Twelve myths about blindness—by Rob & Catherine Davies

Rob and Catherine at Hetton Hall, the former Motherhouse of the Northumbria Community

Before I met Rob I had the usual misconceptions about blind people, since I have known him I have heard many people asking him (or me) the same questions that I used to ask.  A common one is that blind people can recognise a person by feeling their face – sorry, great for Hollywood, but not true!

So we decided that I should write out the most common “myths” and Rob would answer them, by the way, Rob is now totally blind.


Twelve myths about blindness

1. Blind people have no sight at all

In the United Kingdom, there are about one million people who are known to suffer degrees of blindness. Blindness is often described as visual impairment. Most are partially sighted, but about 200,000 have such a severe problem that they are registerably blind. Among those who are registered blind, only 18% have total blindness. Even most of these can tell the difference between light and dark.

The other 82% have some degree of remaining sight. Some see only a vague blur; others as if they are looking through frosted glass. Another group have no central vision and there are those who see as if looking down a long narrow tunnel. It is possible for some blind people to have enough sight to read a computer screen but not enough to safely cross a road.

2. Blind people have improved hearing or touch

There is no truth in the widely held belief, that blind or partially sighted people are somehow endowed with a better sense of hearing, touch or scent. They have similar senses to everyone else, except that they have serious sight loss.Many endure further difficulties due to hearing loss, poor touch, or inadequate scent or taste. Especially if they are older in years.

Sadly, there is no acquired ‘sixth sense’ which helps visually impaired people overcome their sight loss.

However, many of them have been able to improve their circumstances by learning to become careful listeners or are making the best out of the senses they have retained.

3. Braille is used by most blind people

Out of the million known visually impaired people in the United Kingdom, there are about 13,000 fluent Braille readers. Many others use Braille in a limited way, to label items or to make simple notes. To be able to read Braille, it is necessary to have good touch sensitivity.  Not everyone has the sensitive nerve ends to do this, especially if they are older in years.   Braille is vital for people who are both blind and deaf.

A small number of older people use Moon instead of Braille. Moon is simpler to learn and its tactile curves and lines are easier to feel than Braille dots.

4. Blind people cannot use computers

Many blind and partially sighted people use computers, smart phones or tablets. Either at work, educational establishments and in the home. Some use large print or modified colour displays.    Others use audio text readers and a further group has electronic Braille pads. Their specialist software enables them to use standard office programs, browse the Internet and communicate by Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages and phone calls.

Smart phones provide GPS pavement navigation, talking books, text recognition tools which read printed paper and camera apps which recognise product labels, colours and the values of money. On the whole, visually impaired people are just as able at using modern technology as sighted folk.

5. Guide dogs are used by all blind people

There are around 5,000 guide dog owners in the United Kingdom and there are up to 200,000 people who are registered blind. Whilst these valuable dogs are able to considerably improve the independence of their owners, they are not always the right solution for everyone. Looking after a trained guide dog takes extra time and effort and not everyone has the ability or inclination to do this.

6. Guide dogs can take blind people anywhere

A guide dog works within simple limitations. Generally speaking, it is only useful if its visually impaired owner has a good mental map of each journey. Established routes are worked out in advance with the help of guide dog professionals. A guide dog has been trained to safely lead someone along a length of pavement and to sit down at the next kerb. It will also stop if there is a hole in the pavement or if there is an obstacle on the path. In each case, it will await further instructions from its handler; a dog cannot judge the speed of approaching traffic, though its owner can use it to cross at a pedestrian crossing.

7. A blind person will recognise your voice

Some people have very distinctive voices, but most do not. You will have noticed this when using a telephone.

It is more difficult to recognise people by voice when walking outside or in a busy room. Blind people are no different from everyone else; except that they are unable to see that someone is speaking to them.

When you meet a visually impaired person, introduce yourself by name. If you know their name use it, then they will know that you are speaking to them and not someone else. This is particularly important if there are other people about. To further attract their attention, gently touch their upper arm with your hand. When you are leaving, say you are going away. Nobody likes to find that they have been speaking to an empty space!

8. All with limited vision can use large-print books

Large print is a great help to many people who have limited sight. But some visually impaired people may be able to find their way around a room quite well, but not be able to read large print. They may have lost a major part of their central vision or find difficulty in dealing with the glare of white paper. If this is the case, they may appreciate having important items read to them or recorded on to a memory stick.  If they use a computer or other devices, then send them the information by email. Talking books are very popular with people with poor sight. They are usually read by professionals and there is a wide range of subjects to choose from. Local libraries, the RNIB, Audible, Amazon and Kindle are among many suppliers.

9. Blind people live dangerous lives

This is only partly true. The biggest danger is from the unconsidered actions of sighted people. These include obstacles being left on pathways, like bicycles and badly placed shop signs. Also, vehicles which park in front of pedestrian crossing areas and dropped curbs or fail to observe speed limits.

So called “Shared Spaces” are particularly dangerous for blind people, and for visually impaired people generally, many older people also find it impossible to safely use these kerb-less places.

Most visually impaired people use a mixture of common sense and mobility training to improve their independence in the community and at home. Blind and partially sighted people participate in a wide range of sport and recreation, and have a good record of safety.

10. Blind people cannot live on their own

Many visually impaired people live on their own, either by choice or circumstances. Some of them have full time jobs or have children of their own. They may receive some sighted help, but will do most things themselves. There are a range of items to assist them in safely preparing food and doing their household chores or gardens. Most major supermarkets have staff who are able to help blind and partially sighted  people with their shopping. And many shop on the Internet

11. Blind people do not enjoy TV or theatre

Not true. Some blind and partially sighted people can see quite a bit of a television picture. It depends on the usefulness of any of their remaining sight.   Those who cannot see the picture at all, often enjoy the words and sound on quiz programmes, musicals and wildlife features.  Modern televisions have an option to switch on Audio Description for many programmes and DVD films. You can find this in the Sound part of your TV’s Menu.  Audio description runs in the background of the main soundtrack and is a great help in explaining what is happening on the screen without being too intrusive. Blind people also follow TV programmes on their computers, tablets and mobile phones, using their talking screen readers to select and review programmes available on the Internet. The latest “smart TV’s” have similar options.

Theatre is a social experience as well as a show. Looking forward to going out with friends is often part of the enjoyment. As with television, the spoken and sung words provide a lot of information and many theatres and cinemas offer audio description for visually impaired people.    There are similar helps at stately homes, museums, art galleries and zoos.

12. All blind people are super-saints

Really!  Sorry, visually impaired people do not have a special gift of patience and tolerance. Nor are they exceptionally religious. Like anyone else, there are times when they feel depressed, frightened, get angry or frustrated with their circumstances. Some struggle with deep spiritual questions, relating to their blindness or their self-worth.

Quite a few trust in God and derive much comfort from their faith. Even so, they would not claim to be super-saints, but just ordinary people trying to get the best out of life. If you would like to read how Rob’s own spiritual journey has helped him in his blindness and all areas of his life, it is here below:                                                                                                                                ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Rob’s personal journey

I started to lose my sight as a teenager and it slowly deteriorated until, at the age of 65, I became totally blind. I have had lots of training to help me cope with my sight loss and access to resources and equipment. On top of this, I have needed to dig deep into my spiritual needs to cope with self-esteem, life expectation, hope for the future and many other issues. I decided to explore Christian spirituality and started to attend my local church. The congregation was very friendly and supportive, and I learned a lot about God’s love for me and how he sent Jesus to give us hope for this world and the next one to come.

When I started to go to church my life was in a mess. My sight had deteriorated badly and, although I still had some useful sight, I was added onto the blind register. I lost my job; my marriage had fallen apart and I was living on benefit for the first time in my life. There were things that I didn’t like about myself and I was starting to clutch on anything which might give me some comfort. I still wasn’t sure that God was real, but someone told me that if I put my trust in Jesus it would lift a heavy load off my shoulders. One Sunday morning, after the service was over, I found a quiet place in the church and got on my knees, asking Jesus to come into my life and help me get things sorted. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if my burden of worry and stress was lifted from me and I knew I had done the right thing. I started to believe in God and joined a group to study the Bible.

Being a new Christian I was advised to set a little bit of time each day for reflection, Bible study and prayers. The Torch Trust for the Blind provided me with an audio version of “Every Day with Jesus” with a short Bible verse, some comments and a prayer. I got into the habit of starting my day with this and it challenged and encouraged me in improving my attitude to myself and other people. It also persuaded me to have more faith in God, because he is my loving father in heaven and wants the best for me. I still get daily readings from Torch to help me in my time with God after all those years.

I was soon making some good and supportive friends in the church membership. We had a lot of fun, going out for meals, events and working on social projects. They visited me when I was in trouble and often gave me lifts in their cars to hospital appointments. I learned more from this love in action than reading books and attending talks.

I think that the most difficult thing I had to come to terms with, was learning to use a white cane to get around in public. The technique in itself is simple enough. I just felt that everyone was looking at me with pity in their eyes and my self-esteem hit rock bottom. It got very much worse when people tried to help me, and I confess that I lost my temper on several occasions. One day when I was on a training walk, I clearly heard God speak to me. ‘My rod and my staff will comfort thee.” It cheered me up and I often think about this when I am struggling. My struggle was worth the effort in the end, for my white cane skills are very good and it has helped me navigate myself out of some difficult situations. I don’t hear God’s voice very often, but 20 years ago, when I was beginning to lose the last of my limited sight I clearly did. I was sitting in my garden praying for help for I lived on my own. The words came to me, ‘Have you ever considered getting married again?’ I thought about it and almost ignored it. Who would marry a blind man of my age who had to depend on benefits? Then I remembered that God is full of amazing surprises, so I replied that I was up to this if he found the right person for me.                                                                       Within 18 months I was married to Catherine and we are just right for each other. We both help each other through times of difficulty and trust in the same Jesus who God sent to save us.                            The smiling  photo of us at our church has a cross and the words “Hope is here” on it.

This link will take you to Catherine’s article on Body language and misunderstanding blindness

Due to all the spam we have had to turn off the commenting on this WordPress blog. You can contact us via Catherine Davies van Zoen on Facebook Messenger.

Posted in About us including WRNS, Living with Blindness | 4 Comments

A Passion for Northumberland

Passion for Northumberlandn crouchingThe Last Supper, served from the deli behind the soldiers. Satan is crouching by the bench, on the left, behind Judas, the hen-party are on the right.

