The Nore

For some time, I have had one ‘close to home’ bucket list item missing from my history of Tita Falcieri, and there’s really no excuse for it. Just a half hour drive or so from my parents house lies the first point of call for Lord Byron after he was returned to England following his death in April 1824. There isn’t much information regarding the arrival. We have to turn to John Cam Hobhouse for the best information.

On 1st July 1824 he had travelled from London to Rochester in Kent where he spent the night and on the 2nd, travelled by road out to the Medway to meet The Florida, the brig that had arrived from Greece on 29th June carrying Byron’s body and his attending household. His diary reads:

‘Up early – off, a little before eight, in a chaise for Stangate Creek – fifteen miles. Could not get within two miles of the shore, but walked over the marshes and got into a boat which took me to the Florida, which was just under weigh.’

The Florida had moored temporarily for quarantine purposes on a sandbank called The Nore which sits about half way between Shoeburyness on the Essex coast and Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. You can’t see it from the shore although evidence can be picked out on Google maps. The Nore had been a quarantine point for boats heading up the Medway for the Thames and London, for hundreds of years, and the Florida’s placement there was a part of procedure that could not be avoided. It remained there for five days before being cleared to sail onwards for London.

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The land around that part of Kent is treacherous and marshy and today, thanks to private land orders, even less accessible than it was back in 1824. We don’t know how close Hobhouse managed to get to the boat in the creek or from what point on the marshes he had to walk to pick it up, but today the closest you can get is Raspberry Hill Lane just outside Lower Halstow. The ordanance survey map below shows just how tricky it was:

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From there you can see over Barksore Marshes to the mouth of Stangate Creek:

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The vista, I don’t suppose, has changed much apart from the obvious wind turbines, pylons and smoke belching chimneys that denote the horizon. Yet it is so quiet here you can hear nothing but the call of Curlews and Oystercatchers. There is a definite atmosphere to it but there is nothing else much to see.

Our next point of call was Sheerness where you can stand on the beach and see the stretch of water where the Florida had waited patiently for its next instruction in the summer of 1824. It is a pebble beach, strewn intriguingly with many large oyster shells. On a pleasant day, such as the one we were lucky enough to have just after Christmas, it is serene, and equally quiet as the marshes, save for the odd dog walker.

From the sea wall and promenade you can scan the horizon across to Garrison Point Fort to the left, around which Hobhouse’s boat would have had to of travelled…

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…and across that stretch of the Medway to Essex. Somewhere in the midst of all this lies The Nore.

 

Afterwards we headed back via Lower Halstow and took a late but much needed lunch and a pint at the very welcoming The Three Tuns, a pub which may well have seen Hobhouse’s passing as he headed towards Stangate Creek, built as it was, in 1468.

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Neither Tita, nor any of the crew from the Florida stepped on land at this point. Hobhouse joined the Florida, and when Zambelli’s thorough paperwork had been examined and cleared, the boat was cleared to head for London where Byron’s body was removed and laid in state at Edward Knatchbull’s premises.

There aren’t too many images of The Medway or Stangate Creek from Byron’s time but Turner did use it for some of his paintings and it shows a far more bustling waterway than what we see today. Most craft are now for pleasure rather than for business but I don’t think the serenity of this place has changed much over the last 194 years.

If you are looking for somewhere to gather your thoughts and immerse yourself in what the landscape may have been like back then, this is the place to come.

 

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How A Book Lead To A Book

Some years ago, possibly on my last trip to Venice, before my 10 year hiatus and long before my own book had begun to take shape, I bought a copy of Kathy Gonzalez ‘Free Gondola Ride’ from the Liberia Studium at San Marco. Compared to what I know now, I had uncovered only the tinest fragments of my family’s connection to Venice. Now of course, there is an entire family history to enjoy. If you have an interest it’s easy to find. Just look two inches to the right of this text.

Roll on to 2018 and after much drafting and many emails, and all thanks to Kathy’s hard work, we are now published in the same book together ‘First Spritz Is Free’, along with a whole host of other Venetophiles from all around the world who wanted to divulge their most intimate thoughts on that city to you dear readers.

Of course, Tita Falcieri was the subject of my piece, how could he not be, but it was about much more than that. When you discover your love for somewhere that is about more than restaurants and warm weather and get away locations, you want to find a way to communicate that to others. Venice, whether you are a native or not, Italian or otherwise, touches the very soul of the people who are ensconced within the pages of ‘First Spritz is Free‘. It should touch yours too if you can look beyond the public face, which isn’t actually that difficult.

It is a noble cause and a chance for many people who have been connected via Twitter and Facebook and the Save Venice cause, to be united in one place and all for one purchase so that you can begin to understand the magic, and the beauty and the sheer brilliance of that place.

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We Are ‘Almost’ Published

It has been an incredibly long time since I last posted on this account. I had anticipated announcing the publication of my book to coincide with the annniverary of Byron’s birth back  in January, a deadline that was missed. As was the anniversary of his death in April, and that of Tita’s birth in May which would have been the most apt launch date.

