You can never have enough when it comes to a collection of books

I was checking my collection of books recently and realised the number does not seem to have gone up or down in recent years, and as life goes on I find books I want to read now but know I still have books to be read.

I do make good use of local charity shops to offload excess books, ones I am not likely to read again, even if I did enjoy them. I may take in 20 or so books at a time but I am just as likely to add four or five to my collection when something in the charity shop captures my attention.

It seems strange to think that when I moved into the first home of my own, a corporation flat in Basildon which I think was on the ninth floor, I had a three-shelf bookcase and my book collection did not even fill that.

Within a week I had discovered the weekly outdoor market and there I found an array of second hand books from Lenin’s Little Library to the old orange cover Penguins, fiction and non-fiction, and even hardbacks in good condition but cheap.

The stall – well it was the equivalent of three stalls – had paperbacks and hardbacks, thrillers and romances, politics and historical tomes as well, in fact just about anything you want.

My bookcase was soon full and I put up shelves in the spare room to take the overflow. By the time I left, not much more than 18 months after my arrival, I needed a packing case to take all my books.

I stored it at my parents’ place while I was on tour, along with bits of furniture etc., and a suitcase of clothes. Once life became settled, some time after I said goodbye to Harry, Toabs, Sooty, Sweep, Soo and Lawrence, the books came out of store and gradually increased as My Muse Marion is also a lover of books, just not to the same extent as me. I hate to get rid of books in case I want to read them again.

Some of the books have been to Australia with us and the collection increased during our stay. Most were left in store during the two years in the Middle East but once back in the UK they were out and on the shelves again. Luckily our home in Prestatyn had a spare room I could turn into a library/study.

Nowadays the majority of my books are in the loft but I do know precisely where they are, well as near as damn it.

For instance I recently went up to the loft to put the Camillieri (Montalbano) books into store until I am ready to read them again. In return I brought down some of my family history books to remind me of bits I might have forgotten about during my research break.

I also have a full set of Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, my edition having been published late 19th early 20th century. These will have to wait for a while because I have to tuck into a similar set of Dickens’ works which I intend reading over the next year as soon as I decide which one to start with. I am debating on a choice between A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times or The Pickwick Papers. I will let you know how it goes.

I have plenty of choice of other authors if I want to take a short break in my Charles Dickens marathon.

A blog is not a one-way street – so why not let me hear your ideas

Hello readers everywhere, and it does appear I have readers not just all over the country, but around the world as well.

I do intend to get at least one post up every day, even though I did fail yesterday but hopefully I can catch up with two today or tomorrow.

As you know I have been covering a variety of subjects ranging from my life, to my work, reviewing books I have read and even family history.

I hope to expand but would really appreciate hearing from you, my readers.

You can make comments on any of the posts but maybe you have questions as well as telling me your opinions.

In particular you might be interested in family history and if I can help or advise you there it would be my pleasure.

Or maybe you have your own family history tales to tell.

I would be delighted to hear from you all.

Best wishes from Robin.

Quick trip to pick up gas lands my faithful Moggie back in the garage

We still had a few dates down South before heading North up the M1.

As I said I had picked up my Moggie Minor from Harry’s place on a trip West and just felt happy to have it with me.

One Thursday Harry asked me to collect some gas canisters which we used in the water sequence. He told me to get some petrol in my car and he would reimburse me.

The depot for the canisters was in Romford, a town I knew about but had never visited. Little did I know that in the future this Essex town would play an important part in the next stage of my life.

I found the depot easily enough and I was soon heading back to the venue – then my car broke down. I can’t remember what it was but it was certainly not a five-minute repair. This was a time when I could have done with my mate Roger to lend me a hand.

I was on the edge of Colchester and I called the AA who turned up very quickly. The AA man said he would have to give me a tow to a nearby garage where I could arrange for repairs.

At the garage I was told the job would take a few days and as we were heading North at the weekend I had to ask them if they would do the work but then garage the car until I could get back to pick it up.

It was a wrench leaving her behind so soon after getting her back.

I called the theatre to tell Harry what had happened and he said I should get a taxi from Colchester to the theatre and he would deal with the payment when we got there.

By good luck the garage also ran a taxi service and as the theatre was about half an hour away I got there just in time to get the canisters backstage and then head out front to man the merchandise stall.

It was fortunate that I was wearing my stage gear, black shirt, trousers, boots etc. as I would have had no time to change.

Normally I would have done a full sound check and also made sure everything was in the right place in the wings to make sure scene changes and the UV sequence ran smoothly and quickly.

