In harness

Today I finally bit the bullet and went back to work.

I like my job. It’s unfashionable to say so, but EBL has never been knowingly fashionable. I may once have sported a trendy outfit in error, but I gave it straight to the charity shop so it doesn’t count.

I like my job because I have a Nice Boss who said “Take the week off!” when I mentioned to her about how tired I was from Christmas and mother and so on. The Nice Boss also has a mother, if you catch my drift, and knows very well how tiring it can be, having a mother. Mothers can be tiring, they surely can.

As a mother myself, I am obviously the Exception that Proves the Rule. Apart from flirting with purple in my twilight years (and thanks to a lovely Offspring I am now the proud owner of a new purple dressing gown to lounge about in, in a purple haze. It makes me very cuddly, on the outside at least.) As a mother, I am always delightful and fun and a pleasure to be with and I usually remember the names of the Offspring, although not always.

I genuinely forgot Youngest Offspring’s name one day and called him Stephen. His name is not now, and never has been, Stephen; it doesn’t even begin with S. So I had to ‘fess up that he had an Evil Twin whom we had hidden from him all his life, and who lived in the loft. That was what he could hear moving about at night, not mice as previously indicated, and it explained who stole the odd socks, pens, and chocolate cereal. He should stop blaming Sigoth for any and all of those things. At once.

The end result of that revelation was that he occasionally feels sorry for Stephen and lets him out to play. Every time he is too annoying he pulls a face and says, “But I’m Stephen, mwahahahaha!”.

You might not be surprised to learn that Youngest Offspring, if he survives that long, will be 20 in the spring. At that point all my beloved teens will be 20-somethings. Eldest Offspring will be 29 in the summer. The others fall in between (hence Eldest and Youngest. Do keep up!)

We have been a little economical with the actualité, on occasions, with regards to our Offspring. When Eldest Offspring, who bore the brunt of it but then grassed us up to the younger siblings, was pre-school, we told him the ice cream van was actually a nice music van which drove around playing tunes. Because he only saw ice cream vans parked up to serve ice creams, and so not playing Da Tunes, he fell for it and only found out when he started school. It’s true that we are Slut Parents From Hell™.

In an effort to save humanity the Offspringses have rejected our values, as Offspringses often do, and grown up to be decent, honest and honourable. Oh, the shame.

But today I ignored Nice Boss and logged in anyway because I have to travel on Monday and wanted to Get to Grips with Things before that happened and I couldn’t catch up at all. I think it was worth it. I have spoken to lots of people, mostly about the joys of the Eurostar and the fireworks from New Year, and sorted out training for the team, more or less, and printed off what I need for Monday. I’m shattered. I thought the week would never end. I can’t be expected to work at this pace all the time.

More importantly I arranged the annual service for the boiler, the Aga and the chimneys, which we have every year even though the last time for all of them was in January 2011 because that’s how good I am at prevaricating! In fact I have been so good at it that the Aga engineer has emigrated to Australia and I had to find a new one. Really, all he had to do was say he was too busy. It seems a bit extreme.

Obviously going back to work has meant I can sort those things out. Doing them in the holidays just wasn’t cricket.

I hope your Friday has been productive and you are ready for Real Life to resume.

Namaste.

 

Peace Testimony

My dears, I need to share something with you.

I don’t feel comfortable with New Year Resolutions. For me there is an implied double standard, a bit like the implied double standard of swearing an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. What this means, to me, is that the rest of the time I might not do that.  How very dare you!

The other day I wrote a piece about a blog I enjoy reading, so today I am going to tell you about another one, written by Fish of Gold.

There are many great reasons to enjoy the blog: witty stories, great quality writing and provocative articles. FOG also occasionally shares difficult and demanding issues and experiences, and in my opinion this is what contributes to turning the blog into a fully-rounded expression of being human (or piscine, if you will).

Recently FOG wrote about Bloggers for Peace, and it caught my eye in particular because I think peace is a good idea.

If you are interested in reading more about it, then you can click the badge on this blog or follow this link to Bloggers for peace. Just imagine – if just 100 bloggers commit to blogging once a month in 2013 about peace and what it means to them, we will have a great conversation with more than a post a day. All the How-to-do-it is there too.

I am a pacifist. I said I think peace is a good idea, but I don’t think it’s is an easy or simple idea. Crucially I find the some people equate it with passivity, but I am here to tell you that is not the case.  Pacifism is not passive surrender, it is an active obedience. That can mean upholding a difficult and unpopular point of view, and even facing persecution for it. It can (and does) mean that we oppose the use of force no matter what, even, for example, in 1939 against the Nazi threat. We uphold the essential humanity of evil-doers, while detesting and opposing their evil. We demand that they are dealt with another way, even though we might not know what it is, or how it can be done.