The Last Supper, served from the deli behind the soldiers. Satan is crouching by the bench, on the left, behind Judas, the hen-party are on the right. Today is the 31st of March, Easter Sunday 2013. Not since I discovered in 1993 that Jesus really is alive and wanted a relationship with me, have I been so moved spiritually and in every way. Hence – this new blog post. My apologies that it is the longest so far, but I feel I need to get all these impressions down. This is my personal point of view, as one of the disciples. The photos were mostly taken by Emily Hammond, Ed Butlin, Chris Friend & myself, click on them to open in a larger form, then click on the back arrow to return to this page. Those marked as images from North East Press are by Jane Coltman, of the Northumberland Gazette.

A few short months ago I heard that people in our church (Alnwick Baptist) were joining with others, from other denominations and people from no church at all, to present “Passion for Northumberland”.

To quote from the website:

Passion for Northumberland is a project to dramatise the Easter Story on Good Friday, 29th March 2013 in the heart of Northumberland, in Alnwick Market Square. Through live drama and singing, this all-age Passion Play by the Community, for the Community, will tell the story in a contemporary style, whilst remaining true to the Bible’s account of events”.

Now, what Rob and I had never told anyone was something that happened over 6 years ago, when we visited Alnwick to test what we thought was God prompting us to move 400 miles northeast from Minehead in Somerset to this town of Alnwick, in north Northumberland.

Alnwick Market Place from The Lunchbox, Northumberland Hall is opposite, The Town Hall is to the right (out of sight).

We were sitting outside the Lunchbox café, in the Alnwick Market  Square/Place, having our lunch and enjoying the sunshine. Rob told me he had a vision of a Passion Play being presented here at some time in the future. Rob had moved from a town where they had a form of Passion Play and he felt that this sheltered old Market Place, the center of the town for centuries, was an ideal natural theatre.  We kept this to ourselves but ‘pondered it in our hearts’.

So we were thrilled to hear that others had that dream too, indeed we learned recently that Chris Friend, our church’s Community Worker and coordinator of PFN, had also had this vision about the same time as Rob! Not that we even knew him then.

We decided to go along to the rehearsals and see what part we could play in this production. I thought originally that I could offer to sew costumes, but it was to be in contemporary clothing. Rob’s ‘job’ was immediately apparent – he would attend all the rehearsals and simply sit and pray silently for the whole evening. Something we certainly needed, it was good to see him there week after week, though we knew a lot of prayer was going up in other parts of the town.

Libby Taylor with Chris Friend at the bottom of the Town Hall steps.

What I didn’t expect was to be drafted, that first evening, into the small band of disciples – hey – I did say it was set in the here and now so women had an equal opportunity 😉 In fact there was a serious shortage of cast but that didn’t deter anyone. We were ably coordinated, directed and supported by Chris Friend, Chris Jones and Libby Taylor, who was also the contact for the media.  The main characters were already decided, Richard, a farmer, was Jesus AKA “A joiner from Shillbottle, a local village”, Keith, a teacher, was the chief baddy – the truly scary Caiaphas (the Chief Priest), Dean was to be Pontius Pilate and also The Narrator, who expertly ‘wove’ the story together. They had various henchmen/men in suits and security guards/soldiers. There were other characters too such as Charis a young woman from a village near Alnwick, playing Mary Magdalene who was to be part of a hen-party, out with her friend, bride-to-be Ronny (Veronica) and their girl-friends. Trevor was excellent as Judas, a hard role to play.

Vital to any production – tea/coffee ladies!

Ed Butlin was in charge of the technical side of things, a vital part of the production. We were not actually going to cause any serious bodily harm to Richard so the Big Screen, with pre-recorded driving in of nails, with sound effects and clenching of fists on a wooden beam were part of the effects. Plus the “Story so far” , which was shown at the start with ‘headlines’ under the banner of the local Northumberland Gazette. And some grainy black & white video shots of a terrifying Caiaphas ranting against Jesus. This all entailed a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation by Ed and his tech team – which also grew as the weeks went by. Early version of The Passion opening video

The opening video ‘The story so far’ on the screen

The performance was taking place over the whole of the cobbled Market Place, with the ‘baddies’ mostly on the Town Hall steps and the disciples hanging out around the Market Cross on the opposite side. So Ed and his team planned to film the action that was taking place and have the main characters spot lit, and showing on the big screen so the public would be able to follow the story, around 7 of them had radio mikes, always tricky in such a big outdoor space! And remarkably, only one played up briefly.

As the weeks of rehearsal went by the script changed as ideas were worked out and either adapted, discarded or included, Chris Jones had written the story and seemed content with changes that appeared along the way “This works better if Mary, Jesus and Judas form the three points of a triangle during the confrontation over the perfume” being one such adaptation. Here are some of the quick shots of our rehearsals to give you an idea…

Rehearsal snaps – Chris Jones directing

Rehearsal snaps – Last Supper

Rehearsal snaps – Jesus Arrest

As I said, there were not many cast members in the first couple of weeks, around 20 I believe but we firmly believed that God wanted this to go ahead so just kept rehearsing, talking about the Passion for Northumberland at every chance we got and left the problems that were out of our control in His hands! Various radio and newspaper interviews helped too.

You have to admire the dedication of a man who cuts & weaves his own crown of thorns.

One of the many “coincidences” in this project was that 3 of the core team – Chris Jones, Libby Taylor and Ed Butlin were, for different reasons, all fairly free of other day-to-day commitments during the months of planning and rehearsal, and also that Easter was early enough that the lambing hadn’t yet started in earnest for the local farmers – including Richard!

Jesus teaching at the Market Cross (promo shot)

Gradually, week-by-week more people came along to be part of this project, including a friend of ours, Marty, with his strong Geordie accent who was perfect as loudmouthed Peter!

The Alnwick Community Choir under Peter Brown was rehearsing separately from us too

Looking towards the choir and the Town Hall steps

and even though one rehearsal had to be cancelled due to snow we soldiered on. We used the Town Hall as our indoor “Market Place”, with sheets of paper on the floor marking the various buildings and the stages, with chairs forming the Market Cross – where Jesus and his growing band of disciples hung out…it served as our base and as the Garden of Gethsemane.

We got quite adept at ‘falling asleep’ piled on top of each other at awkward angles across those chairs! This was one of the coldest Marches on record but we did do a couple of, much needed, outdoor rehearsals in snow showers and bitterly cold evenings, with the added bonus of all the extra layers of clothing softening the even more uncomfortable stone steps surrounding the Market Cross! My striped hat helped keep me warm.

The difference was very challenging as the sheer size of the Market Place pre-microphones made hearing lines and cues difficult and it took a lot of imagination to work out timings and movements for when the space would be filled with crowds (we trusted they would come!) plus the 3 stages, one for the 50 in the choir, one for around the Market Cross and one for the Last Supper, which would also have the big screen erected on it.

This is what the Market Cross stage would look like.

Also the Market Place was filled with parked cars on these rehearsal evenings. We certainly supplied free entertainment to the youth of Alnwick as we invaded their evening space and had many interesting remarks from them, though they joined in shouting “Crucify him” willingly when asked! At a later dress rehearsal one of them threw an egg at Marilyn which she took as a compliment to her acting skills as she roughed-up Jesus as one of the guards! On the night of the performance, their soldiers and guards ranks were swelled by the local air cadets, in camouflage uniforms, adding a threatening air of being under military occupation, as Israel was nearly 2000 years ago.

The Last Supper stage being prepared




One development for me was when I asked a friend, Roger, who had a weekly show on Alnwick’s own Lionheart Radio to put in a plug for PFN – he said he had just been given a second weekly show called ‘Soul Stirrers’ on Tuesday mornings, featuring more Christian music, and would I like to come on that and talk to him? So I did and have somehow ended up as his co-presenter so was able to talk about PFN each week. BBC Radio Newcastle and the Northumberland Gazette have also backed us well with publicity and interviews.

Passion flyers

Random aside here – About 20 years ago I took in 3 of my son’s teenage friends and they lived with us for 18 months, with around 20 of their friends using my home as a ‘drop-in’ center, a lasting bonus of this was that they taught me to use computers early on and, particularly, MS Publisher, great for designing posters etc.

I also worked on a team for 7 years organizing Christian events, singer/songwriters etc so I have been able to help Passion for Northumberland in printing posters, hand-outs for the public for the night and other bits and bobs. A personal extra gift for me was the weight loss I benefitted from over this past couple of weeks of constantly running up and down stairs to my 2 printers which were working overtime! I am not saying this to boast in any way, I did little enough, but just as yet another example of how God provided just the right people, with just the right skills, all along the journey that Passion for Northumberland became for all of us.

Passion hand-out front

Passion hand-out back

We have all taken to looking on it as a journey, almost as a pilgrimage, the group has grown from a few to many, across the churches and those who don’t go to church, from all over the area and all walks and ages of life – from the youngest disciple, Rosie, aged 9, to the oldest, also a disciple, who is a Great Grandmother, I would not be so rude as to ask her age 😉                   The friendships that have been formed are close, and are a wonderful and unexpected gift to us all. When you have slept on stone steps time after time with people, all piled on top of each other with chattering teeth – the barriers seem to come down wonderfully well – a common goal and an intense time of innovation, endurance and a LOT of laughter forges good friendships.

The weather seemed to continue to defy the norm for March and so many outside people said to us “What will you do if it is snowing/blowing an icy gale/pouring with rain?” I think I was not the only cast/crew member who was replying, “If this is God’s idea it’s up to Him to sort out the weather – He is the only one who can!” By this time we were getting hardened to lying around in the cold and brushing off the snow, but realized it might be a tad harder to convince an audience to turn out in a blizzard. The only reason Passion for Northumberland would be cancelled was if the rain was so bad during the day and evening that the tech crew could not safely rig and use all the mikes/cameras/spot lights/screen and stages.

So we did what we could and left the rest to God. Good policy in life.

It was amazing how many people were willing to help; both the Alnwick Town and County Councils along with many others, including various churches, financially backed and practically supported us, with the Mayor being enthusiastic enough to accept the request to start the performance officially.

Kawasaki Mule – interesting vehicle of choice for his Palm Sunday triumphant arrival.

