That moment when…

holloway-road-2546-p

I did try, I really did. When I was a teenager. It just didn’t work out.

James Fenimore Cooper’s masterpiece, “The Last of the Mohicans”, failed to thrill my soul. It was dense, old-fashioned language, made all the harder by not being dense, old-fashioned British English. As a witty individual once said of the UK and the US, we are two nations divided by a common language.

As a teenager I tried to read a few classic American novels. “To kill a mockingbird” was the best of them. I understood class and race in my British way, and racism is pretty much racism whatever the language.  I simply did not understand “Catcher in the Rye” as I knew nothing about American colleges or culture. We were not so very Americanised in the 1970s, and teenagers still talked about takeaways, films and wardrobes (with or without magical lands), rather than take-outs, movies and closets. Also we drank tea much more seriously than coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have it in for America. It’s just different. I believe Americans are as bemused by our quaint customs as we are by their tendency to eat with their fingers. To be fair to them, most primates do that. Meanwhile, over this side of the alleged Pond, we not only eschew digitally aided digestion, but have enhanced the gustatory gadgets to such an extent that you can end up with more knives and forks per place setting than there are place settings at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. And apparently using them correctly matters. Well, it may do to some people, but I’m a slob and as long as I start from the outside and work inwards, and can tell a fish knife from a butter knife, I feel I have done my duty to the God-given right and established order.

So there I was, in blissful ignorance of Mohicans, first, last or otherwise. At least, beyond the eponymous punk hairstyle that is, which looked amazing, but my hair would never have allowed it, being all floppy and suchlike. It won’t hold a perm, let alone behave for mere styling gel. It’s a problem alright. Oh the trauma!

Then they invented Daniel Day Lewis and I was made aware of certain key plot elements. One was that he looked awfully pretty running in slow motion. Oh yes. Although I’m not sure if that was in the book.

The other was that I shared a moment of heartbreak with Hawkeye.

If you are unaware of that twist, dear reader, then look away now. It’s the bit at the end, where Chingachgook, the Mohican Chief, mourns the loss of his biological son, and declares that he is now the last of the Mohicans. At which point his adopted son, Hawkeye, breaks his heart; because this is proof that he was never quite a true Mohican even to Chingachgook, no matter how hard he tried. He was alien, outcast, Other.

At least that is my understanding of the story. It may not be true, but bear with me, because this is what I identify with, having had a similar moment in my early childhood.

Let me take you back to the 1960s and the suburbs west of London.

My grandmother was a central figure in my early years. She died when I was 10 but until then she had lived with us and effectively been a mother figure (my own mother being rather ambiguous about motherhood, to put it kindly).  I adored her. I was her special baby. Sometimes she got confused and thought I actually was her little girl, my auntie Win, who had died when she was 7.

Sometimes, if I woke her up during her afternoon nap by breathing too loudly or dropping a teddy, she would stare at me in a confused way.

“Win!” she would say, a little bemused. “Winnie, is that you?”

“No, Grandma,” my heartless little self replied. “I’m EBL. Winnie died.”

“Oh yes,” she would say, and go rather quiet.

“You’ve got me, Grandma,” I would add.

“Oh yes,” she would say again, and give me a hug so I couldn’t see her cry. But I did.

Grandma knew all sorts of things, like how many beans make five and what happened to Don’t Care. She also knew lots of good songs to sing. She had grown up in Holloway, North London, and had a cheery London accent. At Christmas she got tiddly on advocaat, and had to be taken up to bed, singing happily. She taught me all sorts of old songs, probably sung in Music Halls and certainly down the pub if someone would play the tune on the piano, many of them dating back to the 1914-18 war: Little Brown Jug, It’s a long way to Tipperary, Pack up your troubles, the Hokey Cokey, My Old Man, Cockles and Mussels, When father papered the parlour….

She also sang “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner” and I sang along, because it has a nice tune.

“Oh no, poppet,” she said. “You can’t sing that.”

“Why not?” I squeaked, bottom lip starting to jut out.

