The one with Mab in her combies.






Dearest Tommie

Your parcel really went off yesterday morning so I do hope it will go by this mail. We put in some sample packets of coconut to make up the weight, but the box was heavy so we could not put very much. We had to put it in the small packets as all the lead paper is cut at that size. They take samples of the stuff that is made everyday and then open them after a certain time to see how it has kept.

I have put in some more seeds of various sorts. I don’t know whether any will grow. The things with the curious brown leaves attached are the seeds of the ‘Hora’ tree from which this place gets its name. This is really Hora-Kelle (forest) and before it was cleared to plant coconuts there was a big hora forest here. There are still a good many trees about and they are very fine. They have perfectly straight, thick trunks, quite bare for about 20 or 30 feet and then they branch out. The seeds like shrivelled berries are Teaks. They are awfully pretty trees with dark leaves and big bunches of pale green flowers like the shape of Spanish chestnut blooms. The long bean is a plant that has a rather pretty white flower a little like a very big jasmine only with no scent. Aren’t the red berries pretty? But they are poisonous. I planted some in a box and some on a sponge and I found that only the brownie coloured ones came up so I suppose they are the ripest. I think if you were to plant some of the various seeds and keep them in the kitchen they might come up. I generally soak mine in tepid water before planting. They say it makes them germinate quicker.

I am going to send you a paper with an account of the earthquake. I thought you would like to see it although it did not really amount to much.

The new Boy is going on very well so far and he is certainly keeping the house very much cleaner than it was before. He had the sitting room carpet up the other day without being told and I noticed this morning he had got everything out of the little sideboard arrangement. We have not got a proper sideboard you know, only a sort of little chiffonier thing with two cupboards and two drawers and then in the top one glasses, finger bowls etc have to be kept. You are obliged to keep your things in evidence in the dining room here, you know, because there is never any proper place in the kitchen. We have a dinner wagon too and on that we have the tea and breakfast sets, cruets, and all the silver things we have in use. There are some shelves in the kitchen verandah and our dinner things are kept there. There are two safes there too where our eatables are kept and we have a big cupboard in the dining room under the stairs where we keep groceries and drinks and spare china etc, rather like our cupboard in the breakfast room.

One thing, this Boy is a very good cook, gives us awfully dainty little meals and serves up everything so nicely. The other Boy had got so lazy and he always served us up the same things, so often fish cakes and rissoles till we got sick of the sight of anything round. He makes very good bread too, both white and brown. You can’t think what a treat it is to have nice bread and butter again. George has gained a bit lately and I am sure it is the nourishing brown bread. What he had been eating was always made of the very cheapest flour and must have been very bad for him. I weigh 9 stone 9 lbs so I am not quite an elephant yet.

I like the Hospital stamp very much and have stuck it on the calendar on my writing table. I do hope you felt better after you got home and you ought to go on with the Chemical food for some time. One bottle is no good. I cannot understand you taking, or Kate allowing you to take, any sort of medicine that had been kept years. Of course it would have made you ill. The properties would have changed tremendously. I wonder it didn’t poison you. I think you were perfectly idiotic. It has simply undone all the good work going to Fairbank would have done you. What a fool Fanny is and what a lot of good a spanking would do her. How jolly of Kate to give you a tan waterproof. I am so glad. Is it at all like mine? I should like to think we are ‘little twins’.

I had a letter from Mrs Gillespy this mail. She seems perfectly happy at Billingshurst and very pleased with everything. She said she hoped you would come and stay and was disappointed you could only come for a day.

Talking about Christmas presents makes me feel quite excited although I know it won’t feel a bit like Xmas here, but still having presents will make it a bit better. At any rate it will be a more peaceful one than last. With regard to our presents, of course there are heaps of things we want both, small and large, so I’ll give you a long list, but mind, I’m only putting down big things just to show you what we haven’t got but you are not to allow Mother to insist on getting something which costs pounds just because it is down on the list. We shall be very cross if you spend much. You have all spent so much on us already, and tell Kate that too. We shall only be able to send very feeble little offerings home, there are so many to send to, but people won’t expect much from a newly married pair, will they? There are such jolly things I should like to buy you, but they are all so dear. We are going to manufacture things though. We have got some in our minds eye.

We are rather wondering about George’s books. He wrote and asked his mother to send them out to him and just mentioned a few he could think of. The other day he had a letter from her and she said she had asked Jack to go and look out the books George had mentioned. Of course he meant her to send them all, note books and everything as they are coming out for nothing with the company things. It doesn’t matter how many come and there are a lot of things in note books that he has written at different times that he sometimes wants. She is really rather foolish sometimes in understanding things and of course he can’t ask to have a box sent out again too soon.