Instead, it is now the height of summer and almost two years since I began revising and rewriting my original publication of the biography of my great-great-great grandfather Giovanni Battista (Tita) Falcieri, Lord Byron’s gondolier and bodyguard. It has been a huge and incredibly exciting journey. The amount of new information I have uncovered has been immense. Anyone who bought the original ebook will not recognise the new publication. It is certainly worth the new investment.

Being involved in the layout and printing process of this book has been an eye opener and the part that has taken up a good proportion of my time. It is not something that I want to have to repeat any time soon. My part as an author and researcher, bringing together all the facts and figures into a narrative, is the bit I love. I am happy to spend hours in libraries and archives searching for information. I am happy to write it up. But I have discovered that I dislike the process that comes afterwards. It is not my forte. And without a doubt, it made me quite sick of the project by the end. But that is a feeling that will pass. Now it is over I am already tentatively excited for the future of my publication – my life’s work.

Unavoidably I have had to have a huge part in the behind the scenes process. I have no agent, no editorial team and no publisher. I had the help of one person doing the alterations to the final layout, grading images and putting it all together print ready for 4edge Limited, a UK based printers, whose patience over my stalled completion date has been admirable. Then I have had to check the book, proof it, and check it again on screen and in print. If I have read my book once, I have read it a hundred times and that may be a conservative underestimate.

But at last, it is here. It is a real book. It is a saleable item. It is something you can hold and put in your bag and peruse on the way to work or take on holiday. You can read it in Venice, or Greece, or London and enjoy what I have enjoyed and see, first hand, the places where the story unfolded. There are pictures, many never before seen. Many are from family archives or private collections.

 

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That moment….delivery taken.

 

This version is not available as an ebook. I confess to disliking ebooks. I realise this puts the cost up, I realise it means paying for postage. I realise it means you, the customer, will have to dig deeper. But I hope this means that you will value it more, and value the work that has gone into it. Tell me where else you are going to get this book about this fascinating man, a reluctant hero from a bygone age?

I hope it will sit on your bookshelves along side other books on similar subjects, on the subjects of Tita’s contemporaries like Byron, Shelley and Disraeli. I hope you will fill it, as I have done with other books, with post-its and coloured tabs marking important passages. I hope it will be dog-eared from the number of trips it has joined you on. I hope you will make notes in it, use it for research of your own and be inspired by it enough to consult your own genealogy and look for your own reluctant heroes.

Of course, the work has not ended. Perhaps it has just begun. I now have to sell my small masterpiece. And once again, there is noone to do this for me. I have to market it, package it, post it around the world. There is no publisher or bookshop or assistant to help me in this. And I find that slightly terrifying. I have never done anything quite like this before. Thankfully, office administration and managing business finances are two of my skills and as I have been running my own business for the last seven years, I am quietly confident I can manage the basics of it. But I confess to a nervous trepidation.

I realise there are people all around the world that have been waiting for this book for a long time. Not as long as me I assure you, but I hope you are all still there and I hope that your patience is satisfied by what you can now read. This book is unique in its subject. And unique in its telling. And I hope you will appreciate what an achievement it is, to have something so unusual and worth sharing.

For more information about buying your copy, go here or send enquiries to falcieri@yahoo.com and follow my blog and Twitter for more updates.

Slaying The Travel Bug

My last trip to Venice ended just over a month ago and I am almost at the point of selling my soul to a mundane 9-5 day job with a guaranteed income, just so I can go travelling. This of course makes no sense in my plan for circumnavigating the globe, but it’s that or the winning lottery ticket and I’m not known for my winning streak. I may have ticked off some of my travel destinations over the years, but the world is a big place and my hit list never seems to get any smaller.

It all ground to a halt in 2008 when I put plans into motion to start my own business, kissed goodbye to my well paid job and took a leap of faith. In the last 10 years I’ve only managed to go abroad a handful of times. Trips back home to Kent at least get me into the Metrop once in a while but the joke is starting to wear thin now.

I have an insatiable travel bug in my DNA (I know where that comes from), but work has been piling up whilst I’ve been galivanting these past six months whilst I completed the revision of my book. I’ve been avoiding my other responsibilities and I’ve had to put a firm travel ban in place for the rest of the year in order to catch up. After three weeks I was going stir crazy. Manchester seems remarkably uninviting right now.

My work puts me firmly in the ‘flexible to do whatever I like’ category and I have no other responsibilities holding me in the UK as such. By comparison I know that this makes me luckier than most but it doesn’t allow me the funds to do it as often as I would like. I have a plan but I’m waiting on outcomes for how this may or may not pan out next year. In case it doesn’t I have the B and C plans too.

Even so 2018 is potentially full of interesting possibilities and I’m not prepared to side step any opportunities that come up. The fact is, I’m not very good at real life. I don’t do responsibility, I don’t do routine, I like to be impulsive and go with my gut instinct. I’ve managed to tailor my life to suit my personality as much as possible but I am greedy of course, as all travellers are. It’s never enough. La vita è breve. Don’t waste it. You won’t get another chance.