“Because you aren’t a Londoner,” she said patiently. “You weren’t born in London.”

Well, she had it right. I was born Elsewhere, literally beyond the pale of our great metropolis.

“But I’ve been to London, Grandma.”

She wasn’t swayed. I was not a Londoner, and that was that.

She did still love me, but we were not the same. There was a barrier made of time and place and history.

Seeing that moment in the film (or “movie”, if you will), I felt it again, and was overcome that a writer who lived 250 years ago in a foreign land could describe my heartbreak. We shared a common humanity. I learned we are all the same in other ways, even those of us not born in London.

Have you had that kind of moment, in a story, that made it more real than real life?

To all of you, wherever you were born, we may still share our broken hearts.

Namaste.

Scraping off the rust

rusty chains

That’s how it feels anyway, although it would make me some kind of RoboBagLady, rather than a mere Electronic one. I’m not sure I’d be keen on it, honestly, because I’d probably have to adhere to Asimov’s Laws and I’m not sure I’m that kind of person.

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence, except where such protection would conflict with the First or Second Law.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics

Still, rejoice, oh gentle reader! I have found my way back to the keyboard and hope to enter into constructive dialogue through the medium of the Blogverse. Let’s go!

Things got a little overwhelming back in the summer, both for good and less good reasons, but now that is over. The thing is I finally had to take a break from normal routine and allow myself a rest. I eventually recognised that I had been struggling to balance work, family and community, and that if I was someone else, I would be telling them to stop. So for once I listened to my wiser self and did indeed stop.

Guess what? It worked and I feel much better so here I am, bothering your eyeballs as you scan my words. In due course I will be scanning and chatting away just like the old days.

Ah, the old days! Things were better then. We were cleverererer, the sun was brighter and policemen were kindly and compassionate adults rather than arsy adolescents with acne and snotty noses. There were fewer television channels but we made our own entertainment and wrote about it in letters to the local paper – the equivalent of the blogging world I suppose.

Right then, I’ll remove the rose-tinted optical devices and get back to reality, but allow me the odd excursion to a fantasy land.

On a slightly related note, I heard that there is a film in the making of the Magic Faraway Tree, by far my favouritest book of all childhood, and I am half desperate with anticipation and half terrified in case of disappointment. It was the same with Lord of the Rings, my favouritest book of post-childhood, but Peter Jackson was in charge of that and talked to the fans so it was all OK. In the case of TMFT, as it will inevitably become known, I doubt the same rigour will apply. Oh woe to the world!

So here is your EBL-homework until we meet again:

  1. How do you feel about your favourite book being “interpreted” by film? Be honest.
  2. Would it/did it work? Be polite.
  3. And really, who is going to play the part of Moon Face? Be creative.

Namaste

Cold Logic in the Cold War

It felt like it was time to write a post about peace, there being so little of that precious commodity available, and it being such a Good Thing generally. Sometimes it feels like Peace is the Giant Panda of Life, vanishingly rare, arguably impractical, but nevertheless illogically desirable to keep around.

What particularly sparked me off though was a reminder that it has been a while since the Cold War fizzled out, and that being so, the paranoia and constant gnawing worry of living under the shadow of the Bomb is now a fading memory. Perhaps, I mused, it is something we should remind ourselves about once in a while and try to explain to the young folk who have not experienced it. This is based on the premise that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, so bear with me and prepare to be reminded or educated.

Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies had its perks, certainly. The music was exciting, there were real astronauts walking on the Moon, and a sense of excitement in the air. There were downsides too, and the testosterone-fuelled face-off across the Iron Curtain was a major issue. This was not because I was incredibly politically aware; I was a child, and my parents were not interested in politics themselves, so I only learned about such things through watching the Man from Uncle on television and seeing posters for the latest James Bond film in the cinema.

It wasn’t something you talked about particularly. It was just there, all the time, at the back of your mind, like what to get for tea, or how long it was until the weekend. It wasn’t even a thing, any more than air or water or the bus being late.