I am looking forward to the cricket photos. Please give my love to Dor and thank her very much for her letter. Her evening frock does sound pretty and I want to see it badly. It is hateful to think of her doing her hair up and I shan’t be there to see. She will seem so different when I come home.

I must tell you such a comic thing which happened the other day, though annoying. I was just going to dress before tea when George came up to say a sort of pedlar man had come and did I want anything? We did want one or two things so he went down to see what he had got while I dressed. I went on calmly dressing and had nearly finished when my door suddenly opened and in walked the office boy, followed by the pedlar man and another man with the pack. I gasped and tore past them down to the office to fetch George. I found that he had been sent for to go into the mill and the office boy (who was new and cheeky) had taken it upon himself to bring the man upstairs. The cheek of walking into my bedroom without even knocking did for me. If they had been five minutes sooner I should have been attired only in my combies. I always lock my door now!

George was furious. He smacked the office boy’s face and sent off the man without buying anything. The boy is not supposed to come into the house and to come upstairs was great impertinence. George smacking his face evidently offended his dignity as he has never appeared since. I laughed afterwards although it made me very hot at the time, especially as none of them could speak English.

I do hope Mother had a good time at Fairbank and came back rested.

lots of love and kisses to everybody

from Mab


The one where Mab has a rant.





Dearest Tommie

I am cross and I should like to smack someone. I nearly did George but not quite. We did up your little parcel, sent it off gaily yesterday and the postmaster sent it back and said we must insure it. We thought it would not be necessary as it was not worth much. George went off at early dawn this morning with it to the post office to try and get it in the bag before the coach came but the postmaster had sealed up the bag and of course would not open it again so now it won’t go till next mail, as parcels have to be in Colombo a day earlier than letters. We find that 3lb is the minimum and although this only weighs 6ozs, we have to pay the same, so we are going to make up the weight with desiccated coconut.

I hope you will like the little bangle, it is not the sort you meant, but Mrs Maxfield thought it was a better kind for hanging things on and as it is rather pretty I kept it and if you would like one of the other ones I can easily get it when I go to Colombo and they are both very cheap. If the moonstone comes out, you must tell me and I will send you another to have put in. Mrs Maxfield didn’t think the ring in the little jumbo was very safe so you had better let Mrs Dealing look at it. Tell her I’m still happy and we have not come to blows yet!

Oh why did I leave my native land to come to this abominable country!  We had two earthquake shocks on Sunday night and I didn’t like it at all.  It was about quarter past four and I was sound asleep when I was awakened by hearing a sort of rattling at the door which I thought was the pups scratching to come in. Then the whole room began to shake and everything rattled and there seemed to be a sort of roaring noise and I said to George, ‘Whatever does it mean?’ He said, ‘Earthquake’. I said ‘Oh!’ and promptly got between him and the bed and even then I shook about. It only lasted about a minute although it seemed ages and then about five minutes afterwards there was another little shock. George wired to the Observer and has also sent a little account, I think. Aren’t I getting an experienced person? Of course we felt it a good deal more being upstairs. Mr Van Dort thought it was thieves on his roof as the tiles rattled about so, it never dawned upon him what it was.

The mail is late this week. We shan’t get our letters till this evening. I have written a long letter to Kate this week. I wrote to Dory last. I am going to call on Mrs D’Olivera this afternoon if it is possible to get a cart. George has been trying all over the place to get one, now there is just a chance the postmaster might be able to get one. This is a hole of a place. There was church the other day but we couldn’t go as we couldn’t get a cart. But it is the same with anything we want to do and it is certainly a trial for one’s temper and patience living in this place.

Our new Boy came on Sunday night and so far is very good but it is too soon to say. He is a Sinhalese and has a very good character for cleanliness. He cooks very well, seems to be a decent sort of man altogether. Such a funny little type with a square head.

Mr Clarke sent me the two photos that he took of the mill coolies, but they are very bad. There are men and boys in one and women and girls in the other. The women would put their hands in front of their mouths and giggle.