The local agricultural machinery suppliers presented “Jesus” with the keys of a quad bike to be photographed ‘riding it into town on Palm Sunday’ – even making it a Kawasaki Mule, standing in for the traditional donkey! Shame he had to give it back, especially as he was the only cast member who actually possessed a license to drive it on the public highway 😉 God does have a sense of humor you know.


The cafes around the Market Square agreed to stay open for the performance and it was arranged for the Italian Prima Deli to send a waitress out to serve us disciples the Last Supper, fantastic pizza and delicious rosemary bread, with grape juice instead of wine – so we didn’t fall off the stage I think.

The Last Supper, served from the deli behind the soldiers. Satan is crouching by the bench, on the left, behind Judas, the hen-party are on the right.

Every week new people joined the cast and crew, less than two weeks to go we had no stewards, but by the night itself we had around 15 I believe. One of the great things was how we have formed good friendships over the weeks with people from such a variety of backgrounds and Richard was particularly adept at forging ‘his’ disciples into a tight group.

Some of the disciples with Jesus & Mary Magdalene, waiting for the tech rehearsal.

We had many silly moments when we just fell about laughing with inane remarks such as referrals to sheep dip and silage when “Jesus” was anointed with Mary’s perfume and he allowed us to smell him. The last rehearsal was on Maundy Thursday evening, still very cold, with the odd snow shower to make us feel at home on the Market Cross and the silliness reached such extremes that I was a bit concerned that we would be providing a farce instead of a serious presentation of the gospel story, but Libby, with her Stage Manager hat on, told us to get rid of all the jokes at this rehearsal and be ready to be serious the next night.

A nod to the Romans! (and 1984)

No problem with that as on the actual day we were overawed by the blue skies and mostly sunshine God gifted us and a very intense feeling that He was totally in charge. The big question of how many would actually turn up on a cold night to watch us, and how it would impact them to think about the person of Jesus, and His sacrificial death for them were, again, matters we had no control over. We did ensure that there would be a pastoral team in the Market Place, wearing white hoodies with the logo and ’Its Friday…’ on the front and ‘…but Sunday is coming’ on the back. On the ‘hand-outs’ were also ways to contact Chris Friend with queries and also an insert with all the local Easter Services included, again, under the slogan of  ‘It’s Friday.…but Sunday is coming…His story continues…’

Easter Sunday local Church services cover

The last thing we wanted was to leave people with only the horrendous death of Jesus fixed in their minds with no hope of the vital resurrection story to come.

Ed instructing some of his tech crew

The tech team/crew were busy from morning till late at night, setting up, running and taking down all the electronics and stages, with many people asking what they were up to. They had cameras, mikes and speakers all over the place, running them from the Town Hall and the Northumberland Hall and controlled from their desk underneath it. Their work was a little challenged by the monthly Farmers’ Market being on in the Market Place all day! But they did a great job, though a technical hitch caused a slight delay in starting.

This had all the cast – ‘trembling in the upper room’ of the Town Hall. Richard and his disciples had a huddled prayer time first, much needed. The Hen Party would lead off down the back stairs and sneak around to enter from one side of the Market Place as we disciples circled around to the other side coming in from the back of the crowds, estimated later at  500+!

We took a collective deep breath, and slipping automatically into our roles, we started walking through the crowds, following ‘Jesus’, chatting to people and reacting to the words of the narrator, even down to making M for Mo signs! We were totally involved in every way; so much so that we hardly noticed the crowd once we were on our ‘base’ by the Market Cross.

Alnwick Community Choir

The choir sang at intervals through the story and we have since been told that they were very good, but to be honest, I don’t think we heard them as we were so totally absorbed in our parts in the story, the growing sense of doom seemed to affect us deeply.

Jesus accepts Mary. Courtesy of North East Press

Jesus accepts Mary. Image courtesy of North East Press

I know I am not the only person for whom that performance was not in any way play-acting, but an intense reliving, as it were, of the events of that first Holy Week. We felt light-hearted as Mary anointed Jesus with perfume, outraged annoyance at Judas ranting at her and Jesus then puzzled and concerned by his remarking that she was anointing him for his death and burial, but pleased that Jesus protected and soothed her. We welcomed her joyfully as one of us. (Slight problem as this disciple struggled to get her green ‘disciple’s’ hoodie over Mary’s head without damaging her tiny radio mike.)

When we had rehearsed the Last Supper, we had been told to chat amiably and we did just that, enjoying the food, drink and companionship, only to be bought up short again by Jesus solemnly announcing that this bread and wine was his body and blood, yet more references to his coming death. Annoyance at Judas taking phone calls (from Caiaphas), interrupting our time together, and puzzlement at his leaving us. Lured away by satan crouching behind him.

Gethsemene scene courtesy of North East Press

Gethsemene scene. Image courtesy of North East Press

Back at the Market Cross, we settled down for the Gethsemane scene where we fall asleep, trying not to react to those poignant words “Not my will, Father, But yours”, again satan could be heard trying to use the Voice of Reason to persuade Jesus not to accept this horrendous ordeal. Then being shaken awake into shock and threat at the arrest and feeling real fear as Caiaphas and the soldiers roughly took our leader and friend away. With Peter following and declaring he would never desert Jesus……..We had to disperse in fear and hide in twos and threes in the crowd, leaving poor Peter to then face various people challenging him three times, followed each time by the sound of a cock crowing. He was devastated, weeping and sobbing in anguish as he realized he had failed all his brave statements.  Eventually we all crept back to join him, crying alongside him in grief and terror.

Jesus in the hands of his tormentors.

Jesus is then bought out in his orange ”terrorist” jumpsuit, bloodied and handcuffed, to be taunted and beaten by the soldiers. Richard had suggested that big Simon, as one of the soldiers, should really hit him; he complied and actually broke his stick on poor Richard! The soldiers strip Jesus of his purple hoodie and play poker for it, as he lies behind them, helpless and battered.

Stripped of his purple hoodie, Jesus lies helpless as the guards gamble for it.

At this point Judas is appalled at what had now happened as a result of his complicity, and attempts to stop Caiaphas, but is unsuccessful. Judas shrank off into the tunnel with a gun in his hand and we hear the words “Jesus forgive me – it wasn’t meant to be like this.” As his gunshot rang out we were again shocked and upset, struck once again by the reality of this story that we had rehearsed so many times.  The mock ‘trial’ continues.

Pilate’s wife tries to persuade him not to have anything to do with this plot against Jesus but he hopes to get away with releasing Jesus by having Barabbas executed instead. The disciples now stand and start screaming in support of Jesus as the soldiers, Caiaphas and his menacing henchmen in black suits and dark glasses manipulate the crowd.

Several friends have since said they found it extremely hard, if not impossible to shout “Crucify Him” against Jesus but the disciples cries were eventually drowned out and the death sentence was passed on Jesus. Now we have practiced for weeks at our distraught reaction to this moment and the following scene but nothing prepared us for our very real despair and grief we felt as we fell to our knees, hanging onto each other and sobbing, with real emotions, and tears.

Veronica and her friends look on in horror….

As Jesus is led away for execution ‘Ronnie’ takes off her bride-to-be veil and wipes Jesus’ face with it, then a hood is pulled over his head and he is crowned with thorns.

Jesus is led away for crucifixion. Image courtesy of North East Press

Jesus is led away for crucifixion. Image courtesy of North East Press

The rest is played out on the screen as the video of the paparazzi trying to get better shots, then the crucifixion, then we heard that voice “Father forgive them…” followed a few moments later by the final line “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The closing video of The Passion

The symbol of the Passion – the Crown of Thorns – is then lit on top of the Market Cross and we gradually got to our feet to look up at it, with our shoulders back to symbolize that there was hope for the future.

Looking up in hope at the symbol. Image courtesy of North East Press

Looking up in hope at the symbol. Image courtesy of North East Press

Alnwick Market Cross with the symbol of the Passion (taken on Easter Saturday morning)


In a daze we met up with family and friends, personally I just kept finding myself crying when I tried to talk about the effect it had on me. I know many people, in the cast/crew and audience were silent and tearful too. The hand-outs were given out with the invitations to the Sunday services – to follow-up His story.

Disciple greets Hen Party friend. Image courtesy of North East Press

Disciple greets Hen Party friend. Image courtesy of North East Press

Most who had been a part of this epic journey then  gathered upstairs for cake and drinks.                                                                                                    To try and wind down and get back to earth again.

I did not sleep much at all that first night, crying and praying through the night, unable to let go of the deep emotions, as the reality of Christ’s sacrifice hit me once again, now, 4 days later as I finish this blog, I am still moved to tears when I speak of it.

It will be interesting to see who takes up the challenge and privilege of putting on the next Passion for Northumberland.

May God touch many hearts and souls with the truth of His passion for the whole world.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.             John 3:16 NLT


Sorry this is no longer available. For a brilliant photo report of Passion, see this photo video from Jane Coltman from the Northumberland Gazette Jane Coltman photos 




Posted in Home - where all journeys start and end | 3 Comments

Exploring our local treasures of Northumberland

Living in one of the most beautiful counties in England – Northumberland, we are spoiled for choice when we decide to go for a day out.

Cragside – (left-click on any photo to see a larger version)


Simonside & the Coquet Valley, Northumberland (left-click on any photo to see a larger version, arrow back to this page)




We live in Alnwick, the County town, seat of the Earls and Dukes at Alnwick Castle for 700 years now.

We love walking, whilst I take photos of

Alnwick Castle Garden

everything and anything and my husband Rob (who is blind) records birdsong and identifies them for me. He does get rather a lot of click-clicks on his digital recordings if I don’t realise he is trying to capture the birds!

But, for no good reason, we had never visited the Cragside Estate, just 11 miles away near Rothbury, even though it is one of our favourite towns for a river walk and pub meal at the Newcastle House Hotel.

Cragside Rock Garden

So, when we first saw the adverts announcing a special “Free or discounted” day for Northumberland residents  to visit various interesting places in the county this weekend, we jumped at the chance.

Reflections of Douglas Firs




Visitor Centre, Tearooms & Shop, showing picnic tables

Northumberland County Council had organised this as a Northumberland Residents’ Festival  – “Our people, our places”. Tourism is a vital source of income for this county but it is often the ‘locals’ who don’t think of visiting the amazing places so close to home.


