The Mystery of Stan’s Mother Bessie


Would you believe this is Stan Watkins’ mother? This is her statue about four feet high, made in painted plaster – or it might only be patina occurring over the years. Because it is old. Betsy Caroline Doughty, known as Bessie, was born in 1866 and the family has always heard that this was a study of Bessie aged 7. She later married Sylvester Watkins and produced Stanley Sylvester Alexander Watkins, my father, the talkies pioneer.

The book has lost a corner, and Bessie has lost a toe, but her sweet smile remains.

For years she had traveled everywhere with Stan, and when he retired to Dulwich in SE London, she sat in the mullioned window of the upstairs hallway, facing the street. We have learned that one young neighbor lad was rather leery of her, but we all thought she was lovely. Bessie now lives in Stockholm with Stan’s grandson, Dan.

The thing is, we do not know who made her. If anyone recognizes the style, perhaps that would help identify her sculptor. We know that Victorian animal painter, Arthur Wardle, was a good friend of the family, but that wasn’t his medium. And I doubt he knew Bessie when she was seven.

Whoever carved Bessie, the family has always held her close to their hearts. And she remains in the family to this day when Granny Watkins, 170 years later, is still a beautiful young girl.


Daily Post – Interest

via Daily Prompt: Interest

You might be interested to know that Stan Watkins, talented electrical engineer, Vitaphone director, and thinker, also had lots of other interests. From a very young age he was fascinated by nature, both alive – insects, butterflies, and moths – and dead – fossils.

fossil fish

In my attic there are boxes and boxes of specimens caught and carefully mounted as people did in the Victorian age. He kept up his interest after retirement and even got his grandson  interested. There’s a tiny slip of paper giving the date each insect or butterfly was caught in Stan’s hand made net, and one says “Danny, 1969” (Dan would have been 9 years old).

SSAW butterfly collection 010

When I checked on the collection, for the first time in decades, opened the boxes with care and was interested to see that they were so beautifully sealed that the insects inside were mostly in perfect condition.

Nowadays we prefer to see them alive and flittering around (except perhaps house and horse flies!). But what an example of patience and scientific study which Stan explored with interest throughout his long life.

(P.S. please excuse the dates which my camera always puts on when I take a picture.)


Daily Prompt – Turn up the Volume

Last night I had an exciting time watching on TV some contemporary musicians being recorded on equipment like that which my father, Stan Watkins, must have used at the Bell Labs in the early 20s. It was part of a series being broadcast on PBS at A recording engineer, Nicholas Bergh, with whom I have been in correspondence for some years, has reconstructed the original equipment and today’s musicians were being recording on wax discs just as the original recordings were made. It was different for them to have to do it in one take, but they were amazed by the clarity of the recordings. Check out this link to see more of the project.

That in itself was amazing to me, and very special, but there was another surprise. I have been working all week with the Albuquerque Film & Music Experience, and this year the award for music went to T Bone Burnett. Now, I had never heard of T Bone before this year (not being up-to-date in the music world) but he is well known by everyone else for his film scores as well as playing, composing and you-name-it.

So you can imagine my delight to discover that the American Epic series is produced by Jack White, Robert Redford (a great supporter of AFME) and – yes – T Bone Burnett. Not only that, but in the background of some country-western singers, there he was, tapping on a tambourine! If I hadn’t seen him at AFME, I would not have recognized him in the Epic scenes. What a thrill.

Wouldn’t I love to talk to him about that experience, but we AFME volunteers were strictly forbidden to talk to the stars. So perhaps I will be able to find another way at some point.

Meanwhile, a film about Stan Watkins is in the pipeline and I have talked myself hoarse during interviews. The pilot short is nearly ready to go on a crowdfunding site, so keep your eyes and ears open. I would love support from all of you for this project.

This blog was rather more voluminous than I had intended, but I was so amped up!


Daily Prompt: License (sic) to drive?

I have been known to drive without a licence (UK); unwittingly, to be sure. On occasion I let it run out; not noticing when I should have renewed it, although it is a month to the day after my birthday. Now I’m over 75 (a long way over!) the American license has to be renewed every year. Incidentally, over here it is a license – they don’t differentiate between the noun (licence) and the verb (license) as the Brits do. I wonder why?

We were signing up for a hire car and my PA said “My wife will be the second driver.” I handed over my driving license (US) only to be told “This has expired.” Blush. Guess who had to do all the driving that trip?

We were abroad when it ran out last time, but I had my British licence (UK) which was still valid. The first thing we did when we got back to the States at the end of December was to visit the MVD – Motor Vehicle Department. At the main office the renewal is free, but the privately run ‘express’ ones charge about $15. Their motto is “Why wait?” and my PA always goes to one of those. He doesn’t like waiting around.

This time we not only had to wait, but we then discovered that new rules had come in that November. Of course, they can’t warn you personally but we weren’t around to read about it in the paper. So when our turn finally came, we learned I now had to show my official Social Security card (I knew the number but that wouldn’t do), and my birth certificate or passport, and also proof of current residency at our home of 30 years.

So back home we went to search for the SS card – put away for safety last June, but thankfully I found it first place I looked. I took it with my passport and a utility bill dug out from the 6 months of mail awaiting attention. But that wasn’t enough. We needed two proofs. So back home to dig out another one and for the third time, back to the MVD. And of course, my PA had to do all the driving.