Did you notice the funny little seal on your last letter? George is using them for business letters as we have a faint idea the postmaster at Madampe opens the letters. They are very clever in doing that sort of thing. These seals are rather cute aren’t they? Oh, I was nearly forgetting. Could you send me one or two Ambulance books? You can have them again when we leave this place but so often accidents happen to the coolies and of course they come to George. If they are really hurt he sends them off in a cart to the hospital but generally it is only slight things. They are very fond of falling off the desiccators about eight feet onto a cement floor and naturally get very bruised. Then sometimes they cut themselves with the choppers they break open the nuts with. We have got a little medical book which is very good but there are a lot of useful things in the Ambulance ones, I know. George keeps lint and Elliman’s and a few things like that in the office for cases of emergency.


Well I think that’s all for to day so I’ll say ‘Adoo’. I am wondering how your neuralgia is, better this time, I hope, and Mother’s too.

lots of love and kisses for everybody

from Mab


Mabel has a visitor.



September 4th, 1900

Dearest Tommie

If the mail happens to be a little late this letter ought to arrive on the 25th so ‘Many Happy Returns of the Day’, my dear, and lots of love from us both. I am going to send you a minute present in a few days but it has not come yet. I was so hoping we might have been down to Colombo before this so kept putting it off, but now I have written to Mrs Maxfield to get what I want.

I do hope the change and Fairbank will have done you good. You don’t sound up to much what with your shoulder and your tummy. You’ve been doing too much, that’s what it is, and it is a good thing the doctor has knocked off your tennis for a bit.

I do feel badly not having done anything for Miss Kew but somehow I always seem to have a  lot of work on hand, sewing the buttons of George’s trousers is quite a day’s work every week. The Dhobi is most skilful in pulling them off. We have not got a new Boy yet but expect one in a day or two.

The puppies are growing very fast and require plenty of nourishment. We have to give them a dish each as when we give them their food in one dish they gobble so tremendously that we think it must be bad for their little digestions. We had a dreadful fright last week. Our little cat disappeared on Wednesday and did not come back until Sunday evening. I was unhappy. I quite thought she had been killed in some way or else  someone had stolen her. We think she must have got shut up in the copra shed as she goes in there to eat shavings and it was shut up and not opened till Sunday. She was not much thinner, but very frightened, as there are lots of rats and mice in there. Of course someone might have caught her and kept her shut up but if they did I know she would have come back directly she got a chance. The puppies were pleased to see her again, in fact their welcome was almost too energetic. When Moses, who is very broad in the beam, charges at her, he knocks her head over heels.

I hope the Longs party was nice but it was sure to be jolly. I should think that silk would make an awfully pretty blouse and go very well with the yellow skirt. I expect she will have jolly presents. How sad its being so wet on Thursday for cricketing. I expect you were all miserable, especially with your best clothes on.

Of course that beastly little machine won’t work. I never thought it would. George has slaved over it, so have I until I cursed. One of these days I shall chuck it into the canal.

Please give my love to Mother and thank her ever so much for her lovely long letter. I do hope the scorpion etc has arrived quite safely, it would be sad if it didn’t.

Things are going very satisfactorily at the mill just now and they are getting much better reports from London so I hope George’s worries are over. He is still very busy though as they are building onto part of the factory and it needs a lot of looking after. By the way, the petitions I sent back home were not written by the people themselves but by regular professional writers whose business it is. They only just say what they want to and the man composes it, thinks he writes uncommonly good English too, I expect.

We had it very wet on Saturday and Sunday, most unusual for this time of the year as it ought to be pretty hot, but instead it’s fairly cool and breezy. The NE monsoon might break in about a month and then I expect we shall have a lot of rain.

I was nearly forgetting to tell you that I had a caller the other day, quite an exciting event. She was a native lady, a Mrs De Oliveira, very high caste and perfectly English in every way. Her husband is the Police Magistrate at Chilan and he comes over to Marawila, a village a few miles away, once a fortnight, so they have a little house there too. She was very nice indeed and very good looking, a sort of soft browny colour. She had on a brown coat and skirt and pink vest and hat and they were just the colours for her. Her brother is the Maha-Medliyan, the native A&C of the Governor. She has been in London, was there for the Jubilee and was presented at one of the Drawing Rooms. Her sister, Miss Bandaranaika is very well known in society and I think has married an Italian count. I am going to call on her next Tuesday. I wish it didn’t mean going for miles in a bullock cart though.

Don’t laugh at the little home made birthday card but I can’t write for them. It is so unsatisfactory and I thought you might like one I had made myself.

Good bye, I wish I were at home to make you a birthday cake. Oh, I’ll tell you what I want you to give me for a Christmas present – a cake with walnuts in it! There’s nothing like asking for what one wants but the ones we get are rather heavy and underdone somehow and I don’t fancy them and I do long for a nice homemade one. That is of course, if it won’t cost too much to send, it must be just a tiny one.