As the Seventies drew to a close and I inched towards the precipice of adulthood it became obvious that things were awry and the world seemed to be edging towards its own brink. This post is about how much it preyed on our teenage minds. This is how it felt.

We had been told that the other side of the Iron Curtain was full of bad guys. People got shot trying to escape, and their deaths peppered the news every now and then as a kind of constant background noise. Just about the time I read 1984 and started to be a little more independent of the official line, the Ayatollah Khomeini lead the overthrow of the Shah of Persia, and took control of Iran. I didn’t understand the background and had barely heard of Iran before then – O-Level geography tended to focus on learning which country exported the most timber and how ox-bow lakes were formed. After that I gave geography up as a bad job and still struggle to work out the difference between the Solway Firth and the Solent.

However, his installation seemed to cause a hysterical fluster in the media and political circles and it looked like the Nuclear Option was suddenly on the table. For real.

We had read about Armageddon and we didn’t fancy it but we were powerless to stop the button being pushed. However, we were not deterred. We were resourceful and modern young people. A few of us had recently passed driving tests and a couple of us even had access to dodgy old cars. So we laid our plans.

This is where the age gap may show. Those of you in my generation will probably nod at what we intended and understand our reasoning, even if you don’t agree with it. My children and younger folks tend to just look bemused or even slightly appalled when I talk about it.

We set up routes and a telephone tree. We agreed pick up points. Cars were to be kept fuelled up for a drive of about 20-25 miles. When the four minute warning was given, we would rendezvous at the agreed locations and drive like hell into the centre of London.

We weren’t going to sign up for a cause.

We weren’t going to protest.

We were aiming to be at the centre of the bomb fallout, because none of us wanted to survive a nuclear war. We hadn’t seen The War Game because the BBC banned it (despite having commissioned it in the first place) until 1985. Nevertheless we had read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seen pictures.

We intended to die as quickly as possible.

And that, my dears, is what at least one group of teenagers in the late 1970s planned to do in the event of the button being pressed.

War and the means for war mess with your brain. Let’s call it out, shall we?

Namaste.

 

Colour Savings Time

Snooker

Friday night in the Seventies didn’t get any better!

One of my happy routines as an Electronic Bag Teen was to watch snooker with my dad. I know, I was really living la vida loca back then! We also watched showjumping, Tom & Jerry and Dr Who, and if possible any silent comedy films starring people such as Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd. My father was a discerning television viewer who would quite literally turn on for a three minute cartoon, then turn off again.

During the Seventies, which is when all this crazy was going on chez Bag Teen, Friday night didn’t get any more exciting than Pot Black, a half hour performance of snooker showmanship. All the big names were there, such as the great Fred Davis, Cliff Thorburn, Dennis Taylor, Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths and eventually a very young Steve Davis. And you really had to learn the how it worked because back in those days we were on colour-savings time and mostly everything was in black and white. Believe it or not, I didn’t find out my eyes were blue until the Eighties.

For those of you not familiar with the phenomenon, colour-savings time (or “CST”) was invented in order to manage an orderly transition from the Age of Monochrome to the Age of Multichrome. Colour had of course been invented some years previously, resulting in general excitement with a tendency to hysteria and significant economic success for traders in smelling salts. The population gradually became more alert to the opportunities of a nuanced colour scheme in their everyday lives, but initially it was considered a social shift of cataclysmic proportion which needed delicate management. For centuries colour had been as theoretical as the Higgs boson, and until someone invented the equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider (it was actually called the Large Pantone Collider and patented in 1928 by Ingrid Bergman’s uncle) there continued to be savage debate over such contentious issues as the colours to be found in a rainbow, or the actual colour of the Red Sea and its implications for biblical epistemology.