Cragside Daffodill

A long time ago I met a Dutchman, I went to visit him and insisted he take me to Keukenhof, the world famous flower  gardens, as he lived less than half an hour from them, I was stunned to realise he had never been there! After we were married I discovered that he had never been on a canal boat trip in Amsterdam either.  But every year we would spend our holidays in the UK, visiting places that, probably, the local people never went to. Since he died and I moved back to England (& remarried) I have taken all my holidays here, except for visiting family in Holland and the USA.



Northumberland has more castles (not all ruined) than any other county in England but the Border Reivers have finally been tamed and the natives are, mostly, very friendly!

Hadrian's Wall long distance walking path

From prehistoric cup and ring stones, through stone-age hill forts and Roman remains, not least Hadrian’s Wall, to the Victorian era, history is everywhere you look, the scenery is second to none and we have some cracking attractions for visitors, and us residents to explore and enjoy.

Cragside – dating from 1863, was the home of William George Armstrong, a scientist,

Imposing Cragside House

industrialist and engineer.

One of the beautiful lamps


His home was very advanced and water power was first used here to provide electricity in 1878, interestingly enough, just 2 days ago we were at local

Detail of the water flowing down the 'steps'

Alnwick Castle where the current Duke has restored a Victorian hydro-electric power plant built by one of his ancestors. In these days of finding eco-friendly ways to provide power surely a much better idea than ugly wind-turbines?!

Bridge on the path through the trees of the Armstrong Trail




We spent nearly 5 hours happily exploring the gardens –

Majestic Douglas Firs framing the bridges & house

from the river walks, through the woods with lofty Douglas Firs, over an intricate variety of bridges, spotting spring flowers and tree buds everywhere, up to the Formal Garden and its fantastic plants and views.





Peacock butterflies in the Formal Garden


The Clock Tower






The glasshouse








The winding paths lead you on .....

We actually ran out of time to tour the beautiful house,but did have a late lunch at the tea rooms, sitting outside at one of the many picnic tables, with a great view over Tumbleton Lake.

Lunch by the lake




This lake is fed from the River Coquet and the stepped waterfall down from the lake past the Pump Room generates the power.



Water falling down the steps from Tumbleton Lake to the Pump House

Tumbleton Lake









As I mentioned, my husband is blind and enjoys ‘bird listening, here is his list of what he heard at Cragside:

1. Green woodpecker. Only one of them.

2. Greater spotted woodpecker. Two of them drumming at the same time. Then one or two individual ones.

3. Coots, by the lake.

Rob, bird-listening, with his digital recorder, in the Formal Garden

4. Mallards.

5. Buzzards. Two of them in the sky.

6. Blackbirds.

7. Robins.

8. Greenfinches.

9. Chaffinches.

10. Great tits.

11. Coal tits.

12. Nuthatches.

Chaffinch in the Formal Garden

13 Gold crests.

14. Wood pigeon.

15. Collared doves.

16. Jackdaws.

17. Carrion crow. Just one of them.

In 2009, broadcaster Clare Balding came with us, and the Alnwick Health Walk group, to record a programme in her “Ramblings” series for BBC Radio 4, to find out more about this blind man who ‘Bird Listens’! Here is a link to that programme, recorded in Hulne Park, Alnwick, another great place (free) for walking.

We shall get to Cragside House itself one of the days, but can heartily recommend a visit or two to anyone. Rob was delighted to find they even have a braille guide to the gardens! Here is a link to their website

Posted in About us including WRNS, Home - where all journeys start and end | Comments Off on Exploring our local treasures of Northumberland

Ten years after we said “I do”.

Rob and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary this March (2012);

Rob & Catherine 16th March 2002

Our Renewal of Vows was very special, surrounded by family & friends, we renewed our commitment to God & each other – marriage is a great gift to celebrate!


We marked this by renewing our marriage vows to each other during the service on Sunday 18th March 2012, in our church, Alnwick Baptist.






This is one of the prayers prayed over us during the ceremony:

A Celtic Blessing

God be with you in every pass,
Jesus be with you on every hill
Spirit be with you in every stream, headland, ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow
Each lying down, each rising up
in the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey you go,
Go with God

We have had some very difficult, stressful and uncertain times, including Rob losing both his parents, illness for both of us, and his two major heart attacks.

He has also lost the last tiny bit of sight he still had. We have moved twice in this time, first from Bristol to Minehead (85 miles) then the 400 miles to the far northeast of England, to Alnwick, the county town of Northumberland. This area is lovely, very peaceful, with rolling hills, 5 times as many sheep as people and is home to the Northumbria Community, of which we are now both ‘Companions’. The marriage preparation course we followed with our minister, before our marriage, has stood us in great stead through these years, here is how we went about it.

Rob and I with his daughter, Hilary, her husband, Keith, and granchildren, James and Katie



Twelve expectations of marriage


When we were preparing for our wedding, we were given this list by our minister to consider. It highlights some areas which can cause problems in marriages. We were then asked to go away, as individuals, and consider each point very carefully. After this, to arrange the items in order of personal importance and write a few sentences explaining our reasons and how we intended to apply this in our new relationship. Then we were asked to return with our two lists and discuss them together with our minister; especially taking time to agree how to deal with any conflicts, now and in the future.

Marriage Preparation Discussion Points

Rearrange this list into your own order of priority. Then write a few sentences on each topic explaining its personal importance to you and what you intend to do about it in your planned marriage.

  1. Faithfulness
  2. Mutual respect & tolerance
  3. Adequate income
  4. Sharing religious beliefs
  5. Sharing tastes & common interests
  6. Having children *
  7. Happy sexual relationships
  8. Sharing political views
  9. Sharing household chores
  10. Good housing
  11. Shared social background
  12. Relating to in-laws

*Note that the having children item can also relate to any children, or young adults which you or your partner may be bringing into the marriage.

If you cannot attend a marriage preparation course, it is worthwhile meeting with a mature and respected married couple to talk over your priorities and personal expectations. You will both be married for a very long time so make every effort to build your relationship on sound foundations.

We were strongly advised by our minister and other wise people in our church to pray before asking an older couple to be our marriage mentors.

We did this and they were God’s gift to our marriage. Due to Rob’s blindness and the fact my 2 (young adult) sons were squashed in our flat as well, life was a series of misunderstandings and sources of friction. But we knew that we only had to phone and Peter and Jenny would be there for us both. This is the modern alternative to having godly parents and grand-parents around all the time, to ensure your marriage reflected Kingdom values. They taught us that neither one of us should be the one to “get their own way” but that we should seek God’s way; He was and is the most important in this marriage.


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A first-time University student at 64!

A few months ago I decided to get an upgrade from my little Nikon Coolpix L6 compact Digital camera. I have always enjoyed writing, which is why I started this blog. But I really wanted to try and get better photos, especially for here, but also as a new way of expressing myself.

I took advice from my professional photographer daughter-in-law Kim; she chose a suitable DSLR Nikon 3100 for me and brought it over with her when she and Kjell visited from Oregon in April. On her and others advice I looked for a good course to help me improve my shots.

So I have recently completed a short 10 week course on Digital Photography on the Open University. This was all online, we students  all got together on forums, posted our images on the OU’s ‘Open Studio’, where we learnt to give and accept comments (and criticism) and suggestions on how an image can be improved using Photoshop Elements, PSE8.

"O" Upper Coquet Valley, Northumberland. Sheep stell, for protection from the worst winter weather.

a copy of which was sent to us by OU. Each week’s study material, including many short videos on using PSE, was all online, and we were given specific assignments each week. We all enjoyed the first one which was to take shots of images that showed letters of the alphabet, here are my three – OXO! If you click on photos they will open larger.

"X" Upper Coquet Valley St. John the Baptist Churchyard, Edlingham, Northumberland.





"O" Window in St. John the Baptist Church, Edlingham, Northumberland.






We were not allowed to use actual written letters from signs but to learn to use our eyes to notice shapes and possibilities. It was very effective as I still constantly see the alphabet all around me – I think I may even do a blog when I have the whole alphabet in images!

I (and some others) really struggled with weeks 3 and 4 as they were all using maths, as someone who has never been any good with numbers all her life I just did not ‘get’ it. I got so stressed that I nearly gave up on the course. One of the  OU course moderators, who I knew personally, phoned me and we had a long talk, in the end he said to just forget the maths, leave my camera on Auto or Modes (portrait, night shots, close-ups etc) finish the course and then look at learning how to use my camera on Manual later, when the pressure is off! So that is what I have done.

Nearly a 1000 took the course and almost 200 of us joined our own Facebook page, we have kept it going since we finished the course a couple of weeks ago as we have all become good friends and continue to encourage each other in our photography, setting a different challenge every week. Last week we had to get a close-up of an eye – any eye from a living creature, human or otherwise, I got a close-up of a hedgehog, he was really sweet! 

Hedgehog eye, taken in Hulne Park, Alnwick, Northumberland

Hedgehog, taken in Hulne Park, Alnwick, Northumberland





We are now awaiting our results of the panel of 10 photos we had to submit and our answers to any 3 of 6 questions we had to choose from, these answers were to be of around 200 words each. The results won’t be out till September as each moderator has to mark 70 students work – that is 700 images and 210 answers to evaluate each! It is only 10 credits but for those taking other courses it all adds up. At the end of this piece I have written about the next course I hope to take – ‘Roman Britain’, from the Department of Archaeology of Oxford University.

Here are my 10 shots in the order I submitted them, plus the questions I selected and the answers I gave. UPDATE: I passed with 73%, which I am pleased with, especially with my numbers problems!

01 Inner Farne Island, Northumberland coast

02 Fire in Alnwick Gardens Treehouse, Northumberland







03 Sunset Shadow, Rothbury, Northumberland




04 Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland






05 Alnwick Gardens, Northumberland – perfect for the Queen’s visit

06 Eider Drake in full courting plumage, Amble Harbour, Northumberland






07 Mt Hood meets Kim, Oregon USA

08 Camouflaged deer, Neskowin Beach, Oregon USA







09 Dutch skyline, Leiden, The Netherlands



10 Buzzy Bee, Alnwick Gardens, Northumberland




My answers to the questions:

“Question 2

Select one image from your EMA panel that you are pleased with and explain how it demonstrates your visual awareness. As appropriate, refer to composition, visual creativity, viewpoint, decisive moment (if relevant), use of camera, image editing and overall visual impact. (12 marks)”

07 Mt Hood, Oregon, meets Kim

07 Mt Hood meets Kim, Oregon USA

This, for me, is a shot that speaks of contrasts – My daughter-in-law Kim is tiny – as a professional photographer she amazes me with her ability to carry heavy camera bags, even at 7000 feet up Mt Hood! Just over that brow was a glacier rising to the peak 5000 ft above us. We were in 30c, the snow speaks for itself, but the greatest contrast for me as I followed her was how she suddenly appeared to dwarf the mountain peak in front of her. I have cropped the image to accentuate that effect and to make her the focus. I have also enhanced the blues though not by much as the sky was virtually this colour, her dress and the wild lupines blend nicely and I was interested that the thinner air seemed to produce a much crisper image and bolder shadows. I deliberately did not lighten the shadows on her dress or hand as I think this adds to the effect. For the same reason, to show how bright the hot sun was, I have not taken away the highlights on her bag. This was taken with my small Nikon Coolpix L6.