Because of the mishap with the car I had not been able to carry out my normal checks but we had everything running so efficiently by this stage of the tour that there were no further problems that day.

NEXT TIME: Heading North for the last days of our tour

Final form in a set which takes you from the cradle to the grave

The third, and final, certificate that applies to all people in the UK is the one issued after their death.

The area above the main part of the certificate indicates the year of death, the registration district in which the death occurred, the sub-district and the county, in this case Norfolk.

The main body of the certificate offers a range of information which can be checked against other sources to ensure you are tracking the right family member.


This details the full date of death and full address of the deceased.


The full name of the deceased. This again is information which can be checked off against other information. In this case the first and last names correspond with other information but the middle name has the same initial as a previous certificate but here it is Vyrnwy whereas a previous certificate listed the name as Vernon.


provides the information regarding sex of the deceased.


This reveals the age of the deceased and is something which can be checked off against other information including the known/ date of birth.


This is another important piece of information which can be used to check against other sources – occupation of the deceased. In this case it can be compared to the occupation listed form the same name in other sources and in this case confirms we have the right person, a minister of religion in the Presbyterian Church of Wales (retired) which corresponds with the information provided on his son’s marriage certificate.


The cause of death can reveal a good deal of information. As well as the actual cause of death this may also include the letters P.M. which indicates that a post mortem examination was made. This is not normally the case in death from a long-term illness, especially if the deceased was seen not long before death. It might be carried out if there are indication that death might have been from a different cause. The name and qualification of either the family doctor or the person who carried out the PM will also be included.


Identifies the informant including their address. In many cases this will tend to be a relation and can be very useful again in identifying the correct family. In this case, however, the informant was clearly the senior person at an institution, probably a hospital, in which the death had occurred.


Gives the date on which the death was registered. Normally this occurs on the day of death or within a day or two. If there is a long gap between the date of death and the date of registration it might be worth investigating.


This is simply the name of the registrar who has noted the details.

The three certificates which track your life and death might appear very basic and lacking in information, but they are important in confirming details of the person whose lineage you are tracing.

An error early in the research could end up with you tracing a family who have no connection with your root person and could be very costly.

Tracing ancestry can be fun but you must remember to check every detail and then check it again.

Which came first – the chicken or the egg; the tv series or the book?

I have just finished reading one of the best crime drama series, with more than a hint of humour, I have ever read and I have taken Holmes, Poirot, Morse and more into account.

In this case, however, I was introduced to the sleuth and his sidekicks via the medium of television. Having read crime mystery books since I was about 10 years old, often long before they were portrayed, I found that in half of the books I read I had pinpointed the guilty person half-way through the book.

Not so with Agatha Christie’s stories on first reading and not so with the series of books I have just finished reading – the Italian-based police crime series about Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri, translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli.

The TV series was in Italian with English subtitles but after a while the mind took in the translations in the subtitles without conscious effort and allowed the viewer to concentrate on the plot and the action.

I say plot but the television tales appeared to jump from one part of the story to another with nothing to explain the changes that came into the storyline. It also seemed as though it was being played for laughs.

A regular character in all the books is a uniformed member of Montalbano’s team who really appeared to have been included for laughs. He was telephonist and desk officer and used to burst into the inspector’s office with a slamming of doors against walls as he often fell flat on his face.

In the early days just watching the tv series I gained the impression that Alberto Rosso, who played officer Catarella, must have been a well-known Italian comic or comic actor who played the role as one of the characters he might have used in stage shows etc. Similar in a way to George Formby or Norman Wisdom who always seemed to be the same character no matter the plot.

My assumption could not have been further from the truth.

After we had seen a few of the Montalbano series I decided I would like to read the books to compare them to the onscreen portrayals.

We were still under the Covid lockdown which prevented me going to a bookshop so I went online and actually found a seven-volume set of Montalbano books at a cheaper price than buying them individually so, in for a penny in for a pound, I placed my order.

The Shape of Water, first in the Montalbano series, was a real eye-opener.

Apart from the inspector in the book having a good head of hair, on the television the character could have been played by Yul Brynner or Telly Savalas, he was as bald as a billiard ball, he was almost the same as his portrayal in the book except that here his character was fleshed out as we enter his mind as he tries to solve his cases; or we join him at his favourite restaurant where there were great varieties of seafood for him to enjoy before he walked down to the harbour and stared out to sea as he considered how to find the latest killer.

This is why the tv series seemed to jump about so much. It would be almost impossible to portray these mind conversations where Montalbano often played two sides of himself, or the dreams he has which are so vivid that initially you think the inspector is actually involved in these actions in rfeal life.