Nevertheless, demand was high; the world expected colour in every last nook and cranny, although early attempts were clumsy as armies of painters (or “colourists” as they were known) were deployed globally to render key landmarks and treasures in red, green, or blue. The discovery by Howard Carter in Tutankhamen’s tomb of the colour gold, for example, caused quite a stir. The colourists started with works of art and later moved into cinema. Their early enthusiasm was prone to excess, and indeed one colourist was so carried away when updating the Book of Kells that he was forcibly sectioned for the greater good.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKellsFol032vChristEnthroned.jpg

The new phenomenon of colour resulted in some extremely vibrant pages in the Book of Kells

Gradually colouring became mainstream and coloured versions of everyday items made it into the shops, such as blue jeans and itsty-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikinis. Following the psychedelic period at the end of the Sixties, the world was mostly transitioned but the BBC lagged a little behind due to a limited budget. It couldn’t afford a complete colour output and snooker balls were last in the cue.

As a result, my father taught me the rules of the game the old-fashioned way: keen observation to memorise the placement of balls on the table. Snooker nowadays is a garish game, but then it was all shades of grey, and not in a kinky sense. Now there is the green baize, and balls of white, red, black, pink, blue, brown, green and yellow.

The important thing to remember with snooker, the really important thing, especially if watching in monochrome, is that apart from the white and the reds, all the colours have a home spot marked on the baize. They return to it throughout the game, like salmon to the glens or pigeons to their lofts. It is a game of physics: angles, velocity and spin. The goal is to clear the table by potting all the balls in a certain order, ending with the black. Only the white must never vanish down the rabbit hole. There are hideous forfeits if this happens. Hideous.

Knowing these rules and paying attention to play, it made perfect sense then for whispering Ted Lowe, the television commentator, to murmur “and for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green.”

What were your favourite TV moments as a teenager?

Namaste

Spring thoughts

199504 Rillington daffodilsDon’t you love Spring? Well, perhaps you don’t but I quite like it, although Autumn is my season of choice. I like the in-between seasons, which are full of possibility. Summer and winter seem so fixed in their ways and I enjoy the bracing winds of change and blue horizons. They offer potential.

Anyway, Spring. Time for some more positive reflections on life, the universe and everything after recent dark and ponderous posts. Spring, the season of cute little baa-lambs, poetic daffodils and inexplicable urges to wash the windows and vacuum the loft. There are lots of birds flapping about with tree trunks in their beaks as they prepare nests for their hard-wrapped offspring. I imagine finding an endless source of nourishment for hungry beaks after the bairns have hatched is a glide in the park after all the construction activity.

The miserable side of my soul mutters in a corner about hay fever and sunburn in my imminent future, but I have her under control. No sunburn for me as I go out very little due to working, and I live in England which doesn’t get enough sun to be dangerous. Plus my hay fever seems to have lessened over recent years so I appear to have grown out of it. Take that, roasting rays and pesky pollen! Who knew working long hours and getting old could be so good?

Another thing to look forward to is the Chocolate Festival. The family are all due home for the weekend, so I am planning menus. The rhubarb is growing nicely in the garden so crumble is on the list. We like our rhubarb crumble in EBL Towers, with thick, sweet custard, the kind you eat with a knife and fork.

The final Spring activity at EBL Towers is Birthday Overload. Four birthdays in 24 days, my dears, put a bit of a strain on the celebratory muscles. With ChocoFest inevitably added into the mix we are the very definition of Party Animals; at least, the kind of Party Animals who might participate in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and end up sleeping in the tea pot.

My father’s birthday was in June, near solstice. He used to say he liked having his birthday then because it was half-way to Christmas so spread the presents out nicely. I, on the other hand, like my April birthday because it was half-way through the school year and didn’t get spoiled by exams or people being away on holiday with Granny in Wales. In those days a week with Granny in Wales was as good as a fortnight in Turkey for today’s young people, and we were grateful for it. My granny lived with us, so a week in her sitting room was the best I got, or a day trip to granddad’s in Croydon.

I didn’t have birthday parties. We tried once and it was a terrible failure because my mother had absolutely no idea how to run one. We had a cake for tea but she didn’t know any games apart from gin rummy and sent us into the garden where it rained on us. After that, I moved on to getting infected with diseases at the local cinema: three birthdays in a row produced measles (Snow White), mumps (Pinocchio) and chicken pox (Dumbo). I am not a Disney fan and now you know why. He ruined my birthdays. Later birthdays were day trips with a best friend, usually to London or Kew Gardens. Even today I associate my birthday with hiding in a den under rhododendrons and pretending we were fighting pirates or cowboys or bank robbers, I forget which. It hardly matters: we were the goodies and we couldn’t lose because of the narrative imperative.