“Question 5

Contrast any two images from your EMA panel that you have not discussed elsewhere in your EMA. Identify some important differences between these two images. As appropriate, refer to aspects of visual awareness and technical qualities as listed in Part 1. (12 marks)”

‘01 Inner Farne Island’ compared to ‘02 Fire in Alnwick Gardens Treehouse’.

01 Inner Farne Island, Northumberland coast

02 Fire in Alnwick Gardens Treehouse, Northumberland




I took both these with my new DSLR. The Inner Farne image appeals to me as I love nature and found the uncontrolled wild bleakness of the island and its inhabitants exhilarating, whereas the Alnwick Treehouse image of the fireplace is warm, cosy and completely safe and predictable. The island rocks are random, forming natural ledges for the nesting sea-birds; the Treehouse architect has won many prizes! Yet I enjoy both images. Both photos were cropped slightly, to zoom in on the main subjects and cut out distractions. The colour of the sea was simply saturated to give a more pleasing blue hue; I am also pleased with the result of enhancing the colours to bring out the green lichen and other shades in the rocks. I changed the colour and saturation of the green in the Treehouse window many, many times till I felt that it merged more into the background, yet still gave the impression of the light being filtered through the trees outside. I feel that the cool green of the window now accentuates the heat of the fire. I had some helpful feed-back on both shots on Open Studio.

“Question 6

Looking at your panel, identify and briefly discuss three characteristics that you think identify your style and individuality in your images. Consider, for example, originality, personal style, mood, humour. (12 marks)”

I believe my love of nature, being outdoors and the diversity of this natural world is represented in my panel. The only indoor shot is in the Alnwick Gardens Treehouse, which, in a quirky way, actually fulfils all my favourite environments, being built of various rough-hewn woods, with trees surrounding and growing through it and one log burning in the fireplace. The only humans in my images are all seen from the back, or in the distance.

I have tried out several of my shots in Black and White and Sepia, but I still can’t ‘get’ what people see in these forms of photography. Maybe because, when I was first taking shots there was no choice, no colour, everything was BW?  But, more, I am naturally drawn to the use of colour to show moods and temperatures, and to make statements. This is not only apparent in my images, but also in my clothes, home and garden. I love colour!

I like my images to convey a snap-shot of a moment, and, in a small way, to tell a story at a glance. No1. Inner Farne, No2.Sunset Shadow, No5. Alnwick Gardens, No 7, Mt Hood meets Kim, No8. The Deer all have a story to tell.

I was thinking of doing a more advanced level of Digital Photography course next but know that I do not need it, not that I mean I can’t learn more, of course I can, but for my needs, for now, I have sufficient downloaded course tuition and videos to continue studying photography and Photoshop on my own for some time to come.

But I have been really energised by using my brain again; I left school at 15, wanting a job so I could buy mini-skirts and Beatles records, and only studied again when I was training in the navy as an aircraft mechanic, at 64 I needed a wake-up and this has been great!

So I am now hoping to sign-up shortly for another 10 week online course, ‘Roman Britain’, from the Department of Archaeology of Oxford University.  I have always been fascinated by ancient history and Archaeology and we live in a part of the British Isles rich in Roman remains.

We have been twice in the past month to Hadrian’s Wall, 80 minutes drive to the south west of our home. We first go to the Roman Army Museum, walk part of the Wall, then go to the huge ongoing archaeology dig/visitor centre at nearby Fort Vindolanda.

A military memorial with a difference - these men built and manned the Wall

This furnace was underneath the bath house at Vindolanda






Archaeologists working at Fort Vindolanda, Northumberland

One of my final panel of 10 images was one I took on the Roman Wall, it was, in 122 ad, coast to coast, around 75 miles but since the Roman Army left 1600 years ago a great part of it has been dismantled and the stone used to build farmhouses, abbeys, castles and homes.

Sycamore Gap (aka Robin Hood's Tree) on Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland

But the remains are still impressive, and the Hadrian’s Wall National walking and cycling path is much used, with B & B’s, pubs, hostels and campsites along the routes benefitting from the visitors. Tourism got an extra boost when part of the journey taken by Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman, in ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ (1991) went from Dover to Nottingham on a 400 mile detour north to film on the Wall – literally! They were filmed running on top of the Wall (tut tut) in the scene where they rescue a young lad who had taken refuge from the evil sheriff’s men in the only tree around. This has always been known as ‘Sycamore Gap’, but seems to have had a name change to ‘Robin Hood’s Tree’ lately! 

Posted in About us including WRNS, Creativity - Images, Creativity - Words, Living History | 2 Comments

Celtic Crosses and symbols

Tim Severin made a replica of St Brendan's 6th century boat to sail to America

Cross at Priory Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

St Brendan in the boat, sailing to America

I have taken many photos of Celtic Crosses and have various other forms that symbolise the celtic stream of Christianity to me. Rob and I are Companions of the Northumbria Community, a new monastic dispersed group, following Christ with a Celtic slant. Our motherhouse, Nether Springs is located not far from where Rob and I live, in Northumberland, which is part of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. This is where Christianity gradually flourished in the North East of England from around the middle of the 7th century onwards.

The Celtic Cross is typified by the circle joining the 4 arms, this circle is a symbol of eternity that emphasises the endlessness of God’s love as shown through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

That seemed to me to be reason enough to post this collection of images as we have celebrated Easter, when we remember that sacrifice, Christ’s death and glorious bodily resurrection – the greatest feastday in the Christian calendar is Easter Sunday,when our gratitude to God that He has made it possible for us, too, to live after death, is celebrated.

The Lady's Well, Holystone, Northumberland

I shall let the crosses and symbols speak for themselves.

St Patrick's RC Church. Portland, Oregon.



This is a 'Cuthbert's Cross' on the Pilgrim Path named after him, also bishop of Lindisfarne, Northumberland.



St Aidan. 1st Bishop of Holy Island (in 635) where this statue stands.

The church of St Mary the Virgin, Holystone, Northumberland

Santa Maria Stamp - Columbas's ship, he was convinced that Brendan found land to the west.

Rothbury war memorial, Northumberland


The “Broken Wheel” sculpture by Fenwick Lawson has St Cuthbert’s face in the centre of the Cross. (Lindisfarne)

















Replica Ikon








Quilted Celtic cross (own design)

Window detail, St Patricks church, Portland, Oregon









Memorial cross for the Flodden Field battle site of 1513. Northumberland

Plaque on the memorial cross for the Flodden Field battle site, Northumberland








Our aids to our daily prayers (including our Prayer Pot)


They get everywhere these Celtic Christians! (On the window of a narrowboat)









Church spire in the Kenton district of Portland Oregon

Rug copied from Lindisfarne Gospels (c 698 AD) in St Marys Church, Lindisfarne










Replica of 'Santa Maria', Columbas's ship

Old Bewick cross detail (Northumberland) With the Celtic symbol for the Trinity on each of its arms.










Trinity art prayer

In lane to Old Bewick church, Northumberland








Looking back at Holy Island from St Cuthberts Island, just off the Northumberland coast

Peaceful view on Lindisfarne










Norham, Northumberland

Rob with his celtic bodhran drum







Irish peat cross



Irish Brigit cross




Irish peat cross label




Explanation of Brigit cross




My own stitched Celtic knot artwork



Northumbria Community renew our vows in the Gospel Garden. Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Easter Day '09







The Lady's Well, Holystone, Northumberland (2)




Our new (Irish) Celtic rug







Even DFDS Seaways use the cross as a logo!


Holy Island Priory cross used in one of my Christmas cards







Haltwhistle, Northumberland


Celtic Prayer beads from the Northumbria Community made by Rob

Grave in Rothbury 'All Saints' churchyard, Northumberland (1)

Evesham, Worcestershire

Even our wedding rings & Rob's fleece top carry 'celtic' designs, this is a 'Cuthbert's' Cross

Crosses in 'Old Church' churchyard, Brampton, Cumbria

Cross on 'Old Church' Brampton, Cumbria




Church Hill. on the estuary of the River Aln at Alnmouth, Northumberland

Cross in St. John Lee churchyard, near Heavenfield.

Chapel of the Incarnation, Hetton Hall

Celtic Cross mug

Celtic Cross in Rothbury 'All Saints' churchyard, Northumberland

Celtic Cross in Corbridge, Cemetery, Northumberland

Emboidered cross on part of wedding gift

candle holder

Bridge over the River Aln, below Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Book of many crosses for design work


'Celtic Cross' cushions designed and made by me.

Arnhem Oosterbeek war graves (2)












Arnhem Oosterbeek war graves (3)

Alnwick Pub sign

Alnwick. Northumberland, head of the stone cross in the market place

3 crosses on the headland above Lee Abbey, North Devon.



Arnhem Oosterbeek war grave

In 'Boilerhouse' prayer-room on H.I. made from broken fragments from the old midden (rubbish tip

Crosses in the cemetary of the 12c Priory on Holy Island.

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The final Journey – home

We have been praying for family and friends lately, who have been very ill, and some who are going through, or facing, the rigors of cancer treatment, many with uncertainty as to the medical outcome.

This morning, at home, in bed with a lung infection, I picked up my bible and daily meditation from earlier this week, when I had not felt well enough to do any reading. These words were one of my suggested verses, they really clicked home in my heart, and this is what God promises to us as we struggle though sickness, pain and difficulties.

Pilgrim Path, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland

“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,

and he brought them out of their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper;

the waves of the sea were hushed.

They were glad when it grew calm,

and he guided them to their desired haven.”

