorse, and waves crashing against rocks. Next to us were fields with lambs in. At one point, there was a great mound of pebbles, right up to the cliff path, and we could scramble down onto the rocks and peer into rock pools. Husband was happy, explaining how fresh water channels had formed deep grooves in the rock. The dog was happy, charging up and down the path. I was happy, listening to the sea (and Husband, of course).

A long walk in Devon makes you hungry for a cream tea, so we decided to go to Clovelly, which we visited years ago when the children were small. The car-park is at the top of the village, and you have to pay to enter the village, because it’s all owned by the big estate. But as we were out of season, it was all free, and empty. I have never seen Clovelly empty before, usually it’s teeming with tourists. The village clings to the cliff, and has a cobbled street that meanders down to the harbour. The cobble stones make for pretty tough walking, so don’t wear heels. Or bring a pushchair (I can tell you, from previous experience, a pushchair is a very bad idea).

We walked down to the harbour, and The Red Lion pub was open. There was a fire burning in the snug, and they had cream teas. The tea was a bit ‘packaged’, but actually the scones were soft, and it is not the worst tea I’ve had. Sitting in the window seat, looking out to sea, it was timeless.

Then came the long slog back up the slippery cobble stones to the car park.

When I got back to the cottage, I checked my clever phone app to see how far we’d walked that day. I was sure it was further than the previous day (which was 16 km). I was surprised to see it was only 12km. Then I noticed I had climbed 52 staircases. Clearly the app can’t differentiate, and up and down is a staircase, even when it’s along a cliff edge.

Tomorrow we’re going home, but plan to drive back via Hankerton, where my granny lived as a girl.

Thank you for reading.
Take care.
Anne x


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Instow 2018 – Earthquakes and Sand

Drove to Instow House. Same as when we left it, including the copy of Hidden Faces which I’d left on the bookshelf.
Ate dinner at Instow Arms, which clever Husband had booked before we left home. We ate early (7pm) but it was packed. I had creamy garlic mushrooms, which arrived in a bowl, like soup, and was delicious, followed by fish pie. Also delicious, but after a while I felt overly full of cream. Not a good choice by me.
Walked on beach with Kia, who went completely bananas. She reverts to puppy on beaches, stopping regularly to dig holes.
Watched tv, went to bed.

Day Two

Woke up to sound of seagulls and waves. Went to make tea and let dog into garden. Quite a lot of beach now seemed to be in kitchen.
Drove to Saunton Sands. Husband suggested another walk to beach across dunes, but as I had left my bullet-proof vest and crash helmet at home (see blog from Jan 17 https://anneethompson.com/2017/01/30/a-walk-on-the-wild-side/ ) I declined. Drove safely to carpark, not shot at once, and no sign of tanks or machine guns. Which is what most people might expect. (See Jan 17 blog. I still have not completely recovered…) Brilliant walk on miles of sand, beautiful sunshine, sky reflected on wet beach. Perfect.
Saw a Mermaid’s Purse, and commented to Husband that Son hadn’t believed it held shark’s eggs on a recent beach trip. Found myself having the exact same argument/discussion with Husband, who insisted it was clearly made from plant matter, and was therefore a type of seaweed. Told him to Google it. He did. Turns out I was right (obviously, or I wouldn’t be telling you this!) Heard those rare words : “Gosh, you were right. I was wrong.” Pretended I couldn’t hear, so he had to say it twice (might never have it said again, tis a rare event indeed…)
Walked for about 90 minutes. Returned to car, and found a Yorkie bar I stashed there months ago. Double perfect.
Drove along coast to Croyde. Husband told me that it’s where Kevin Hallam used to go for his family holidays. I don’t know who Kevin Hallam is, so was not terribly interested. Was then told about Kevin’s family, Warhammer, English degree at Oxford, and that he drove into Husband’s Beetle when they were 17. But the countryside was pretty, so I let him talk (for quite a long time actually. If you know Kevin, do say Hi from me).

Lunch at cottage, followed by an earthquake. Nope, this is not an innuendo, we really did have an earthquake. Apparently the epicentre was in Swansea and it measured 4.9. The cottage was unhappy at being shaken, and new cracks appeared. No reaction from dog at all (too exhausted from exciting beach walks).