Lots and love and kisses to everybody

from Mab

Mabel: Killer, Photographer, Spendthrift.



August 20th 1900

Dearest Tommie*

You and mother are the poor old cripples with your rheumatism or neuralgia. I should be inclined to think yours is the latter. Have you taken any of that neuralgia tonic? I should think it would very likely do you good, at any rate I should give it a trial. You certainly ought to adopt some stringent measures to get rid of it. Suffering like that is beyond a joke. Tell Mother she ought to eat as much as she can and I think she ought to have a little whisky either with her dinner or supper. I think she needs it once a day at least. I do hope to hear in your next letter that you are both better.

I like the sound of your silver frame very much but I should certainly choose somebody better looking than that frightful thing of me to put in it. I have not got a frame for your photo but I have stuck it up on a ledge and I shall see it gradually fade away before my eyes. I think it is awfully good of you and of the children too, Elsie particularly, she does look a pretty little thing. But you must have your photograph taken properly because I have not got a decent one of you at all and I want one badly.

By the way, George sent off the bottle with the scorpion etc. last week. I hope it will arrive all right. Don’t be disappointed at the size of the box but it had to be packed very carefully because of the spirit. I hope Mother won’t be frightened of the contents. There are quite a lot of things – a big scorpion, and a tiny one, a tiny centipede, a sort of grasshopper, a small green lizard, like the one that went up my legs, a big lizard that lies about in the sun, and a little snake that George found crawling across the compound. We don’t know its name but it is harmless. I think the scorpion is the most loathsome.

We are so cross. I have been taking a lot of photos lately, especially to send Mother, little views inside and outside the house and lots of the canal, and comic ones of the pups sitting in flowerpots and things and two of the owl we caught and all sorts of things. There were nearly 4 dozen altogether and we sent them to be developed the other day and the man has just sent them back developed, but he says none of them are worth printing, and they aren’t, most of the films have not got anything on them at all and the others only blurred smudges. It is all the fault of the beastly people we bought the films off. They had ‘to be developed by July 1st’ on them so we wrote and told them that and asked them to send us some fresh ones but they wrote back that it didn’t matter and that we should find those quite all right. And now they have turned out to be no good at all, I do feel mad. And the worst of it is that we have got to pay 8 rupees for having them developed, that is 10/6, all for nothing. Of course we shan’t pay for the films themselves. I think they are 6 rupees for 4 rolls. I want George to send them the bill for the developing as well. You might ask sometime or other how much small Kodak films are in England. I wonder if we have to pay much more.

I have just killed one of those tiny scorpions. It was walking on the window ledge so I put a letter weight on him and now the ants are busy carrying him off to their larder. They are capital scavengers.

George and I went for quite a long walk yesterday afternoon after tea. It was fairly cool and there was  nice breeze. We went to some deserted paddy (rice) fields. They are just grassy fields divided by little banks to walk on. When the ground is being irrigated, at certain times the paddy has to be kept almost under water or it won’t grow properly. We got into the very marshy place and had to jump from one tuft of grass to another. We hoped to find some butterflies but it was too late for them, they had all gone to bed. But I got some flowers. There are very few actual flowering plants here, most of them are only green things.

I was nearly forgetting to tell you that we have dismissed our Boy and he went on Sunday. We came to the conclusion we were paying too much for wages, 744 rupees a year which is £37.4 and it seems quite ridiculous for only we two. If we had felt we were getting our money’s worth, it would not have mattered so much, but we weren’t. The Boy had got very lazy and did not look after things at all well and he was really getting R22.50 a month for doing almost nothing as I believe Solomon did most of the cooking. What annoyed us was that he had got very slovenly in his dress lately, wore dirty white coats and would bring up early tea in a dirty yellow sort of flannel coat. I think he thought he was a fixture here and so didn’t take any trouble but he went a little too far. We are really glad of an excuse to get rid of him without exactly being angry with him. George did not like parting with him as he has had him ever since he has been out here and he has some very good qualities. He is very honest and truthful which is a very great thing out here but he is certainly lazy.If he had managed with Solomon it would have been all right but he started another cooly and that was too much. Those two had R10 each a month and the bath cooly R4 so that mounted it up to R46.50 a month. We hope Solomon will stay on as cook with wages of R12.50 or 13, but George hasn’t spoken with him yet as the Boy only went yesterday. Then we shall get a young House Boy for R12.50 or R15 and at any rate we shall save a few rupees a month and feel we are getting more for our money. We really have to pay more wages here than we would in Colombo as they don’t like coming to such an out of the way place.