Nowadays I like the end of short, dark days and appreciate the onset of lighter evenings. I don’t mind dark nights. In many ways I quite enjoy them. Again they are more mysterious and secretive, and being out in them or at home feels quite secure and comforting. It’s just that going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark wears thin after a few months. When the first good days in Spring roll in, there’s a sense of desperation in the air as the population surges outside and exposes their pasty, goose-pimpled, northern flesh to the vitamin D enriched goodness of our local star. Even I, encased in layers of crumpled clothing, turn my face up to the sky and soak up the beams of life-enhancing light. Then I sneeze and hide indoors.

We know Spring is really here now because Sigoth is cutting the grass between showers and we are thinking about whether to risk hanging the laundry out. The bluebells are massing to put in an appearance, annoyed that the grape hyacinths have beaten them to it. There is forsythia ablaze in half the gardens along the street, and our lilac tree is shuddering under the weight of orgies of sparrows, getting jiggy in the twiggy.

I still prefer Autumn but rumbustious old Spring is pretty nice. Feel like sharing some seasonal thoughts? Get on, then, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Namaste.

 

 

B4Peace: Once upon a time in TV land

Welcome once more to the Chronicles of the Young EBL. Today I am responding to the monthly Bloggers for Peace prompt set by Kozo over at everydaygurus.com. Kozo has asked me, personally, to explain what influenced me as a child to become the kind of person who posts for Peace. Feel free to join in. It doesn’t cost anything and contributes to the greater sum of human happiness.

Let’s focus on children. How can we teach children to prioritize peace? How did you experience peace as a child? What in your upbringing made you a Blogger for Peace?

Well, my dears, I have been thinking and thinking about that last sentence for a few days, and now I have thunk I am here to share it with you. Come with me back to the wondrous world of the 1960s.

I was not a particularly pacific child. I got into fights and scrapes more often than a Sixties girl was supposed to; we were all sugar and spice back then, and that meant fighting was for boys. Boys were slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.

I had some friends who were boys, because I am subversive like that. The twins down the road, a son of my mother’s friend, a couple of boys from school who were not too fussy about gender if you genuinely liked Dr Who, and so on. Often we ran about the parks in packs and I had no idea who half the children were. It didn’t matter. We were a gang for the day, catching stickleback in the stream or throwing sticks into the chestnut trees to get the conkers down.

Idyllic, eh? Well, it was pretty sweet. I didn’t have a traumatic childhood apart form minor hurts and crises, and I am thankful for it.

So when a boy did try picking on me in the playground I felt quite entitled to punch him hard and then tell teacher. As I said, not very pacific.

My Dad had served in the army towards the end of the Second World War and in Germany in 1946. He had lots of happy memories of friends and people he met. He even wanted to marry a German girl but that was never going to be allowed. Otherwise I would now be something like Die Elektronischetaschefrau. Actually that sounds quite good…

Leider habe ich zu viel vergessen, auf Deutsch zu schreiben.

Now then, get back to the purpose of this post, EBL. Keep on track!

While I was living the dream paddling in the stony waters of the park, or picking leeches off my legs when I ventured into the mud, or skinning knees and elbows climbing the trees, or breaking my ankle trying to roller skate; while all this was going on other influences were at work for the very possession of my heart and soul. How very sinister that sounds! In fact, it was no more than normal socialisation.

My parents were prone to the casual prejudices of white English people, but also were fair and helpful and kind to individuals they met without being particularity interested in how those other people looked or acted. So I played with the children avoided by others, such as Elizabeth, who was black, or Cindy who had Downs Syndrome, or Nick, who was a very bright boy my age in a baby-sized body, or Lee, who had cerebral palsy. There were quite a few children about who were the survivors of thalidomide, but I didn’t know any personally. So I just thought everyone was a real person.