Drove to Appledore, which is the village we can see across the estuary. It was full of coloured cottages, information signs and windowsills full of tat. Honestly, if you like stuffed parrots, and pots, and suits of armour, and knitted toys, then you will love the windowsills of Appledore. Some wit had decided to make their own signs, so we passed a chip shop (deliveries to Paris, New York and Appledore) the house where Barbie and Ken lived, and the Beaver Pub (where nothing happened in 1782). There was also a dry dock, which Husband found very interesting (it’s a male thing, not worth looking at unless you are male).

I was keen to find a church for Sunday. There were a lot of churches and chapels. I am quite a connoisseur of churches, so perused the notice boards. Rejected the Bethel chapel (not sure they would welcome someone wearing jeans). Rejected the C of E, despite very cool tower, as the service was communion (a minefield for mistakes in a foreign church). Rejected another chapel as being too far up a hill. Decided the Baptist church looked safe, despite the plaques advertising groups which must’ve been in place about 100 years ago. But there was a photo of a band (so jeans would be okay) and they ran an Alpha course – so probably like new people.
However, when driving back to cottage, we passed a tiny church, just round the corner. It had an 11am service (not communion) and they run a mid-week lunch club. Decided I would give it a try. Will let you know…



Thank you for reading.
Take care,

Anne x


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(When I took the above photo, a man appeared from nowhere, and tried to make me pay him. I’m not sure he was even connected to the lorry! I walked away, and let Husband deal with him.)

Still so much that’s new in India. Today I tried ‘Dragon Fruit’ or ‘pitaya’. I’ve seen them in supermarkets in the UK, but never known how to eat them. I asked the man delivering them, and he said to cut it lengthways into quarters, and then gently pull back the peel. I washed it first, just to eliminate chance of eating germs. It looks really amazing. It tastes really disappointing! Is okay, but nowhere near as exciting as it looks. Apparently, they are very good for you, and full of cancer-fighting nutrients. They grow on cacti.

On Monday, Husband had to work. I arranged to meet a friend in the lobby for tea. I asked her if Mumbai was safe for a woman to walk around alone. She assured me that she walks everywhere, and has never had any trouble. The main danger is scams and pick-pockets, so I should be alert, but was unlikely to be attacked, even after dark, and even in poorer areas. Sometimes, being somewhere very different to home can seem scary, but usually it’s safe.

I had previously asked my friend to read through CLARA, to check it was acceptable from an Indian’s point of view. It is very difficult to write about another culture, and I was keen that I shouldn’t write something that seemed offensive to people living in India. There were a few changes she suggested, mainly to names, but mostly it was okay. When we met, I was able to show her the cover photograph. I am just waiting for the cover to arrive for approval, and then the printer can print it. All getting very exciting now. It is, I think, the best book I have written, so I hope you will read a copy.

In the evening we went to the hotel bar. There was also a rooftop bar, but it was shut due to a horrific fire at another hotel, where several people had been killed. I’m not sure whether the government had shut all rooftop bars as a precaution, perhaps to check their safety procedures. This bar was okay, but had the most uncomfortable seats ever. Women over 50 like comfy seats. I also got a lot of feedback from Husband about my cardigan. I ignored him, I’m sure it will start a new trend.

Last breakfast. The breakfast is nice, but the table-setting is a bit random. There should be cutlery, a bottle of water, glass, side-plate and napkin for each place. But there often isn’t. Sometimes things are delivered as you eat. It’s a little odd to be presented with a side-plate and napkin when you’ve nearly finished eating! There are a LOT of staff waiting the tables. I’m guessing each one has a specific role, and they don’t always keep up when new guests arrive to eat. They also have a tendency to come and chat while you’re eating. They hover near the table, and ask if everything is okay (which happens in UK restaurants) but then stay to ask what plans you have for the day, and if you’re enjoying the hotel. I’m not sure whether to pause my eating while they’re there, or carry on chewing whilst they chat.

Arriving home after a holiday is always nice. When you first arrive, there’s a certain novelty to cleaning your teeth in tap water, and being able to eat a bowl of cereal when you’re hungry. You have all your memories and photographs, and it doesn’t matter that you haven’t yet unpacked because you’ve only just arrived home. Then, two weeks later, you feel like you’ve never been away, you’re tired again, and feeling stressed because you still haven’t managed to put away the suitcases! Or perhaps you’re more organised than me.

I do enjoy being in India, even though it’s exhausting. I have visited several times over the last few months, talking to people who live in the poorer areas, learning about their lives, visiting their homes. It has been fascinating. I wonder when I’ll come again.

Thank you for reading.