Psalm 107: 28-30

Rob and I have planned and paid for our funerals, written our wills and made life as easy as possible for our loved ones when we eventually leave this life and go to the next great adventure with God.

These are the songs I have chosen, starting with that amazing song which is the most sung in UK churches in the past few years….‘In Christ Alone’, then:-

‘Amazing grace’ (blues version), ‘And can it be’, ‘Beautiful Saviour, wonderful Counsellor’(All my days), ‘Thine be the Glory’,  ‘Before the throne of God above,’  ‘Breathe on me, Breath of God’.

This is NOT “morbid” as some people say, but facing the absolute truth that this world is not our home, one day we shall leave it for our final destination. We choose not to be in denial as to our mortality but to accept it as inevitable, but not to dwell on it.

One of the songs that I have chosen is to be played, not sung by those gathered, to celebrate my life. It is from Jeff Johnson’s ‘Navigatio’ album. This album follows Brendan the Navigator’s spiritual and earthly journeys, possibly even to America, in I have written some details of this Celtic saint.

This is the song. I could only find this clip so ignore the space pictures -If you go to one minute in on this You Tube they begin playing it.

These are the words:

I’ve earned my sin Nearly spent my soul

I’ve lost my way until now

At the world’s edge I have found a door

At the world’s edge I can see again

So let my ship sail like Brendan’s

Let it carry me home

May the three guide my passage

Towards the island of light

So let my ship sail like Brendan’s

Let it carry me home

May the three guide my passage

Towards the island of hope

I’ve earned my sin Nearly spent my soul

I’ve lost my way until now

At the world’s edge I have found a door

At the world’s edge I can see again I can see again I can see again

Our lives are a pilgrimage, an exciting, scary, amazing journey with God – which death does not end.

Posted in Journeys, Living spirituality | Comments Off on The final Journey – home

‘Immanuel’ and ‘A Christmas reflection’

The angels wait with joyful anticipation,
darkness covers the earth
the glory of God is hidden
veiled within a virgin womb.
O come O come Immanuel,
God with us.

The shepherds, simple, hardy men,
guard their flocks in the hills
below them Bethlehem sleeps
unaware of eternity unfolding.
O come O come Immanuel,
God with us.

Above them the stars shine on
cold and bleak from afar,
Yet the one who made those stars
was to be born in a stable dark.
O come O come Immanuel,
God with us.

A child is born, a son is given
and the world is changed forever,
all heaven above rejoices,
below, the darkness trembles.
O come O come Immanuel,
God with us.

Now the eternity of longing ended,
sings forth from the angel host;
“Glory to God in the highest,
on earth peace to men of God’s will”.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
has come to thee, O Earth!

© Catherine Davies 2005

Sheep on The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

A Christmas Reflection

Come and see the babe sleeping so quietly, softly slumbering in a bed of straw. See the man silent before his accusers tormented with a crown of thorns

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Come and see the shepherds bowing low leaving their sheep in the fields.
See, bowed under the cross so cruel, the paschal lamb climbing the hill

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Come see a child cradled with love in his maiden mother’s arms.
See the mother weeping as she holds the broken body of her beloved son.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Come see the star brightly lighting the way to the infant king.

See the darkness that falls on the world as the “King of the Jews” expires

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Come hear the angels singing their praises as God’s only son is born.
Hear God’s son cry in death’s agony Father, why have you forsaken me?

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Come see a virgin’s joy at the birth of her blessed, innocent, child.
Witness satan and death’s defeat as the Lord of life dies.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Come hear the words of the innkeeper sorry, no room for you here.
Listen- In my house are many rooms I go to prepare yours for you.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord

Few saw his first coming in Bethlehem unknown to the rest of the world.
None shall miss Jesus’ glory when he returns to judge mankind

Then all shall adore him, Christ the Lord.
Come Lord Jesus, come.

© Catherine Davies 2005

Cross at the Priory, Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Posted in About us including WRNS, Creativity - Words, Living spirituality | Comments Off on ‘Immanuel’ and ‘A Christmas reflection’

Operation ‘Christmas Child’

To many people, asking if they have filled their shoebox will get you a blank look but from many others it will receive an enthusiastic response.

What am I talking about?

Operation Christmas Child ‘Joy’ poster

“Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Bob Pierce wrote these now-famous words in his Bible after visiting suffering children on the Korean island of Kojedo. This impassioned prayer is what guided him as ‘Samaritan’s Purse’ (named from the biblical story of the Good Samaritan) was born.

Samaritan’s Purse works in more than 100 countries around the world. International headquarters are in Boone, North Carolina, USA. Affiliate offices are in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Hong Kong, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Field offices are located in some 20 countries across five continents. Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham serves as President and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse.

This world-wide mission to practically help those in great need led to many different initiatives, and Samaritan’s Purse was launched in the UK by the legendary Dr. Billy Graham in 1990 following his visit to Scotland. After just twelve months, Samaritan’s Purse UK had a support base of over four thousand people from a cross-section of individual Christians and churches in the UK.

Operation Christmas Child logo

In 1995, Operation Christmas Child, a Wrexham-based children’s charity, announced its merger with Samaritan’s Purse. Since 1995, the organisation has gone from strength to strength – starting new development initiatives in Africa and Central Asia as well as being part of the global Samaritan’s Purse response to humanitarian disasters such as the Darfur Crisis, the South Asian Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake, the Myanmar Cyclone and the China Earthquake. Currently they are working hard to help those is desperate need in Haiti following the earthquake and the subsequent cholera epidemic

But they are most well-known for the simple but effective way that ordinary people and families can get involved – it’s a fun and interactive way to give to a child who might not get anything else this Christmas, or even know what Christmas is.

Simple take an average sized shoe box, cover it in Christmas paper and fill it with small gifts, appropriate to either a boy or girl of a certain age group. You will be given a choice on these and gifts are suggested, from toys to toothbrushes, felt-tips to furry hats, there are also items you should not include, such as toy guns – many of these children will be in areas where war and violence are an everyday reality and they don’t need reminders! Then you add a small donation for the work of organising and delivering the boxes and take it to a local pick-up point, usually a church, shop etc. When you see the film of the boxes been given out to kids in India, the soviet states, Africa etc it makes you realise how much our own children have. Rob and I visited one of their warehouses in Evesham – amazing what an enormous operation this is.

Operation Christmas Child choices

But now there is an alternative way of filling your shoebox, you can still find a local point to get your leaflet and drop off your filled box but you can also choose to do it ‘virtually’ on their website! You do exactly the same as you would normally – choose paper to cover your box, select which sex and age group you are preparing your box for, then click on the offered toys etc and pop them in the box! You can add a short message and even a photo of yourself if you want then pay online through the secure server. This has obvious advantages for everyone as the charity can buy the gifts in bulk and doesn’t have the added cost of transporting bulky boxes to their depots.

Operation Christmas Child is now the world’s largest children’s Christmas appeal.

Every year this operation is made possible through the amazing support of thousands of children and adults in the UK and Ireland. Last year alone they had the joy of sending nearly 1.2 million shoeboxes bursting with joy from the UK alone and over 200,000 from Ireland to children in parts of Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

Even if you are too late for this year’s appeal, just contact the website and they will be pleased to tell you when you can donate for next year.

Posted in Living spirituality | 1 Comment

My WRNS story

Major, life-changing decisions can be made following seemingly minor incidences in our lives,Sue and I on that fateful trip to town! She has the checked= (click on any photo to enlarge it, back arrow to return to this page)

Note – there is a large gap further down in this post, I am trying to find out how to fix it! Meanwhile – just keep scrolling.

Our Phantoms won the International air race with Rolls Royce engines, so the squadron were loaned a car for the year by RRSo how did I end up with this photo of me on the right?

It started with another newspaper photo….

In February 1967 I was again off sick from my work as telephonist at a big hotel in Bristol, with tonsillitis. This time my GP told me to stay off work, resting my throat for two weeks. So a week later, feeling fine, not a bad day weather-wise, my friend Sue (Townsend?) asked if I would go into Bristol with her. Photo above. Sue has the checked collar.

She was back home, in her smart new Wrens uniform, on her first short leave from the HMS Dauntless, the Women’s Royal Naval Service’s training base. We went shopping in the city, but first Sue had some papers to drop off at the recruiting office in the centre of town. While we were there talking to the recruiting wren officer, a male commander came in, “Great shot, recruiting officer, new recruit in uniform and her friend asking about joining too!” he exclaimed.

I assured him I had no intention of joining anything requiring a uniform – thank-you very much!

But he came back with his camera and told me it would just be for a photo in the ‘Navy News’. So I agreed. He asked my name and we left for our shopping trip.

Imagine my horror to see the photo, and my caption, “Miss Cathy Higgins, interested in joining the wrens too”, on the front page of the Bristol Evening Post a couple of days later! Must have been a slow week.

When I got back to work my boss said it had been very difficult for the hotel in my absence and would I train one of the receptionists on the switchboard? Naively I did, they then handed me my cards and a week’s pay in lieu of notice as I was obviously not going to tell them I had applied to join the navy during my paid sick leave!

My father was furious and had a very animated phone call with the recruiting office, which ended in them appealing on my behalf to the hotel, which refused to budge, even when threatened with the removal of the annual Naval dinner to a rival hotel. Incidentally, they carried out that threat!

The officer said if I could get through the usual process I was welcome to try for the WRNS. I half-heartedly went along and came through all the application; I was enlisted as a Radio Operator and went to Dauntless for my initial training. HMS Dauntless was at Burghfield, near Reading.Vets Badge, issued to all ex-forces personell

I recently found this image, as I was told at the time that I could have signed on the dole, and now still proudly wear my MOD issued Armed Forces Vets badge, I found it appropriate!

Aerial View of HMS Dauntless, now a housing estate, though plans are being made to have a Blue Plaque added to the estate to remember the history of the site!

Dauntless was the basic training establishment for new wrens until 1981 Every one of the 30,000 new entrants who spent their first month in the Service at Dauntless, remembers learning to march, polishing floors and shoes, undergoing x-rays, going into the gas chamber with, then (briefly) without a gas mask, being immunised and practising shouting their official number whilst thrusting their pay book under the Pay Writer’s nose.

We also learned naval slang “Jackspeak”! When we are chatting with other wrens or matelots (jackspeak for sailors) even today, we tend to lapse into it. A whole new language. Thanks to one of those who trained with me all those years ago, Jane Mackay, for sending me this photo. We ‘met’ again on one of the wrens private Facebook pages.