Then there was Sunday School. Initially my mother sent me to the local High Anglican church where I coloured in and recited the Ten Commandments. At that stage I took things literally, so “thou shalt not kill” meant just that, at least for humans. After I was too old for colouring in, I found the big church too scary on my own, with the high roof and smelly incense and lots of adults I didn’t know. My family didn’t go to church; my mother sent me on my own because she thought it would be good for me.

After I refused to go any more, my friend’s mother took me to their church, a fundamentalist Baptist congregation with a sliding floor over the pool for full immersion baptism. I thought that was very exciting, but eventually was thrown out of that Sunday School because I asked too many questions about science and cosmology. Still, I did learn that God was Love, even if some adults weren’t.

Those early explorations into religion would not be the main foundation for a later commitment to pacifism though, only an initial blueprint. No, the final keystone of the whole edifice came through the miracle of television.

The daily routine in our house was for me to watch children’s television until the Magic Roundabout had finished, and Zebedee had boinged the youngest children off to bed, and then for my parents and grandmother to settle down in front of the evening news. The television was left on for this while we ate tea, so as I chomped my way through cheese sandwiches and a slice of cake, and slurped down a cup of tea, I watched what was happening in the world. Mostly it was boring and incomprehensible. There were men talking in long words, and sometimes shouting, and occasionally there seemed to be a lot of concern about long haired people who liked grass. It was quite confusing.

my_lai_massacre

http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2013/06/when-the-war-criminal-is-one-of-us/
I don’t think it was My Lai that I saw, but it was similar

One day there were bodies.

I’m sure there were bodies other days, but this must have been a particularly traumatic massacre. My mother turned the television off in a hurry but not before I saw rows of people lying in the dirt street somewhere foreign. My grandmother was crying a bit, and my parents were very hushed.

I knew, with a real sense of freezing clarity, that those people were real-dead, not pretend-dead like Cowboys and Indians, or Daleks. They weren’t going to get up and walk away once the cameras stopped. They were never going to get up and walk away. Never. Some other men had come with helicopters or tanks or jeeps, and killed them. They were just people, children like me, old ladies like grandma. Dead.

It was wrong.

And that was it. A moment in time when I simply knew it was wrong to kill people. A black and white, no nonsense, don’t even try to argue moment.

Nowadays I might think about justification for conscientious objection because apparently some people do not see this obvious truth. For me, there is no need for argument. It’s not about who has the best words or most unassailable logic. It’s about not killing people, because there is no way back from that, and dead is dead without distinction of good or bad. You don’t get different kinds of dead. There are no more chances, or room for error, or time to say sorry, or hope for a better tomorrow. One day we will all be dead. There’s no need to rush. I knew it then, in the way a young child can be certain and an adult can’t. I know it now, in the same way.

I don’t even know who those people were, or where, or when, least of all why. It would have been late Sixties, but probably not early Seventies, because I was quite small. I suspect it was Vietnam but can’t be sure.

In my cynical teenage phase I watched M*A*S*H and cemented my resolve. Killing people is wrong.

I conclude, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that television can be the conscience of us all, and now perhaps Face-twit and Tweet-book as well. Even, dare we hope it, blogging. You know what, if we all blogged about why killing people is wrong we could start some kind of Online Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement…..

Why Kozo – you clever, clever man!

Other bloggers who have cottoned on to this idea include:

http://sarahneeve.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/march-b4peace-post-a-peaceful-resolution/

http://peacegarret.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/a-peace-lesson-for-children-from-a-nazi

http://klamiot.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/peacemusic

http://janetkwest.com/2014/03/05/dad-the-faithful

and of course, Kozo’s original post

http://everydaygurus.com/2014/03/03/monthly-peace-challenge-peace-child/

Namaste

B4Peace: Family

I am continuing to participate in the monthly Bloggers for Peace series which is the brain child of the the lovely Kozo. I say “lovely”, but he’s pushing his luck this month, because Kozo has asked for posts about family. To be precise, making peace with family. You know, the people who messed you up, broke your heart or mind or body, who know the buttons to press or the words to use.