The other eye-opener was the first introduction to Catarella as he bursts through the doors to Montalbano’s office, smashing one of them with a thunderous bang against the wall as he almost falls flat on his face in front of the inspector’s desk.

Rather than the actor putting his own portrayal to the character he is actually portraying the character directly as the author had written it.

In fact his speech reflects the character himself as he faithfully informs Montalbano that “the Commissioner is poissonally on the line and wants to talk to you poissonally in poisson.”

He is what we might call a country bumpkin but Camilleri refers to as a provincial. He comes from a village in the mountains and his version of Italian is a dialect which the inspector often finds difficult to understand.

Montalbano appears to have taken a shine to Catarella and puts up with his strange ways because the officer is a good man with a good heart.

A few books into the series the police station in Vigata, where Montalbano is based, has a computer installed and, despite having doubts, the inspector decides to send Catarella on the computer induction course and discovers that, although the man is clearly a couple of shiny buttons short of a uniform jacket, he has a natural affinity with computers and becomes an invaluable member of Montalbano’s team.

As well as sundry police officers and detectives Montalbano’s real team boils down to himself, his deputy Augello, who is a womaniser and remains so after getting married and becoming a father, a young detective called Fazio, with a penchant for noting down far more information than his boss can handle, and, of course, the faithful Catarella.

In recent times I have read nearly all of the two separate series of Anne Cleeves’ two amazingly different police detectives, Vera and Jimmy Perez , as well as the many crime novels of Val MacDermid and can honestly say thast when it comes to characterization and plot Camilleri is very much their equal and at times can leave them both behind.

I had bought the rest of the 30 books in the series and I did find one thing strange about the final Montalbano book, Riccardino, which I completed today.

About halfway through Camilleri suddenly introduces a new character, the Author, who we discover has been putting Montalbano’s stories into book form which has led to a tv series about – you guessed it – Inspector Montalbano.

This character calls Montalbano at odd points in the investigation and suggests a different line the inspector could take, or suggests he has been in error in suspecting one person rather than the other.

In fact in a fax to Montalbano the Author actually outlines the way he feels the story should end and the inspector realises that he and his “biographer” are no longer singing from the same hymn sheet and it is time for him to leave the scene.

I do seriously suggest you introduce yourself to Inspector Salvatore Montalbano. It doesn’t really matter whether you read the books first or watch the tv series, they complement each other.

Getting hitched provides plenty of clues for a family historian

As I said earlier there are three main legal certificates which you will find useful when it comes to researching your family: birth certificate; marriage certificate; and death certificate.

In my time as a young reporter we used to refer to births, marriages and deaths as: hatch, match, and despatch.

We have covered the birth certificate and the information it provides now we will move on to the marriage certificate.

The marriage certificate not only names the two people getting married but also gives their addresses, ages, occupations, father’s names and occupation of fathers. This gives a lot of information to cross check with other certificates, ensuring you have the right certificate for the family you are following.

Across the top you will find the year of the marriage and the place, ie. the church or register office, where it took place.

The box on the extreme left is a purely archival reference so we will start with the next box as:


This is the full date of the marriage.


This provides the full name of the bridegroom and the bride.


This gives the ages of the couple getting married and can be an early indication as to whether or not you have the right couple. If the ages don’t match what you already know, for example if the couple are boith aged in their thirties yet you know one is a teenager you might need ti doiuble check the details.


Defines the marital status of the couple. In this case naither have been married before. If one or other has been married but is now divorced this will be indicated, or if the partner of one or the other is dead it would be marked as widower or widow.


This is where the occupations of the couple will be noted. Bearing in mind the date of the marriage it is not surprising that the bridegroom is in the armed forces, in this case as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps.


This gives you the residence of bridegroom and bride at the time of marriage. Sometimes this might have the same address for both but this does not necessarily mean they were cohabiting. It might just be a bed and breakfast property where the couple stayed, separately, or at such a time as the outbreak of war, the bridegroom might have been on a very brief leave of absence and might have stayed overnight in the home of the bride’s parents.


This is where you will find the names of the fathers of the couple. Again this can be a major identifier as to the family links. A middle name for a father, for instance. In this case Edward has a middle name beginning with V (Vernon). As it happens this is a mistake on this particular certificate as the registrar in this case misheard the Welsh name Vyrnwy and wrote Vernon instead.

The name Vyrnwy appears on all other documentation.


The last numbered box gives the rank or profession of the two fathers.

In this case the groom’s father is listed as an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, an important reference during further research.

The bride’s father is listed as a lance corporal in the National Defence Corps. This immediately tells you the person served in the British Army during World War One, as this was the criteria for being called up.

