Dining Table School Class

Home schooling and Zoom classes have been a regular part of our home life for many weeks during the coronavirus lockdown, but yesterday I had the new experience of actually teaching a primary school lesson from our dining room table by video call.

Going into schools as a Salvation Army Officer is something I’ve always enjoyed; either leading an assembly, taking a class, or simply attending an event. Fortunately, it’s something I can continue now I’m retired. So I was pleased to be invited by a friend to teach a Reception Class at Morgans Primary School, Hertford.

I spoke about the Salvation Army and Easter, answering questions such as: Is it a real fighting army? Why are there so many celebrations and holidays around Easter? Is the Easter bunny a Christian thing?

It seemed to go well and I look forward to further opportunities in the future, and hopefully in person at Freddy and Matilda’s school when life returns to normal.

Note: It was the first time I’d used Google Meet and I preferred it to Zoom.

Marriage Allowance Tax Benefits

In the UK, the HMRC allows you transfer £1,250 of your personal tax allowance to your husband, wife or civil partner. This reduces the overall amount of tax you pay as a couple, and it can be backdated for a number of years. It’s a genuine scheme that may benefit some (but not all) couples, although they don’t advertise it very well.

It’s easy to claim this via the HMRC website, or (as we did recently) by telephone. The only problem we encountered was a long wait to get through to someone, but when we did they were very helpful.

There’s nothing to pay, and possibly lots to gain.

Beware googling ‘marriage tax allowance’. Some shyster firms will charge you for applying (they try to look official), but it’s FREE to apply. Follow our guide and the correct links below to do it safely and at no cost. Source

Unfortunately, there are many companies who offer to do it for you, and charge you up to (and sometimes over) 50% of any backdated tax refund. This could be over £500 for something you can easily do yourself, they simply require the same information you have to give HMRC. They are totally legal scams.

The HMRC website and the one quoted above are really helpful.

Note: I’m not an accountant and this post isn’t financial advice, merely pointing out something you might benefit from and a danger to be aware of. Please do your own homework and make your own financial decisions.

Make a donation: If (as a result of reading this) you save some money, please consider making a donation towards the running costs of this non-profit and free from advertising blog. Click here. Regards, John.

Roseberry Topping (Spring 2021)

While Freddy and Matilda were at school yesterday, we drove (with Pollyanna) past Middlesbrough to deliver presents to friends with a newborn baby. On the spur of the moment, we decided to take a look at one of our favourite beauty spots, but after picking up some lunch from a butcher in Great Ayton.

Roseberry Topping is distinctive and iconic landmark with fine views across North Yorkshire and Cleveland.

At just 1,049 feet (320 m) high, Roseberry Topping may not be the biggest hill you’ll ever see, but it will certainly be one of the most distinctive. Its shape, caused by the combination of a geological fault and a mining collapse in 1912 has made the hill the most beloved landmark in the Tees Valley area. With its half-cone summit and jagged cliff, some say it reminds them of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Source

You can see all the photos I took here.

Do not stand at my grave and weep

A common reading at funerals and remembrance ceremonies, the poem was introduced to many in the United Kingdom when it was read by the father of a soldier killed by a bomb in Northern Ireland. The soldier’s father read the poem on BBC radio in 1995 in remembrance of his son, who had left the poem among his personal effects in an envelope addressed ‘To all my loved ones’. Source

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004)

A Spitfire Roared (1936)

An evocative and emblematic sound of victory in the Second World War, the first British Spitfire roared into life on this day (5 March) in 1936. This iconic aeroplane first took to the skies at Eastleigh Aerodrome and soared above the airfield for eight minutes, powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

The Spitfire is a superbly balanced, high-performance aircraft that could be flown by fairly inexperienced pilots, and it gave the RAF a decisive advantage in the Battle of Britain in 1940. When Hermann Göring asked his pilots in a speech if there was anything they needed, they shouted back, ‘Ja, Spitfires!

Dan Snow writes: The chairman of the Vickers-Armstrong aircraft company named the plane after his young daughter, Anna, who he said was a ‘right little spitfire’. The genius responsible for the plane, Reginald Mitchell grumbled, ‘It’s the sort of bloody silly name they would give it.’ Source

Today, we couldn’t imagine it being called anything else!

Newham Grange Park

Naomi and I have decided that fresh air, exercise, and fun are more important than home schooling this week, the last week before the schools reopen for all pupils next week. Not that we think education is unimportant, we’ve been very diligent with home schooling for Freddy and Matilda, but other things are important as well. Their teachers are excellent and are very understanding.

Yesterday (1 March 2021) I went to Newham Grange Park (not far from our home) with Freddy. You can see all the photos I took here. Freddy is sitting in front of the AIR symbol because someone had drawn something rude on it, but you can see the FIRE and WATER symbols clearly. No prizes for guessing what had been drawn.

Set in a rolling landscape, Newham Grange Park offers something for everyone, with woodlands, streams and ponds, large grassed areas, all interspersed with many fine, mature trees. Working in partnership with the Butterwick Hospice one corner of the park is now the home of the new Butterwick Wood; an area of trees planted in dedication to friends and relatives. Source

St David’s Day

Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, and his feast day is celebrated on 1 March, the date of his death in 589 CE. I have fond memories of eight years lived in South Wales during my working life as a Salvation Army Officer and celebrating this special day with my family.

The Welsh will be especially celebrating this year (2021) after their victory over England in the Six Nations Championship, only two days prior to this traditional festival. I’ve always supported Wales (and still do) as long as they’re not playing England, but it never worked the other way round – England being seen as the ‘enemy’. It was often the subject of gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) teasing during the welcome and announcements on Sunday in worship at the Salvation Army, I gave as good as I got and often fully deserved the reaction I provoked.

Traditional symbols of daffodils (Wales) and leeks (Saint David) are worn, traditional Welsh food eaten, and traditional Welsh dress worn by the women and girls. I well remember my (now grown-up) English daughter proudly going to school in her Welsh costume. Teasing aside, we’re all enriched by appreciating and (when and where appropriate) respectfully sharing in the traditions of others.

Norton High Street

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

Sometimes we walk up and down the High Street, enjoying its wonderful feel and character. I took the above photograph on a fine day at the beginning of February 2021. I’m hoping to take a collection of photos in the near future which reflect its history and variety, I’ll post them here in due course.

Norton High Street (not to be confused with the High Street in Stockton) is the main thoroughfare through Norton and is a leafy street of some considerable length that is full of charming 18th century houses and it is worth a stroll for those with a passion for old houses to pick out some of the best ones. Some are occupied by pleasing outlets and places to eat. You can read more here.

Norton High Street is very special to Naomi and I because we met twice for coffee and cake in Cafe Lilli and Cafe Maison before our first proper date in 2013. Both are worth a visit after the coronavirus lockdown.

See also: Norton Duck Pond and Norton Parish Church

Halifax Piece Hall

Our half-term day trip to Halifax this time last year (February 2020) was a wonderful family day out, although little did we know how coronavirus would soon become a world-wide pandemic (March 2020) and change all of our lives. It was a wet day (as you can see from the above panorama), but we look back with an increasing fondness engendered through an enforced lockdown.

Halifax is a historic market, mill and minster town in West Yorkshire, England. In the fifteenth century the town became an economic hub of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, primarily in woollen manufacture. From New Year’s Day 1779 manufacturers and mercers dealt internationally through its grandiose square, the Piece Hall. Today it houses many small shops and independent businesses, along cafés, restaurants and venues.

Both Naomi and I have lived near Halifax (before we knew each other) and have friends there. It was lovely to visit with our family, and hopefully we can visit again soon when the lockdown restrictions ease.