This month, I want you to focus on your family. Is there anyone you don’t fully embrace in your family? Do you feel resentment, shame, or anger towards someone blood-related?

Yep, I went there. Let’s deal with it. This months challenge is to make peace in yourself with someone close to you.

http://everydaygurus.com/2014/02/03/monthly-peace-challenge-we-are-family/

Well now.

I have been thinking about this and struggling to know what to say.

My family is not particularly traumatic. I am blessed. I had a reasonably happy childhood. If anything, my family is in fact more notable by its lacks. It is not large. In general it is not fond or close or very emotional. (To be clear, when I say “family” here in this post I am referring to my ancestry, as it were, and not to Sigoth or the Offspringses.)

I am an only child. My mother was an only child. My father had brothers (living) and a sister (died as a child). I grew up knowing I was loved in general. We didn’t see many relatives except aunt, uncle and cousin (also an only child). Half the family was abroad so we hardly ever saw them at all. I was the only girl and younger than my English cousin by more than 12 years. We had nothing in common.

We never talked about family. I was intrigued to know more about the shadowy relations occasionally mentioned, but then hidden again. Pretty much anything I heard was about family arguments and disagreements. Generally speaking my family has a poor track record at living peacefully. Perhaps it’s not surprising that they didn’t keep in touch with one another. They were too tired and worn and poor.

I remember very clearly, when I complained about having to visit my aunt and uncle, what dad told me: that it didn’t matter if you liked your family or not. You had to do your duty.

My mother’s view was different and more unsettling to my child self. She always said that because her parents had argued so much she would never inflict that on me. If she and dad didn’t get along, she would leave. She didn’t believe in staying together for the sake of the children.

It’s not a loving environment, is it? We didn’t have rows or thrown china or slammed doors. That was too dangerous. We just had duty and the possibility of leaving or being left.

Once I was older I had a chance to start doing family tree research. My own family wouldn’t tell me much about the photos we did have, but the documents have told some tales and sometimes I have teased out more from my mother in years gone by, none of it reliable but sometimes indicative.

My maternal grandfather lost his mother when he was a toddler; she died giving birth to a brother who also died. Granddad was sent away to live with his maternal grandfather until he was about five. He wasn’t wanted there. His grandfather wouldn’t speak to him; I’m assuming the reminder of his dead daughter was unwelcome. When he came home there was a stepmother and things didn’t go well. On censuses he is variously with his grandfather, his aunt and then on his own. He left home when he was seventeen and went to London. His own marriage, as my mother explained, was disastrous. My mother not only had to survive the Blitz in the East End but then had her parents break up and live separately until her mother died in her arms a few days before her 15th birthday. She moved back with her father and again a disastrous stepmother was introduced. She left home when she met my father and my grandmother found her a place to live with a neighbour.

My father had a better time of it, but his own father was brought up by aunts because his mother had apparently died in childbirth too and his own father was unable to cope with caring for a child. However, it turns out he was actually illegitimate, and this was just the kind cover story he was told. His mother moved away from the area and later did marry but died in her 40s from cancer. It is not clear whether she kept in touch with her sisters and son, but possibly she was disowned. His father was seemingly unaware of his son and is known to have lived a life regretting that he had no children (he later married but the couple remained childless).

My grandmother had a large family, being one of 12 children, but was scarred by the loss of brothers in Somme trenches and later her little girl.

These are common tragedies to family historians, but it seems to me that they reflect down the generations. The thoughtlessness and hardness of lives lived in poverty and grief affect the fortunes of unborn children. Looking at my grandparents, only one of them had anything like a reasonable family life and that was one of constant struggle, fear of bailiffs and desperate projects to earn enough to feed the children. My grandmother made jam and sold it to earn a little extra money because her husband’s wage was low. She told me when I was little and had to stand on a chair to help stir the fruit as it bubbled on the cooker, that she used to sell her jam. I was very proud to think she made such good jam. Now I am proud that she was so resourceful.