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Don’t forget to look out for my new book: CLARA – A Good Psychopath?
An exciting story that shows what it’s like to be poor in India. It’s nearly ready…


Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat

We decided to walk to Dhobi Ghat, next to Mahalaxmi railway station. This is a laundry, built by the British Raj in 1890, and still in use today. It was easy to find, as it really is right next to the station, and you can see lines of washing as you approach. We stood on the bridge, next to the station, and looked down at the laundry.

There were concrete pools of water, each with a flogging stone (where the laundry is bashed until clean). People stood in the pools, dunking linen, and rinsing it in great vats of water. There were also people washing themselves and cleaning their teeth – it all seemed to happen in the same water, though I could see a narrow gulley that was taking away the dirty water. Hanging above them, were lines and lines of washing.

The laundry is used by hotels and hospitals, and smaller laundries, who send the linen there to be washed, and then iron it before returning it to the customer (for a profit). Clothing manufacturers also send stuff there that they want ‘stone washed’, and we saw lots of jeans hanging to dry. They also dye fabric. The owner’s name is written in the back of garments, so they all get returned to the correct people (though it looked to me as if there might be muddles sometimes).

The people who work there are called ‘dhobis’. They don’t earn much, and many now also double up as tour guides. Some have installed washing machines and dryers, which we could see under awnings, but there was still lots of hand-washing happening.

The laundry is big – I read that 7,000 people work there. There were little pens, and tiny houses, all within the laundry walls, though some people live in the slums outside. Lots of tourists were there, taking photographs. We could see lots from the bridge, though for once I wished I had my big camera and not just a phone to take photos.

We walked down, looking for a way inside. The street was very crowded, with tiny shops and stalls and traffic and people. We passed a stall selling meat – there were chickens wilting in the sunshine behind the stall, struggling to get next to a fan. They were killed to order, which makes for very fresh meat (which is necessary when there’s not refrigeration) but an unhappy life for a chicken. We also passed blocks of public washrooms, when you tried to not breath in as you walked past. They are probably the only facilities available for the people who live there, as there didn’t look like they had any plumbing actually in their houses.

We found a gate into the laundry. There was a faded sign, saying that it was in The Guinness Book of World Records, for the most hand-washing done at once. A man appeared, and offered to give us a tour. But it all looked a bit daunting and ‘unofficial’, so we declined.

It was very interesting. When we got back to the hotel, I read that the local people don’t particularly like the laundry, seeing as a dirty place. Apparently most of the cases of malaria and dengue fever come from the laundry. The slums surrounding the laundry are gradually being cleared away, and replaced with tower blocks for the workers to live in. I hope they are better.

I hope you’re enjoying my blogs about India. I have visited several times over the last few months, mainly going into the poorer areas and talking to people, learning about their lives, so I could write my next book.  
CLARA – A Good Psychopath?

Due to be released soon. Don’t miss it. A compelling read with some huge ideas.


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Walk to Worli Sea Face

Walk to Worli Sea Face

Our second day in Mumbai, and we decided to walk a little further than yesterday (it would be hard to walk less far, as we barely left the hotel driveway!)

We set off after breakfast. I was again struck by the contrast between the hotel behind us and the life happening at the end of the driveway. The hotel has large metal gates and guards, to stop the life encroaching on the unreality of the luxurious hotel (though we encroached on the bustle of real life happening on the street). We had a map, and walked for about two miles to the coast. It felt much longer, due to the heat and the noise and the pollution. You can’t walk too fast here, because the air is too thick to want to take deep breaths. I didn’t notice much pollution when we were here before, but we were right on the coast then, so maybe that makes a difference.

India bombards you. You need to be very alert when you walk, as there is lots of potential danger (like the man welding above your head, or the motorbike zooming along the path, or the man carrying a pile of unsecured bricks on his shoulder). The pavement is often rough, with loose paving stones, and there is a whole lot of nasty stuff you need to avoid stepping in. Plus you want to see. There is so much life happening, and you want to notice it all, not miss anything. So you walk slowly, and with care, and you wish you had more than one pair of eyes.

People here live their lives on the street. If you have scissors and a chair, you have a barber’s shop. We passed fruit stalls, and a printer’s shop where machines were spewing out reams of posters, and a laminating shop, and a small unit where they were cutting and polishing granite. A man with a sewing machine was making a suit jacket, and a woman with tweezers was removing a splinter from a child’s foot. A group of women were threading flower heads into garlands outside a temple, and cows were tethered to railings. So much life. I guess, if the weather is dry, and you don’t value privacy, then being outside isn’t unpleasant. It’s hard to evaluate different cultures, and I wonder what those people would think if they visited my home. They would probably think it odd how secluded we are, strange that we should live such isolated lives in our big houses and cars and offices.