Thesueus Division HMS Dauntless, March 1967, 3rd from the left, back row.

Theseus Division HMS Dauntless, March 1967, 3rd from the left, back row.

While I was in training our Division were asked to represent the WRNS at the ceremony in Trafalgar square when a bust of the Second World War First Sea Lord Admiral Cunningham was unveiled on 2 April by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband.

In Trafalgar Square, Sue Gladden, Noddy Curry & myself (with pigeon)

The idea being that we had plenty of time to train in marching up and down steps that curved from narrow to broad, we marched up and down the Reading churchyard steps, standing in for those in Trafalgar Square, numerous times, to the delight of local builders!

We had our weekend leave immediately before going up to London and I proudly took my ‘No.1’ uniform home to show my family, but, out with some friends the evening I was due to return on the train, I left my bag containing my uniform  in a boy’s car. When I got back to Dauntless I realised my mistake and was allowed to phone my long-suffering dad, who went to the boy’s home and drove through the night to Burghfield, leaving my bag with one of the cooks, as it was 5 a.m. and they didn’t want to wake me!!

They placed us wrens between the Guards and the Marines and we jumped a mile every time they came to attention in their huge boots.

Another recent shot of Soberton Towers, now apartments.

Recent shot of Soberton Towers, now apartments.

Recent shot of Soberton Towers, now apartments.

I loved being at ‘Soberton Towers’, the wrens quarters near Petersfield.  Where all us wren Radio Operator trainees lived.

On the IOW exped. I am the one 2nd from the left, light hair. 1967

On the IOW exped. I am the one 2nd from the left, light hair, dark jumper. 1967

This photo including me, turned up recently from another long-lost wren ‘oppo’,  which is “Jackspeak” for friend, on the HMS Mercury closed Facebook page.  You could borrow all the equipment and food you needed from stores to go off on a camping trip, known as an Exped – expedition. So 5 of us trainee Radio Operators went off to the Isle of Wight for a weekend, in dismal weather, but we had great fun, especially after we met a group of submariner matelots, also on an exped! I had posted the few photos I had of the weekend on the HMS Mercury FB page and, to our mutual delight, Jennifer Wood recognised herself and promptly posted several shots – she is the girl in the checked shirt.                        Another exped I went on was at Easter 1967, to the Lake District. A group of matelots (including a submariner – a subby) and wrens borrowed a 10 ton truck, a lot of gear and drove to Windermere, where it snowed!

HMS Mercury Exped, Easter 1967, Windermere

HMS Mercury Exped, Easter 1967, Windermere

Goldie, a subby, and myself

Goldie, a subby, and myself







The lads would come over to join us wrens at the pub near Soberton towers and we had many great times together, The White Lion , aka The Pinkie, was our closest and, like others near what used to be HMS Mercury, it now has a Blue plaque!

The Pinky's Blue Plaque

The Pinky’s Blue Plaque


A group of matelots and wrens outside the Pinky, summer 1967. Me at the front on the ground.

A group of matelots and wrens outside the Pinky, summer 1967. Me at the front on the ground.





The Rising Sun plaque

The Rising Sun plaque






Another pub we used a lot, The Rising Sun, was also commemorated with a blue plaque

But I had problems with migraines at HMS Mercury training base and, after 6 months of training,  was given a medical change of trade to Wren Air Mechanic (Airframes & Engines), it was either that or driver and I loathed the idea of that. (I still don’t like driving).

our Division, under training as Air Mechs A&E, at RNAS Arbroath, HMS Condor. Winter 67/68

our Division, under training as Air Mechs A&E, at RNAS Arbroath, HMS Condor. Winter 67/68

So after another week’s stint at Dauntless I was off to Arbroath in Scotland for my training on the out-of-service aircraft there. There were just two girls and around 14 lads on our course, Mary was top and I came second, well we had to show the men that we could beat them at what they regarded as a male domain!

Winter at HMS Condor (Arbroath) 1967 during my 6 months training as Aircraft Mechanic

Winter at HMS Condor (Arbroath) 1967 during my 6 months training as Aircraft Mechanic


De Havilland DH-100 Sea Vampire








After this I was posted to the Visiting Aircraft section at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, HMS Heron, in Somerset. Even Naval bases far from the sea are called “ships”.

Thanks to Roger Aylett , who I am sure was on my right when this photo was taken at Yeovilton on Xmas Day 1968. It turned up today almost 50 years later!

I really enjoyed my time there as my dad had always said “never volunteer”, so I volunteered for anything going of course. Though I let myself down badly when I hitched a ride in a De Havilland Sea Vampire , lost consciousness as we did a few ‘gentle’ aerobatics and had to lifted from the cockpit by the crash crew! One of my memories was of Christmas 1968. That is when I remember us few still manning RNAS Yeovilton, as the rest were on leave, and being driven up and down the main runway on a fire engine, afterwards we all went back to the Fire/Crash building for rum tots. To my delight and astonishment, today, 1st November 2018, 50 years ago now, this photo was passed on to me by a mutual Facebook friend, one of the Crash crew, on my right!!

They were looking for a wren to spend the summer weekends of 1968 flying in the Whirlwind SAR helicopter on demonstrations at various country shows, air days etc. The crew would place me in an inflatable dingy on the grass and then fly away, I would fire off a flare, the heli would return to ‘rescue’ me, great fun. The crowds enjoyed the last of the three ‘lifts’ when I was “unconscious” and the crewman had to be winched down and wrap himself and the gear around me to lift me up to safety. As he was my then boy-friend the crowd were delighted when I got a kiss on the way up!

I remember in July flying over the terrible floods in the village of Pensford, Somerset, where the main A37 road was blocked as the bridge was swept away.

Cossack Mess girls (me in greatcoat)

Cossack Mess girls (me in greatcoat)

Three of us WRNS delivered presents to a local school (I am in the middle)

I was really proud to be qualified to maintain the Swordfish & to fly in it several times

We were trained on many types of aircraft at ‘Visiting Aircraft Section’, where I worked. I was most proud of my certificate to maintain the Swordfish, flying to the aircraft factory at Filton, Bristol, in it for their air day, and another time, seated in the back hanging onto the rear-gunner’s flying suit as he stood up to salute the new Captain of HMS Heron when he arrived and we did a low slow fly past. Our pilot “Crash” Evans was a little concerned as the Phantoms flew in at the same time and, afterburners on, roared vertically upwards almost directly above us, we made a distinct lurch towards the ground and the wooden airframe creaked in protest! She is still flying under the care of Navy Wings .

I qualified and/or worked on the Hunter, Canberra, Blackburn Buccaneer , Sea Prince, Devon, Wasp, Westland Whirlwind, Tiger Moth, Vulcan bomber, Lightening, Red Arrows’ Gnat (the smallest) and the USA’s MAC Globemaster (the largest). There were many more that I can no longer remember the name of.

Among visitors I welcomed Petula Clarke (filming ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’) and a certain Lt. C.Windsor who flew in as a student pilot. Now known as Prince Charles of course.

Petula Clark in a Phantom 1968, she was filming Good Bye Mr Chips at Sherbourne and used Yeovilton to fly in from her home in France.

Petula Clark in a Phantom 1968, she was filming Good Bye Mr Chips at Sherbourne and used Yeovilton to fly in from her home in France.

Yeovilton. late1960's and 1970's. Wrens Quarters were at the back on the right

Yeovilton. Late1960’s and 1970’s. Wrens Quarters were at the back on the right


















Yeovilton modern aerial view the yellow is where the Wrennery used to be, no wonder they woke us up when the took off from 09

Yeovilton modern aerial view the yellow is where the Wrennery used to be, no wonder they woke us up when the took off from 09

My family lived in Bristol. So when a notice went up on the boards, in September 1968,  asking for a volunteer to work at Filton for a month helping with the Concorde project, I jumped at the chance! This futuristic aircraft was being build partly there and partly in France.

Blackburn Buccaneer

Blackburn Buccaneer

To help with the design of a crash net suitable for the end of the runway for Concorde, in case it was needed during the test flights, the FAA was loaning a Buccaneer jet and crew, for the tests, because it had the closest Delta shape to Concorde.

My job was to do all the daily checks etc on the Buccaneer.

I stayed with my parents, and travelled to Filton each day wearing my smart uniform, which earned some interesting remarks on the bus.

Wren Kate at work

Wren Kate at work –  Yeovilton

But they were nothing compared to the comments from the lads when I arrived at the Brabazon hangar, where my aircraft was parked in front of the nose of the brand new Concorde. The looks were priceless on the apprentices’ faces when I came out of the Ladies in my overalls and started work – climbing into the Buccaneer’s air intakes to check the compressor blades.

They weren’t used to seeing girls doing much technical work and I had a few problems when they climbed into the cockpit and refused to leave.

I soon put a stop to this by pointing out that they were sitting in a rocket-propelled ejector seat that could shoot them straight up to the metal roof at 90 feet a second.

My Concorde hangar pass 'The Brabazon hangar'

My Concorde hangar pass ‘The Brabazon hangar’. I got into trouble as I lost my original one and was given this replacement for the last few days.

Once I had the aircraft ready, the crew would fly up from HMS Heron in Yeovilton to take it up for as many flights as necessary, and I was responsible for refuelling and maintenance work.

The Buccaneer was parked in front of Concorde, and I was called over the tannoy system at lunchtime one day to man its brakes while it was towed out of the way to let the new plane out for its first photo-shoot with the gathered world’s press!

We Royal Navy folk were given a guided tour of Concorde – we were led through and all over the plane while one of the foremen extolled her virtues like a proud father.

I still like to drop the remark into conversations involving memorable episodes in our lives; “I have walked on Concorde’s wings you know”. Well of course it was in a hangar!

At Filton, we used to eat with the pilots and the day before they all left for the first test-flight at Toulouse, which was planned for 1 March; our navy pilot told them it was my birthday on 2 March.

One of the French workers said ‘We shall delay Concorde’s first flight for you; it shall be our birthday present to you!’

In the end there was bad weather on 1 March, so I got my birthday present!

A few years later when my husband, a Dutch pilot, was working for KLM, he would often say: ‘I was parked next to Concorde at Heathrow today – I said hello to her for you’, though we could never afford to fly in her.