The other day I found some new Poor Law Removal records for a previous generation and it turns out that ancestor Daniel abandoned his wife Charlotte and their surviving children in the 1850s. They were back together for the 1861 census, but under what duress I dread to think. In 1855 when Charlotte was forced to apply for parish relief at the workhouse she was living in Digby Walk, as described below in a report from 1848:

 DIGBY WALK, GLOBE ROAD, 19.- In fit character with the distressing and degrading scene last visited, is this alley, which is in a state of the most beastly dirt. More than half of this horrid alley is covered with a stagnant pool of most offensive and filthy slime, and mud, in some places, to the depth of a foot. Some of the houses, which abut on it, are unfinished, but the yards of the older houses present a character little dissimilar to the stagnant gutter, or ditch itself. The refuse from a pig-stye drains into this gutter, and adds pungency to its offensiveness. This place is private property, and the landlord of the new houses has built a cesspool, into which to drain his houses, but he will not permit the other houses in the alley to drain into this cesspool, unless the parish pay to him 1l., a sum which it will not pay. Verily, one case of typhus would cost much more than the small sum asked to keep this place clean.

http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications/sanitary-1.htm

I don’t know why they ended up in this situation. Daniel had a good trade so perhaps he was going through a rough patch, or else he was a gambler or drunkard or promiscuous or violent. Perhaps she left him or maybe they agreed mutually it was for the best. Maybe they thought they were doing the right thing for their fragile family. Nevertheless, such experiences would have been traumatic for the children, one of whom was my great-great-grandmother. She also married a bit of a waster, and her own daughter, my great-grandmother was orphaned and in a workhouse at the age of 11.

How can families live joyful, loving, peace-fulfilling lives with these scars and tragedies? We are losing the generation that was broken by the trenches of France, and whose silence about those experiences is understandable but also permits the perpetuation of the old lie, as Wilfred Owen calls it, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

My father was in Germany in 1945 and 1946 but didn’t talk much about it either except for brief glimpses of camaraderie in the face of despair, and the discovery that some Germans at least were good people who were betrayed. This was not a popular opinion to hold at that time but he was a kind man and only judged people by their actions. He fell in love with a German girl but had to leave her because his mother would not accept her (not surprising but a little disappointing, I’ll admit). He did his duty then and continued for the rest of his life to do so.

What I have found is that for every generation where I uncover some sad or disagreeable story, there is inevitably a reason (although rarely an excuse) to explain the behaviour. This is how we perpetrate the errors of our forebears and continue to suffer.

Despite all this I have some hope. Darkness cannot abide with light; truth told leaves nowhere for lies to hide. With honesty comes the possibility of forgiveness and a fresh start.

I wish I had recognised this sooner, and avoided mistakes in my own parenting; but I did recognise some patterns that I did not want to repeat and I hope I managed to avoid them or at least reduce the strength of them. Worrying about money is one feature of my family. The only time my dad lost his temper with me was when I dropped a bottle of milk. “Do you how much milk costs?” he shouted. So although I worry about money and although we had to be frugal when the Offsrpingses were smaller, I don’t think I have ever shouted at them for such childish mistakes. I have shouted. Just not for that.

Let’s sit down with Philip Larkin for a moment, because that’s a very good place to sit. His conclusion is not for me but he sums up the tragedy of inherited scars.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178055

Very few people are actually evil although they may choose to commit evil acts. Something has shaped them. Be glad, and even humbled, if it has not shaped you too. We can make peace if we want to. Recognising the roots of fear and sadness and pain is the first step to moving past those things to a better place. It is not easy. It is merely possible.

May you rise above your suffering and choose peace and love. I will do my best to keep up with you and we will try to make a better, more peaceful, world, here and now and every day.

The light in me salutes the light in you

Namaste

Other posts this month include:

http://everydaygurus.com/2014/02/03/monthly-peace-challenge-we-are-family/

http://appletonavenue.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/bad-dreams/

http://brainsweets1.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/dearest-daughter/