A new photo was taken, a written test done on the office computer, and finally I was done, having spent the entire morning going back and forth; very frustrating. “Why wait?” indeed. But at least I would now be able to drive.

I was so glad it was over I didn’t check the temporary paper license (US) they give you while the real laminated license (US) is being produced. About two weeks later the license (US) arrived; I was very pleased, until I noticed there was a W beside the (which means I have to wear glasses when I drive). That puzzled me until I saw “Restricted Driving License.” That means you cannot use the ID for getting on a plane.

This really bugged me. I realized (US) that illegal immigrants getting US driving licenses for ID purposes is a very controversial item these days, but hey, I’m nothing if not legal.

So back to the MVD, and another wait. Human error, they said. Luckily for her the gal who dealt with me the first time was not there to vent my annoyance upon. Another long-winded effort, waiting for the supervisor to help sort out the mistake, and a new photo to be taken; at least, I didn’t have to go through the whole shebang again, and I went away with a new temporary license (US) – unrestricted.

All’s well that ends well. I now have a valid driving license (US). So after all that I am now legally licensed (US & UK) to drive. Until next time.

Vitaphone on camera

December 5th was a great day for fans of Vitaphone short films. Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project screened on the Turner Classic Movies TV channel 24 hours of continuous Vitaphone shorts. These wonderful old classics have been collected and restored by the Vitaphone Project over many years, and this marathon showing, interspersed by Ron Hutchinson chatting with Ben Mankiewitz, was a first. Sadly I was unable to watch being still in London, but I’ve been reading the enthusiastic comments on Facebook of those fortunate enough to have watched this historic event.

My enthusiastic friends, David Wyatt and Malcolm Billingsy, at the Cinema Museum invited me to be videoed talking about my father, Stanley Watkins, and his part in the development of Talking Pictures. That was fun, although I’m sure I left out lots of important stuff when I roared off on a tangent, as I am wont to do.

Color your world: Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown

jan-2-2017-068My feet get cold in winter, even in the house, so I like to have slippers that reach up over my ankles. And these did – just. But they were quite cozy as the cuffs hugged my legs. And as you can see, they were very fuzzy-wuzzy and definitely brown.

Soft slippers, however, don’t hold up very well after long use, and for some reason one of them began to sag a bit to one side at the heel. Nothing to do with the way I walked, of course. Oh, no. We always followed our mother’s gait, one foot in front of the other – Indian style, as she used to say. But somehow one heel had begun to slide over to one side. This made it very uncomfortable – though it still kept my foot warm. I even wore them on the wrong feet sometimes but that didn’t even it out.

Then we went to London. In June. So I didn’t take my fuzzy-wuzzy brown slippers. But the house in London was chilly. New Mexico is so nice and dry one doesn’t feel the cold so much, but a rainy, damp day in London can be very cold. Even in June. I did have some over-the-ankle slippers there, gray ones, but – guess what – they were wearing down just like the ones back in Albuquerque. However, needs must, and I slopped around in them whenever the weather dictated.

Meanwhile my PA was slopping around in his traveling slippers, but they are black, so they don’t fit into this story. For a while it sounded like an old people’s home with both of us shuffling around on the wooden floors. Wait a minute, we are both old people, but at least my house smells better.

So one day I took the bus to Croydon where there is a big shopping center (we don’t call them malls in England). I love having a day just to wander around and check out everything. This time I was looking for a Clarks’ shoe shop. They seem to fit my feet best – wide at the front, narrow at the heel – though they are not cheap. Luckily it was sale time – isn’t it always, these days? So I got myself a natty pair of navy blue (though AP says they are black) suede booties with sort of netting at the sides and zips up the back. Less than half price, too. I will feel really chic wearing them after living in trainers. Or sloppy slippers.

But I digress. Back to the fuzzy-wuzzy brown footwear. As I strolled around the Whitgift Center (wondering who Whitgift was to have a Center named after him/her) I chanced upon another shoe shop and lo, there they were: the perfect pair to replace my worn out slippers. They were in my size. They were brown. But the nicest thing was the fuzzy-wuzzy wool lining. These would come back to Albuquerque with me, I decided. As they look like boots and have a rubber sole I even kept them on for the flight back – ah, comfort and warmth.

I love them so much, and I’m sorry London; we’ll have to make another trip to the Whitgift Center to get some ‘over there’ slippers next time. These ones are staying right here.





Winter Flowers

I’ve been watching the garden here in London for a couple of months. There is a ginko tree out back, one of my mother’s favorite trees. My son planted it in her memory a long time ago. It is now very tall and hides the side of the house behind us. It’s fun to watch the changing colors of the leaves as autumn weather gets colder, until finally its bare branches glitter in the low sunlight. (Nov.5, 11, 28) ginko-1

Then I looked out this morning and noticed some tiny yellow spots on the back fence, which turned out to be delicate yellow flowers – winter jasmine, I think. We did a lot of pulling out tangled greenery this summer, and I didn’t even know this plant was there. I photographed it next to one of the candle holders that give the back fence a nice glow in the summer evenings.


For the festive season, here are a couple of photos of our enormous holly tree. It is simply covered with berries this year. A blackbird hen uses it for her abode, carefully darting in through the prickles, or pecking away at the berries on the other side. We also have a little robin who is too quick for my camera. He likes the small black berries from the creeper vine. He comes most mornings, and stands on the compost bin looking at us through the dining room window before he, too, takes his breakfast.

To all my readers, thank you, and I wish you all a Happy Hollyday!