George says he is certain Kodak films are much cheaper in England. so if they are a good deal cheaper will you get me 4 rolls. They keep them in airtight tins out here, each with 4 rolls. I expect they do at home too, but if not they ought to be sent in a tin sealed up so that no light can get to them. I’ll send you the label of an old tin for the size etc. But they must be fresh ones that have not got to be developed in too short a time or they will be bad before I can get them done.

I don’t think I have anything else to tell you so ‘Adoo’.

Much love to everybody

from Mab

*Mab’s sister, Amy Gibson.

Food and My Family. Part One: The Veggie Option.


Food has always been a bit of a thing for our family due to varying needs, desires, temperaments, and opinions. So I’m going to have to split this giant subject into a few parts. I’ll be looking at food allergies and intolerances, meal times, and vegetarianism.

I became a veggie in 1985 when I was 17 years old. I’d been on holiday with my mum and step-dad to Canada and was put off by the slabs of meat on offer all around me. I was already on the verge of vegetarianism, living with an older brother who was a trawler man. (You never knew what might be lurking in the kitchen sink of a morning.) Once back home, I cut meat right out of my diet.

When I met my husband-to-be in my first year at university, he was in his second week of being a veggie, a bet with a friend to see who could last the longest without eating anything that ‘had once had a mother’. So far it had been two weeks and I think because I was already meat-free, it was easier for him to stay strong. He won the bet. He is still a vegetarian now, nearly 30 years on. His friend pretended for a whole year that he was still a contender but we later found out he’d fallen off the wagon after the first month. Mixed grills, burgers, sausages, you name it, he ate it. In secret.

My reason for giving up meat was because of the way animals were treated back in the 80s. I never thought it was wrong to eat animals, as long as they were farmed and slaughtered with compassion. My thoughts began to change a few years ago. I discovered I was B12 deficient, after a long period of frail health. For several months I had been dreaming about red meat. I would wake up salivating over rare steaks and cottage pie. So one evening, when we were out for a meal, I had lamb. It was heavenly. I’ve been eating meat since – but meat from local animals that have been reared well. (Still not too keen on fish as I don’t think I’ll ever get over the early mornings in my childhood kitchen, with the flapping fish and screaming lobsters.)

Our kids have been brought up to decide whether to eat meat or not. The oldest, 21, is a vegan. The middle one, 20, is a meat fanatic. The youngest, 18, after a briefish dabble with vegetarianism, has returned to the dark side.

But I still love a good veggie meal. My favourite restaurant in the world will always be Cranks at Dartington, with its whole food staples, colourful salads, homity pie, and  general lushness. The Cranks Recipe Book was given to me as a student heading off to university and it is still my go to book for all sorts of recipes from Red Dragon Pie to Lentil and Tomato Soup.

That being said, nothing beats a roast dinner. With a decent cut of beef rather than a veggie sausage.

And my B12? I no longer have to have the injections.

Next time: Allergies and Intolerances.



The One with the Pups, the Piccalilli, and the Platinotypes.




My dearest Tommie

It is getting hotter again and I wish it wouldn’t. It is only about 85 degrees but the air is so much moister this monsoon that it feels worse than when it is dry. The wind is still fairly high though so that prevents its being oppressive.

I have just been giving the pups their breakfast. They have bread and milk and blow themselves out with great gusto. George is perfectly disgraceful. Last night when the Boy brought their bread and milk in for their supper, he announced in a loud voice: ‘Here comes the Tummy Tightener!’ And to think we once thought him so modest.

I don’t believe I’ve told you the pups’ names. Moses, Ginger and Nipper. We called the biggest Moses because he is the leader of all the mischief. He is a most impertinent small person, very fat and square with a snub nose and a wrinkly forehead, and perfectly impossible. Ginger is a sort of gingerbread colour (very ugly) hence his name. His great talent is for digging holes in my flower boxes and he gets many a smack. He is a great coward and retires to a corner at once if he hears a footstep and has a guilty conscience. Nipper was rather a screwed up little animal when she was small but has grown apace lately. She is most like her mother with a long nose and short legs, but all their legs are rather short.

Moses is the favourite, especially with George. He will have him on his lap at mealtimes and then of course he tries to poke his nose in everything. Yesterday he rapturously laid it on a piece of piccalilli and retired hastily, sneezing. I hope it may be a lesson to him.