The History In Your Own DNA

I have never classed myself as a racist but I’ve always had a bit of a gloss on matters international for the simple reason that you can’t take the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you did, your life would be miserable and if I’m honest I’ve been much happier in my personal life since I stopped watching tv and turned off the news – the jumble of modern wants destroys the meaning of life and I needed to get away from that.

But as my family tree extended further and further I began to see everything in a different light. There is no such thing as a purely ‘English person’ being truly English. We all have ancestors from around the world. Pure white British is a myth. It doesn’t matter how many generations you go back, at some point, somewhere out there your DNA came from somewhere else.

In the early days we always thought our family were of Spanish origin because of the Oliver surname. There seemed to be some, as it turned out misinformed, evidence we could be traced back to Scotland where many Spanish people landed in centuries past. On holiday Spanish locals would come up to me and start talking in Spanish assuming I was one of them. But this was terribly flawed research in the days before the internet. And as I investigated our tree it turned out Oliver wasn’t even our surname and we hailed from Dublin and who knows from where before that, I’m stuck in the 1740s at the moment.

On the other side we are Italian, VERY VERY Italian. It may be five generations past but because of how connected I have become to that part of our history and to the country now, I know there’s a lot of Italian DNA firmly rooted in me. More than that, it’s Venexiane DNA which is like getting a gold medal in my book because I’m not sure anything in Italy is more special than Venice.

I have always been fascinated by other cultures, accents, ways of life, the world is a melting pot of amazing stories of survival and suffering and success and colourful lives and dreams and challenges. And to deny that in your own genetic makeup is the ultimate folly. It can also explain a lot about who you are. Untangling my DNA has explained why I am who I am, how the DNA leap that didn’t seem to be as evident in the rest of my immediate family, came out in me all singing, all dancing and threw spanners into my life at every turn. I was at the mercy of my heritage without even realising it.

The other day Ruby Wax’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are aired. It was a particularly noteable episode. I’m never entirely sure that celebs really connect with what they are discovering but Ruby certainly did. What she discovered explained a lot about her world, her family, her own self. Had she known about her family’s past years ago I think she may have had a different coping strategy for everything that she’s had to deal with. One line that resounded with me was ‘Instead of doing therapy, I should have been doing my family tree’. And she is absolutely right.

So What Happens Now…

After almost a year, this Sunday just gone in fact, I completed the last proof of the revision of my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant’. It then languished for a few days before going to my layout editor and then to print. Sunday night I sat back and watched a film. I relaxed. I thought I’d earned it. By Tuesday I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I began to realise what a mammoth project this had been. Don’t get me wrong I have lots of other things to do now that it’s been put to bed, but as is the case with any big project, you need some down time afterwards to take your brain out of its current mode and back into whatever it was doing before the book took over your life.

I don’t have much time to adjust. Once I’ve dealt with the layout and worked with the printers for the final copy there are sales to make and publicity to do and emails to send out and complimentary copies to post. I suppose that this is when the real work begins, the aim for the hard cash, the bit where you realise whether it was worth the effort or not. Except of course it was, whatever the outcome because this is much more than a book.

Finally saying goodbye, in part, to that aspect of your life has been so consuming, and in my case at the same time so personal, is actually traumatic. It’s like losing a partner unwillingly. Suddenly everything you worked so hard for, everything that dictated your every waking moment, has suddenly stopped.

I want to enjoy those few weeks before sales begin, but I just feel lost and it’s very strange. I have inhabited a world from another century for the past year, I’ve thrilled at every new find, and the chance to go to noteable archives and historical buildings and of course to Venice to where it all began. I found a sense of belonging every time I opened the file.

This became my world and now it’s like the dawning of a new year and everything is supposed to be different. The last time I felt like this was when I finished University. After 3 years it was suddenly over. I had plenty to do, but the structure had changed, the people, the surroundings, the motivations, the safety net. It’s inevitable that you won’t slip from one environment to the next without some minor teething problems. And of course it isn’t arrivederci. I will be back soon. But only time will tell if I can ever really let go of this project, or if it will ever let me move on. I don’t mind if it doesn’t, it’s not the kind of thing you can just walk away from.

Revisits

When I visited Venice in May coming home was hard, perhaps because it was my first visit in 10 years. On my second visit, in early September, I was geared up for the same heart-wrenching emotions. But they never came.

I was sad to leave, but not in the same way as I had been in May. That temptation to not get on the flight home was gone. And my all-consuming desire to continue my research into moving to Venice had also diminished.

I was disappointed in myself but also in a small way relieved. It’s complicated. There’s money and logistics and goodness knows what else to think about. And my life is already full of things that may not survive the move.

But maybe my response was because I had forcefully lined up several important projects and research trips immediately on my return to counteract the fallout (I was literally packing my suitcase again the day after I returned to Manchester). Perhaps I have more clarity. Perhaps the next visit will be even harder. I have no return currently in sight.

Since I got back two weeks ago, I haven’t even had time to look through my photos from September’s trip and I’ve barely drafted a few blogs about my week there. There’s plenty to come. It was a wonderful week, but I haven’t processed it yet. Nothing will let me.

The reasons will become evident over the next couple of months. There are announcements and milestones and a hope for the future. Watch this space.