I don’t know why I love India. It’s too hot and smoggy and smelly. There is constant noise, and I don’t like eating any of the food because it upsets my tummy. And yet, there is something here that fascinates me and draws me back. Perhaps it’s the people, who are polite and who decorate their clothes and buildings with such lovely patterns. I like the way people are busy, striving to improve, always on the look out for a chance in life.

The sea front was hot, and smoggy. Not particularly beautiful. (The dog in the photo was asleep, not dead.) There was a naked old man bathing, so I had to angle my photographs carefully (didn’t want to shock my mother). Walked back to hotel, and showered. Being outside is fascinating, but I need a safe clean place to escape back to – not sure I would enjoy India if I was back-packing.

When I checked the local news, I read that a boat had sunk just outside Mumbai, carrying a party of school children. And a helicopter had crashed into the bay. And a leopard had wandered into a residential area, mauling people before it could be sedated. (I didn’t even know there were leopards in Mumbai, but it didn’t say it had escaped from anywhere, so maybe there are.) As I said, you need to be careful in India…

Thank you for reading.
Tomorrow we plan to visit an ancient laundry. Why not sign up to follow my blog?


(A rather hot, wishing I had tied back my hair, photo. Was told I looked ‘Mumsy’. Assume that’s a compliment.)



First Day in Mumbai

Slept very heavily, but breakfast finishes at 10:30 local time, so had to set alarm for about 4:40am BST. Short night. Dragged myself to restaurant, hoping it would be worth it. It was. There were dozens of counters serving different food, all freshly cooked. Some were ethnic Indian, some more European. It all looked amazing, with a huge choice of fruits and breads and hot food. A man walked around serving tiny glasses of chai (a spicy tea). My stomach is rubbish at accepting strange foods and different bacteria, so I am always extremely cautious when away, and limit myself to only freshly cooked hot vegetarian food. This was not easy here, as everything looked so tempting, but I forced myself to have just pancakes and black coffee. Husband ate everything.

We did almost nothing all day. The hotel is lovely, with a pool area and spa and fitness room. There is constant noise from the street below, but you don’t really notice it. There is some interesting art work.

At 3pm local time, we went to the drawing room, as our room included complimentary afternoon tea. I knew it was unlikely I would eat any (wouldn’t be hot freshly cooked food) but Husband was keen to sample it. A beautiful array of cakes and sandwiches arrived – it was so hard not to forget my ‘rule’ and just gobble it down. But I knew I was bound to be ill, so limited myself to tea. There was a pianist, and it was all very lovely.

We decided to go out for a stroll. Asked various members of staff if the area was safe to walk around. None of them understood, and all asked where we wanted to go, and whether we wanted a hotel car or a taxi. Am guessing most guests don’t walk. We looked online, and it seemed that walking around this area was safe, as long as we were careful of pickpockets and scams. Violent crime against tourists seems rare.

We walked out the driveway, and instantly were plunged into ‘real India’. There were tiny shops and stalls and people working on the street. Men were welding on balconies, there was a laminating factory, a printing works, grocery stores, people cooking. The whole of life happening right there on the street. We didn’t walk far – it was hot and we were tired – but we saw so much in such a short time. That is India. Very poor and very rich all overlap, and you can’t avoid noticing the contrast. I was wearing smart clothes and sunglasses, which felt very out of place as soon as I left the hotel. Next time I’ll wear my old jeans and a tee-shirt, though I will still look like a tourist. I am so big here, I feel like a giant compared to local people.

Ate dinner in hotel restaurant. We both tried to order food that wouldn’t be too spicy. We both failed. I find I eat a lot of shortbread (brought from England) when I’m in India. I think to enjoy the food here, you need a very strong stomach and to enjoy extremely hot food (we eat a lot of curry in the UK, but it’s much milder than here).

Went to bed about 8pm (1.30am local time). Another day I want to walk to the sea front, and maybe go to see Dhobi Ghat, which is an ancient laundry and is near enough to walk to. Today was about resting after Christmas and new year and the journey, but we still managed to dip a toe into India. It’s a fascinating place. Thank you for reading.

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