I don’t know what we should do without our animals. They are a great source of amusement. The cat plays with the puppies a lot now. She is so good and never hurts them a bit, not even when they try and shake her tail. She only astonishes them by leaping over their heads.

I have some plants given me this morning. One of the mill coolies put them in the verandah. They are some lovely bits of tradescantia, the red variegated sort and some round leafed plants, sort of pink and greeny colours. They are always very interested in George’s and my gardening operations. I am gradually repotting all the plants. They don’t understand about drainage properly here. I am saving up all my old pennies to send to Nuwara Eliya for some flower seeds. George gives me all the five cent pieces he gets. They are such clumsy things to carry about, three times bigger and thicker than a penny and you have to get a great heap of 20 before you get a rupee.

Oh, thanks awfully for the photo. It is good. Although George makes remarks about chubby cheeks, but it is mostly jealousy. I am afraid it will fade dreadful quick out here as only platinotypes keep, so bear that in mind when you have yours taken. As I hope you will. Poor Jack is getting paler and paler, the one that Freddy took. I shall soon have to confine him to the oblivion of an album.

I am so sorry you and mother have rheumatism so badly. I think you must have been doing foolish things. Does Mother sit at the back door without a ‘little shawl’ to keep the draught off? What is a rheumatic ring? I have never heard of them.

I do hope it was fine for the river picnic and that you had a good time. I wish I could have been there too. It isn’t fair.

George had a letter from his mother last mail and she talked about taking a house at Billingshurst. It sounds like a benighted hole to go to. George does not think much of it as he says the soil is all clay and he thinks it will be very damp and raw in the autumn and winter. It is no good saying anything about it as she is evidently entirely ruled by Ethel. I only hope she won’t regret it.

Tell Joyce it is a very long time since she wrote me a letter. I think she must have forgotten all about Auntie Mab. I hope they have had a good time at Worthing.


Love and kisses to everybody

From Mab

The One where Mabel is racist and George shoots a crow.


Madampe, Ceylon, Tuesday August 7th 1900

Dearest Tommie

I thought of you and Dor yesterday going off to Fairbrook and today I suppose you will go gaily go off to Canterbury. I only hope it is fine. It is 10 o’clock now so you are still in the Land of Nod, but presently you will be in the throes of dressing and I suppose you will start fairly early. What are you going to wear?

I hope you will write and tell me about Cricketing and what everybody wore, especially Fanny, and if you had anybody nice to talk to. I always enjoy the drive almost more than anything. Was Kate very nervous coming out of the ground? It is always a time of wrath with her. She told me in one of her letters that the tennis ground was so bad she did not think she could ask anyone to play on it, so I suppose that means no parties. Poor Dor. She will be disappointed, I did think they might have that ground properly turfed and looked after. It would not cost much. At any rate I should certainly think they would when Dor goes home. It might need to be well dug out and then turfed. It is not a bit of good trying to play tennis on an old hayfield.

George and I have been very busy this morning nailing creepers up the house. They have grown nicely up the lattice work and now we want to have them to the upper verandah. They have to be nailed up the smooth part and then they will twine in and out of the balustrade. The house is already beginning to look better, not so bare. All the woodwork is white so that it will look much prettier covered with creepers.

We are busy collecting specimens to put in the bottle with the scorpion. Is is such a big one that we want to fill it. We have only got a small green lizard, the same sort as the one that went up my leg only this is smaller, a tiny sort of scorpion that we often find about the house. We have found several in our bedroom. One stung George on the foot. It was very slight, like a big prick, and did not swell up or anything. That is the reason why we stained our floor and only have strips of matting as when we had it covered all over, they used to hide between the seams where there is always plenty of dust, a native’s idea of sweeping being decidedly primitive.

I am so glad the fete went off all right and it was a success. What a pity the prizes could not be given away, it is such a feature, especially as you had two to take. I am glad you won the mixed, it is jolly. I am wondering what you will have for a prize. It is generally a pretty good one and are you going to have a racquet for the championship or not? I did not know that Mr Still who you spoke about was Willie Still. Fancy his coming all that long way. Isn’t he very nice. I always like the look of him so much.

George moaned when he heard about Mrs Gillespy making plans behind Ethel’s back: ‘The old mater has got more sense than I gave her credit for.’ He has wanted her to go to Margate very much, at any rate just to give it a trial.