I never dreamed then that on 24th October 2003 I would be standing in front of those huge Brabazon hangar doors again, as they slid open I walked into the cavernous space and spoke, unscripted, about how I felt, then and today, about the beginning and end of Concorde, almost forgetting the BBC Breakfast TV’s microphones and cameras trained on me. The reporter John Kay was jubilant when he saw tears welling up in my eyes!

I am very proud to be associated with the development of such a unique and beautiful aircraft.                                                                                                                                                       BBC Bristol were part of a team who staged a musical in the city, using the stories of many local people who had been involved in the building of Concorde, this was presented at the time of the last flight of Concorde in Autumn 2003.

BBC photo of me in the FAA Museum, Yeovilton

BBC photo of me in the FAA Museum, Yeovilton, “my” grey Hunter is below me on the left.


To my surprise, much of the story was based around the life and experiences of a Wren aircraft mechanic named “Kate” who was attached to work on Concorde at Filton in 1969! They even sent me to the Fleet Air Arm Museum, also based at Yeovilton, to take some publicity shots of me with Concorde, which included a Hunter aircraft, which I had worked on,  directly beneath me.

Fly Navy-2

Thanks again to Phil Glover for recently sending me this item. and the image of the stickers.

Thanks again to Phil Glover for recently sending me this item. and the image of the stickers.






Miss Fly Navy with my floating Phantom





Stratford-upon-Avon - photo Lionel A Smith

Stratford-upon-Avon – photo Lionel A Smith


Our Yeovilton Ship’s Daily Orders had featured a cartoon character called “Phantom Phred” since the aircraft arrived and that summer he suddenly acquired a cartoon girl-friend – “Phantom Phemale”, with news of her canoe club events.  We won several carnivals that summer! Another interesting part of my time at Yeovilton was that I had joined the canoe club, they had a model Phantom built, about 14 foot long, we started to go to water carnivals with the Phantom mounted on a canoe and towed by the lads, with me perched on top, in shorts, a top and (not sure who suggested it) a banner saying “Fly Navy” on it! One memory is of us floating along the River Avon, in Stratford-on-Avon, on a lovely summer evening, past the Theatre, where the cast of the current Shakespeare play were on the balcony during their intermission and being bowed to by Henry VIII who even doffed his cap at me.

I am not sure which came first, the canoe club, Miss Fly Navy, the London to New York Air Race?

Stratford photos from Lionel A Smith RNAS Yeovilton canoe club

Stratford photos from Lionel A Smith RNAS Yeovilton canoe club

Yeovilton canoe club escorted and towed the Phantom Phemale! Thanks to Lionel A Smith for these long-lost shots.

Yeovilton canoe club escorted and towed the Phantom Phemale! Thanks to Lionel A Smith for these long-lost shots.

I was putting up with a lot of teasing from the lads watching this photo-shoot! Phantoms are big when you sit on top of them!

But our Phantoms from Yeovilton broke the world record three times running with our superior Rolls Royce engines, the company were so pleased they presented a Rolls Royce car to 892 squadron for their use for a year in recognition! I had my photo taken posed in front of the car with the Phantoms in the background; it was in The Illustrated London News at the time. (Photo is at the top of this age).

Yeovilton Canoe Club also won on land! Well, we were 2nd at Hamble Carnival




Senior Pilot and Observer of 767 squadron, Phantoms, (they adopted me as a mascot!

Article from "Navy News" August 1969. Thanks to Phil Glover for sending me this one recently!

Article from “Navy News” August 1969. Thanks to Phil Glover for sending me this one recently!


The highlight for me was being asked (ordered) to open the Air Day 1969, perched on my Phantom, which was fixed to a trolley usually used for ammo I believe, towed by a tractor along the main runway, waving to the crowds!























A personal note; In August 1968 we were told that a Dutch squadron of Grumman Trackers (anti-submarine bombers) were coming to us for two weeks to take part in a Nato exercise and would be here for that Air Day. We were asked to help further Anglo-Dutch relations, so, after fixing a pilot’s oil filter as soon as they arrived I ended up marrying Sgt Pilot Kees van Zoen in December 1969 and leaving the WRNS to live in Holland for the next 19 years. Kees transferred to the Dutch SAR helicopters and then left to fly with KLM Helikopters to the oil rigs, before moving over to KLM passenger fixed wing aircraft.

First photo Kees and me Yeovilton 1


After his sudden death in 1988 I and my 2 sons moved back to England. I remarried in 2002.

I had loaned a lot of photographs and press cuttings of my wrens time to the FAA Museum some years ago, and had written to ask for them back last year…. they were having trouble finding them . They have still not turned up.

I then exchanged a couple of emails about this with Lt Carolyn Jones, the FAA Public Relations officer. Who knew nothing about there ever having been a “Miss Fly Navy”, like many Naval institutions it just sort of grew unofficially!


Airday poster, Yeovilton 2009

But I was very surprised to get a phone call from her  asking if I would come down to their 100 years of the FAA Air Day as the guest of RNAS Yeovilton, together with my husband of 7 years, Rob.

The last Yeovilton Air Day I attended was the one I opened in 1969!

We were invited guests of the Navy at Airday, RNAS Yeovilton, 2009

This time I had difficulty working out exactly where things like hangars, control tower and the Visiting Aircraft section (where I worked as an aircraft mechanic) had all been, so much has changed.

I usually say yes to requests that promise an interesting time and we duly received complimentary tickets and car park passes for the Press Enclosure.

We stayed in a great B & B right near the airfield, Hawks House. We stood out in the garden on the Friday evening and watched several of the aircraft fly in. We were all thrilled that when the Vulcan arrived it did several “touch and goes”, touching down and taking off immediately, applying power to those mighty engines, putting on a mini display for all the people who the crew know were watching them arrive. As they unfortunately could not fly on the Saturday at least some of us got to have the pleasure of seeing them fly!

As the river ran/runs under the concrete slabs of the hard-standing where

Red Arrows flypast at the 2009 Yeovilton airday

visiting aircraft was, the larger, heavier aircraft could not park there. So when a Vulcan or even a MAC (USA) Globemaster was expected one of us WRNS from Visiting Aircraft would get on our bikes and cycle over to the large “dispersal” area, to marshal them in and do any work required.

de Havilland Sea Vixen – 6 taking off in formation wakes the heaviest sleepers!

Hearing the ‘roar with a whine’ sound of the Vixen flying really brought the memories flooding back and made my pulse race. The Wrens quarters were near the end of the runway and when the display team of Vixens – ‘Simon’s Circus’ – took off the sound was unimaginable, especially if you had been on late duty and were trying to sleep!

On Christmas day 1968 most of the Yeovilton people were away on leave. I have a vivid memory of a crowd of us who were the skeleton crew, sitting on a fire engine, driving up and down the main runway before retiring to the Naafi for lunch, including some rum someone had hoarded! Wouldn’t be allowed these days!

The issue of rum is not the only change I know has happened at Yeovilton and throughout the Navy. Most of the fixed wing aircraft are gone and it seemed strange to see female officers and ratings as Royal Navy personnel, not as WRNS, with their distinctive uniform, titles etc. The fact that in my day the women did not go to sea nor were under navy regulations and discipline seemed good to me, though, having got to know women of the Royal Navy who have been in recently, I have slowly changed my mind on that, and actually find myself regretting the missed opportunities.

All my wrens badges, the white one still has oil on it from my overalls!

All my wrens badges, the white one still has oil on it from my overalls. I no longer had my blue trade badges, but was able to order replacements from the brilliant website Forever Jack/Forever Jenny

I also wonder how modern naval personnel cope with issues of physical differences when it comes to carrying out their work. For instance, one of our daily jobs was doing the routine maintenance on the Hunter training aircraft. This entailed various different jobs, when the mechanic had to crawl up the tailpipe to check the temperature gauges and other parts, the lads would often ask us girls, with our narrower shoulders, to do this for them, whereas they would lug around the heavy oxygen tanks for us.  We were also often asked to do the fiddly delicate

WRNS 100 fleece badge

WRNS 100 fleece badge

jobs such as working through a tiny opening to undo screws that you could not see. Dropping a screw or tool inside the aircraft was a big disaster as it could not fly till the elusive object had been found, which could entail demolishing part of the aircraft to retrieve it. It did not make you popular!

I enjoyed my years in the WRNS very much and would recommend it to anyone looking for a worthwhile career. Though now, of course, women are members of the Royal Navy.     I am a member of the Association Of Wrens .   There are many Wrens pages on Facebook. But you will have to show proof you have been a wren/RN lady to join! Our most senior members served in 1944, a huge range of ages and experiences, but we have our formative years in the service to bind us together.

Alnwick Remembrance 2013. Photo Jane Coltman

Alnwick Remembrance 2013. Photo Jane Coltman

Through discussions on the wrens FB page I ended up marching with the current and ex forces on Remembrance Sunday 2013 and laying a wreath at Alnwick War Memorial on behalf of the Association of Wrens. Very moving and a relief to discover, after 44 years, that I can still march in step! Wrens AOW badge with poppy

I also marched in November 2014 and 2015



The Association of Wrens is preparing for the centenary of the service in 2017. This is a link   I am booked to go to our special reunion, though there will be events all through the year. It is also 50 years since my division joined up.

Also through the Wrens and The Wrennery Facebook pages, I managed to meet up with 8 ex-wrens/RN ladies last year, and several since, though none served with me, some are even young enough to be my daughters, we clicked immediately and had so much to talk about.

Some of us North East Jenny Wrens had a reunion last year.

Some of us North East Jenny Wrens had a reunion last year.

This was a NE Wrens reunion in Newcastle last year, on the left.


This year I hope to meet more, especially when we are away on holiday in other parts of the UK.

RNA Crest I have joined the Royal Naval Association. Their slogan is Once  Navy, always Navy. That is so true.

WRNS Proud to have servedThis sticker above is from Forever Jack/Forever Jenny

UPDATE – As it was the Centenary of the founding of the WRNS last year, I organised through a Facebook page, that 100+ War Memorials at home and abroad, had at least one Woman of the Royal Navy laying a wreath to commemorate those wrens who gave their all for our country. This photo on the left is the Facebook cover photo for that page, still live, “100 Memorial WRNS Wreaths”  This year I, and many others, will be marching and laying our wreaths again.

Due to masses of spam I am sorry but I have had to disable the contact to myself on these pages. However,  my Facebook name is Catherine Davies van Zoen.


Posted in About us including WRNS | 35 Comments