Finally the information on the lower part of the form offers further clues.

First, bride and bridegroom both signed the register showing they had a reasonable education in that they could write. Even early in the 20th century one, or even both, of the couple might just have made their marks.

Finally there are names of witnesses. In this case two of the witnesses are close friends of the couple, whose names and photographs are referred to in later documentation.

The third witness was the father of the bridegroom.

Look Ma – top of the world, well actually it’s a West End theatre

In the middle of the tour we had what was almost an easy date when we played a London theatre for a two-week “season” either side of Christmas. In fact we did get two days off together, which was more than we had ever had.

We were actually in the West End at the May Fair Theatre, which had been built using a former ballroom area and taking in rooms on the next floor to create a tower for flying drapes etc.

The theatre (pictured) was only built in 1963 and The Sooty Show was one of the early shows booked in after a long run of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.

This year was the tenth season Harry had played The May Fair and it was also the last but that’s another story;

It was owned at the time by the Grand Metropolitan Hotel Group and as it happened I had actually dined at the May Fair Hotel. It was one of the places we visited when I was on a press trip hosted by the the Grand Met group and British Rail. We may have dined there but they didn’t put us up there for the weekend.

Once we were in we knew we would not have to strip the sets out and load the Sooty van for another two weeks and that would be in a New Year.

It was a lovely little theatre, in fact it was not much bigger than the Little Theatre in Rhyl. It had 310 seats (I think the Rhyl Little Theatre has 250 seats), the seats could be moved as could parts of the stage to create different styles such as apron, in the round etc.

As it was Christmas time we did two shows a day and three on Saturdays and played to full houses for the whole fortnight. The Christmas Eve second show ended about six and we had just enough time to clear the set ready for Boxing Day afternoon before I dashed off to catch a train to Basildon.

That’s right, Basildon.

My Muse had invited me to have Christmas Day with her and their girls.

I could never have got to North Wales and back before noon on Boxing Day so would probably have spent that time in the caravan behind the May Fair Hotel.

We had been having what really amounted to an old fashioned courtship by letter and it had been going well, but it still had a way to go.

It was a calming interlude.

We were now in the New Year and headed back West for a few dates and I managed to get a lift back to Harry’s place so that I could pick up my car. I needed to get it then because the last few dates would be up North and once I finished with Harry I would need to have my own transport.

As it happened things did not work out that easily.

That is another story, however.

The long and the short of it means baby gets the first certificate

One of the first certificates you are likely to use in the early days of your family history research is likely to be a birth certificate.

You do, however, have to make sure you get the right one because there are two types, the long and the short.

The short version is only used as a basic information form giving the name and date of birth and little else.

The long birth certificate, as shown above, has loads of useful information.


The very first box gives you the date of birth – day, month and year – as well as the place of birth.

Sometimes the address is very basic, but in the main it will be street, including number or house name, town or village and county.


Next is the given name


This shows the sex of the child.


This is for the full name of the father. If this is left blank it means the father’s identity is not known, or cannot be proved.


This provides extra information as it not only gives the married name of the mother but also her name before marriage. This can lead to the maternal grandparents.


Gives the father’s occupation, which can be a great help if there are two men of the same name who have different occupations.


This gives details of the person who provides the information to the registrar. Sometimes this is the mother but a father can also provide the information or even a relative if they were present at the birth.


This is for the date the birth is registered.


This is where the registrar signs to verify the information is correct.

BOX 10

This box is not used very often. It is there to allow for any change of name after the date of registration.

Your birth certificate might not give much information that you did not already have, but when you get to certificates for your grandparents it is useful for finding out details you did not already know.

Your grandfather’s or grandmother’s certificates will not only identify your maternal great grandparents but also their paternal grandparent’s family name.

NEXT: the marriage certificate.

On home ground for a fleeting visit before we’re on the road again

After eight weeks on tour we arrived at Basildon – home again, for that was the way I had seen it while working on the Standard Recorder, except that now I would not be in my flat at Brooke House, I would be kipping in the caravan behind the Arts Centre.

I would, however, be seeing my Muse.

We were busy on the Sunday because we had driven from our previous venue on Saturday night, parked at the back of the theatre and then settled down for the night, we would have to link up to the theatre’s electricity system in the morning.

Once we had had our breakfast and moved in all the equipment we would need (no necessity for black drapes, front-of-house curtains or lighting bar here because the Basildon AC was fully equipped) we had some free time.

Sunday was still a working day because we had to test all the equipment and make sure the lighting cues were spot on with the stage crew, and do the set changes, not the whole show, to make sure there were no hiccups as each venue had different depths in the wings.