You make me laugh with your tropical weather at 76 degrees. Lawks, if it went down to that, we should want the blanket at least. It was 78 degrees one night and was quite chilly. I suppose we shall have it hotter again soon till the N.E. monsoon comes in October. Certainly I think this must be the nicest part of the year.

George has just shot a crow under this window and the gun going off made me leap with fright. They have to shoot some every now and then as they steal the copra so tremendously and the dead ones are hung up to frighten them.

Lots of love to you all




Mabel is Back with her Thoughts on Disreputable Cats, Killing Lizards, and George’s Digestion.

For those of you who previously read Mabel’s letter on my blog, I apologise for her absence but I am delighted to say she is back. We moved house almost a year ago, and now I have found her letters and will carry on transcribing them.

For those of you who have never heard of Mabel (or Mab as she is known to her family), she was my great-grandmother. From 1899 to 1902 she lived in Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was called then by the Empire). Mabel went to Colombo to marry my great-grandfather, George Gillespy, who ran a cocoa-nut mill. Mab wrote regularly to her mother and sister (Tommie) back in Croydon to tell them about her adventures and through her letters we see an opinionated, formidable woman, with UKIP tendencies, a warmongering heart, and a husband who soon found his place.

Mabel and George’s wedding, Colombo, Ceylon, 1899

Madampe, 23rd July, 1900

Dearest Tommie

Hurrah! I am glad you are Champion. I had rather you won that than anything, and so jolly for you and Maude to be in the final, as if you had not won, she is the next best person. I am sorry you let Muriel N. beat you. I expect you got too much worked up over it and lost your nerve. Now if you win the mixed, I shall be happy. How I long to be in the battle! Playing ordinary games is very tame after a club, especially when you don’t feel very energetic to begin with, but I know it is good for me and also for George as it is the only real exercise he gets. He is working very hard just now as he is making a lot of improvements and alterations in the mill but he is so much more happy and cheerful and is altogether better. He is taking the Kepler’s regularly and I think it is doing him some good.

Here is such a sweet kingfisher sitting on a branch of a tree quite close with its eye fixed on me. I think it must have a nest somewhere in the canal bank as it is always about. I think it is very like the English ones. Its head is brown, sort of chocolate colour, and its wings and beak are the very brightest blue. The squirrels are so funny. One is using the most awful language now because the cat is sitting just underneath the tree in which I think the squirrel has got a nest. It is tearing up and down the branches chatting at the top of its throat and waggling its tail about in the most agitated way, while the cat slumbers peacefully without taking the slightest notice. He has settled down into a steady old cat and is quite comfortable and fat now. He sleeps in our bedroom on a chair, never moves all night. I don’t like him being out at night as I am afraid of him being caught by some animal, and he will fight with disreputable cats.

The pups are sweet now. They can walk pretty well, only every now and then their legs give way utterly and they rub their little noses on the ground. They are awfully funny on the matting as it is slippery and their legs go out in all directions. They can all growl no. It is killing to hear them and they paw at one another in the most absurd way but they have not got much control over their actions yet. They were three weeks old on Saturday. One has got a hiccough at the moment and it is shaking its little body to pieces. We have got rid of a good many fleas with much Keating’s (flea powder) and brushing but they still have a good number. George and I kill as many as we can but as he sagely remarks: ‘You need a monkey for this sort of job!’

The other afternoon I was sitting peacefully upstairs on the verandah when I happened to look over the parapet and I saw a huge lizard advancing across the compound. For one awful second I thought it was a crocodile and then I saw it was a kabaragoya which is harmless and eats frogs and things although it often goes for chickens and would have enjoyed the puppies. I tore downstairs and shouted for the Boy and then went into the office where I found Mr VanDort and he somehow frightened it out of the fence. It climbed a tree and lay there sprawled sticking its tongue out like an anteater. We have seen it about for a long time now and do not like the idea of it being near when the pups get big enough to run about. We thought it best to get rid of it. George’s gun wouldn’t go off; the cartridges were damp. So Mr VanDort got the watchman’s and shot it through the head. A brahman skinned it and we are going to send the skin to be tanned as Mr VanDort says it makes the most lovely leather, better than crocodile as it is not as thick. The thing was really rather alarming as its body was almost as long as the stuffed crocodile at Hurst.

Fancy Edith McMinn being engaged, she seems such a kid, but I suppose she is nineteen. Please give her my love and best congratulations. She certainly has gone in for the ‘long of it’. I should think he is a very nice fellow. I just spoke to him slightly at their party and I liked him very much.

We have had an invitation from Mrs Stanley Bois to a fancy dress dance on August 9th. It is nice of them to ask us up to town. Of course we have refused as we have decided not to go away for Race Week and anyhow it would be a great expense as it is sure to be a swell affair and we should have to have proper costumes. It would have been very jolly as they only know the very best people in Colombo. We are rather sad at missing all the festivities but it can’t be helped and it would’ve been wretched for George who would’ve felt all the time that he ought to be at the mill. It would have cost a huge amount too as Colombo is crowded and everything is expensive and there would have been so many other things  besides the hotel bill. No one ever walks in Colombo so rickshaws and hackneys would have mounted up. Personally I don’t mind very much. It isn’t as if I have any friends I wanted to see.

Of course I will send you a bangle as soon as I can get one. Unfortunately the letter in which you mentioned it came just after we got back from Colombo or I could have got it then. When you try silver things you have to make sure they weigh it with rupees. However much it weighs, you add a little bit for workmanship so that if a thing weighed 3 rupees, you could pay 3.75 and feel you were not being done much. 25 cents to the rupee is the usual price for the workmanship unless it is very elaborate. Of course they do passengers and people who don’t know the tricks tremendously. It was Mrs Masefield who told George.

I do hope your rheumatism soon got better. You ought not to have it in the summer. I shall think of you and Davina having a good time at cricketing. I hope it won’t be too hot so that Kate can enjoy it. G.C.C Cricket Week seems to be going off all right. It was jolly you having a holiday for it. We roared over your and Mrs Wild’s fright over the burglar. I must say I don’t think much of Chrissie Brooks’s choice. Who could stand little Diplock for a husband?

Many thanks for the Chambers and all the papers. By the way, tell Bob the next time he sends a cutting from the paper to look at the back and not try to pollute my innocent mind with scurrilous literature. What is Jane up to? Will she go to jail? I am anxious to know the end of her exploits. Poor Edward. I should think he feels rather low. I saw Winnie Morris’s wedding in the paper, also Kate Norton’s. Gertrude’s dresses all sound very pretty, don’t they? I suppose her man is well off or she would not have had him.

George and I have given up Ethel as she is so appallingly selfish. Even if he wanted to, it is no good George writing anything to his mother as she only writes back making out Ethel a paragon of virtue and it only makes us crosser. I do honestly think it is a great pity she is not with Walter next winter as very likely he won’t take much care of himself and only get nasty colds.

How nice of Lottie to send you that blouse. It will be useful. I don’t get on very fast with my dressmaking. I have not finished the silk one yet. Having no machine is a drawback, isn’t it?

We are having delightful weather, cool and breezy. This morning it was only 78 degrees. it is barely 80 now at 2 o’clock. It is cloudy too and that is a blessing. We can start playing tennis quite early. We have such lots of people going past these last few days both in boats and on the road. They are Roman Catholics going to some sort of festival at a big church about 15 miles up the canal. They make a pilgrimage to it once a year and it is a great holiday for them.

Well I must shut up as it is nearly 3 o’clock.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody.

From yours ever,




Cold Feet, Warm Slippers.


Over the last few weeks I have been gorging on the five series of Cold Feet, a programme that I used to love watching, with its believable characters, quirky playfulness, and real emotion. The revisits made me laugh and cry, once again. I remembered how good it was. How original. And that not only was it northern, but the women had an equal footing with the men.

I’ve let myself indulge in this escapism (quite a lot of dedicated hours) as I have just finished my latest novel and because I wanted to be prepared for the new series of Cold Feet, which came back to our screens last night after an absence of thirteen years.

I was really nervous and excited. Would it be a disappointment? A let-down? Would it be more than nostalgia?

Well, it was actually really good. The characters stayed true to themselves. Older, somewhat jaded, but instantly knowable. When we last saw them they had young children, like me. Now they have older teenagers, like me. They’ve grown up, like me. A little wiser? That remains to be seen. 


In a couple of weeks I am going to a 30 year university reunion. (Which is a bit weird as my third novel, Bright Stars, published last year, is about a university reunion.) I can’t believe it’s really been three decades since I left my home in Devon to be a student at Lancaster. Although I still have good friends who’ve grown up with me, there will be people I haven’t seen in thirty years. I’m nervous and excited. (And very much hoping the reunion isn’t as disastrous as my fictional one.)

And I’m wondering which one will have a new head of hair. Or a much younger spouse…

sophie lecture 028
Me studying back in 1987 at Lancaster University