Before lunch I headed off to see the lady I had been been writing to for the past few weeks and was made welcome. I had an hour before I would have to head back to the theatre and over lunch, with the girls, we chatted and caught up with news on both sides.

Her sister and brother-in-law were over from Australia and she said they would look after the baby while she and Sarah came to see the show during the week.

That hour perked me up and just being in the same town kept my spirits up all week.

The week actually flew by.

Because my Muse was working I did not get to see her each and every day but mid-week she and Sarah came to see the show and I saw them both afterwards.

I did get to meet her sister and brother-in-law towards the end of the week when they all came down to town with the children.

At the weekend we had a long drive to the next venue and with the extra morning show and two matinees there was not much time to spare, but we did get half an hour to say our goodbyes and promised each other we would continue to write every week.

I was not going to see her for at least two months as we were heading back west for a few weeks before we headed to London where we were to spend two weeks at the Mayfair Theatre.

Although my spirits were now fully raised I also knew it would be a long wait to Christmas. Luckily I would be very busy.

Six small steps to take you on the journey of a lifetime – or further


A question many of us will have asked in our lifetime and we will have given ourselves many answers: son, father, socialist; mother, aunt, republican; daughter, teacher, royalist; grandfather, preacher, poet.

There may be other roles we do not recognise ourselves playing.

On the other hand we may know more about our ancestors than we do about ourselves, or we can find out more by talking to the right people and looking in the right places.

Climbing your family tree can be an extremely enjoyable way of using your spare time or can be the most frustrating hobby you have ever taken up.

On the way you will find all sorts of fascinating information about your ancestors, whether they were preachers or pirates; dancers or dockers; shopkeepers or shop assistants.

Yet there might be that person you just can’t pin down. She might be your great grandmother but can you find out her maiden name and was she really a wire dancer?

Most of the time it is a journey of delights.

In the beginning there are just six simple steps.


Begin at the end – that means you, because family history research works backwards and you are the end result.

Write down everything you know about yourself – your full name, your age, your birthday, where you were born, where you live now and any previous addresses you know about. Then do the same with any information you know about your parents, grandparents and any other family members. Finally check whether you have any old family photographs or any documents, letters or certificates.


Ask the family. Talk to your relatives, especially the older ones. They might have all sorts of details or even know if another family member has already done some family research.

Make a list of questions before you talk to them and don’t forget to ask if they have any documents or photographs.

If the person you are interviewing seems reluctant to give information about a particular relative don’t push them. There may be a family secret that older relatives are not willing to talk about. Another member of the family might be more willing to talk.

Write down everything they tell you and check it out later. Sometimes a story might have become garbled over the generations and great-great grandfather and great-grandmother might have run a bed and breakfast house in Hove rather than a 30-bedroom hotel on the seafront at Brighton.


Check out registers of births, marriages and deaths – if you are handy with a computer you can find them online, you can also often find them at your local library or at county record offices.

Birth, marriage and death certificates are legal documents and can give a range of information including: date and place of birth; names of parents (including mother’s surname before marriage); occupation of father and, on marriage certificate, grandfather; address, a marriage certificate gives that of the bride and groom.

Census returns, the 1841 census is the first with real information, can give details of age, marital status and occupation. They took place every 10 years (except during World War II) but are not released to the public for 100 years.


Civil registration only began in 1837, and even then it was a few years before it settled into place. This means that before the mid 1840s information will need to be found in parish registers. These began in 1538 but not many exist before the 1600s.

These can be found at county record offices but many are now online.


Cemeteries can provide extra information, and other family members may also be buried nearby. Not all graves have markers or headstones but the cemetery office may have records.

Many churchyards and cemeteries have had names on graves indexed and these can often be found at local family history groups and more and more are being put online.


Wills can provide information on addresses, relationships and their whereabouts, family heirlooms, and sometimes even more information to pad out the bare bones of what you have discovered from official sources.

Wills can be found at county and national archives and many are also found online nowadays.

Once you have taken these first steps you could be on a journey which could take you back 500 years, or even 1,000 years or more.

The path will not always be easy and you might stumble occasionally or follow a wrong turn to a dead end or even bring you up against a brick wall, but the finds you will make on the way will make up for the problems.

Remember to keep notes of all information you obtain and where it came from. Do not throw away the original notes as you might make errors when transcribing or inputting details to a computer record.

You can keep your information, documents, photographs etc in files and document boxes. If so ensure they are of archival quality so that they will not deteriorate.

You might also consider using computer software programs to store your information.

Enjoy your journey and I will be here to guide you if you need help.