Many war-mongers try to validate their actions by claiming they are required in order to bring about peace. I can’t hold with this. To explain why I am now going to quote to you from the original Quaker Peace Testimony, so prepare yourself for some righteous 17th century olde English.

the Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, & again to move unto it; And we do certainly know, & so testify to the World, that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth, wil never move us to fight and war against any man with outward Weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the Kingdoms of this World.

The Testimony was addressed to Charles II in 1660 to demonstrate that Quakers, a heavily persecuted religious group, were no threat to the authorities, and had no intentions of rising up violently against the newly restored crown. At the time carrying a sword was as normal as carrying a mobile phone today, and people who chose not to do so were viewed with intense suspicion.

The nub of the argument was that it was inconsistent and unethical to say one day you were for peace and the next that you would kill people who disagreed with you. It identified a double standard. Quakers at that time decided this was not acceptable for them, and have kept to that ever since.

The Quaker Peace Testimony remains central to modern Quaker beliefs and actions. As a Quaker I want to uphold this testimony, although I fail and fail every day, then fail again. And every day I need to brush myself down and try once more.

Namaste

Toasty New Year

As we all know, God not only invented the world in six days, but also invented the Venerable Bede, who in turn invented the calendar.

It is thanks to Bede, and not the Mayans, that in the West we have the method of measuring time in terms of the Christian Era, or Year of our Lord (Anno Domini). The main bone of contention in Bede’s time was how to calculate Easter, but that all got sorted out thankfully by the nice lady Abbess at Whitby, just down the road from EBL Towers. This was fortunate because otherwise how would we know when to put chocolate eggs in the shops? (The answer, by the way, is on Boxing Day. A shop in town had Easter Bunnies on its shelves when I popped in for some items on 27th December. I was unable to restrain my staire. The woman serving looked rather weary of it and I suppose she had endured the same from every other customer that morning. What I should have done, my dears, was to summon the manager and give her a quick lesson on appropriate shop display and how not to irritate the hell out of fragile post-celebratory customers.)

Come on EBL, stop blathering about Easter when it is a glorious new day in a new year!

What I really wanted to do was start this year with a lung-clearing, heart-stopping, brain-exploding rant. I know, I know, it’s not like your mild-mannered EBL to let rip in this fashion. But really – carers! What are they thinking?

Today being a Bank Holiday there were no carers available to get mother up and dressed. Not a problem, as it is a Bank Holiday, so I am home and can do it myself. It did mean I had to make sure I didn’t oversleep this morning as there was medication to administer on a strict schedule, but that was not a problem, not for good old EBL and faithful Sigoth.

We saw the New Year in down at the pub with friends and neighbours, as planned, and had a jolly nice time including counting down with Big Ben on the telly and singing Auld Lang Syne enthusiastically and tunelessly. The walk back home, all of 3 minutes, was dark and muddy, but the night was glorious as the rain had finally cleared and Orion was posing in his belt and the sky was a dark tent of diamonds and pearls sheltering us kindly. We relaxed back home with a cryptic crossword from the book of Daily Telegraph Crosswords which Santa kindly provided me in my stocking, and then slept like peaceful little lambs.

Up I jumped in the sunny rays of the 2013 morning, bright and eager (once Sigoth had provided tea to kick-start my system), and pleased the weather has finally improved. Oh my dears, it has been such a soggy Christmas, positively a catastrophe for many. Offspring Who Lives in Town has had a friend sleeping on the settee for days, having been flooded out of her flat not once, but twice, in December.

Anyway, off I went to raise mother from her bed and feed and drug her.

Mother, of course, was unaware it was New Year, but was pleased to see the sunshine this morning and got into the spirit of wishing me Happy New Year endlessly once I prompted her. It was a kind thought, but inevitably one that spun round her head with giddy abandon and no sign of stopping until replaced by something else.

I persuaded her out of her snug cocoon and started setting out the clothes for the day, including one of her new blouses. New Year wishes started to make way for how pretty the blouse is, which is also true no matter how many times she says it.  Meanwhile I rummaged for knickers in the chest of drawers, then in the wardrobe, then in the spare drawers in the spare bedroom, just in case. There were none in any drawer in any room. Even when I looked three or four times. I checked the washing machine which contained clean but wet apparel of every kind. As mother was safe upstairs, I got heated on the topic of carers who don’t think very hard about what will be required tomorrow and how long it takes to dry things in an English winter.

The only option was to shower and dress mother sans culottes which caused her some considerable anxiety. All the way down the stairs she kept telling me about it and I kept explaining that she needed to wait a few minutes while I dried something in the tumble dryer. It was a tense and stressful few minutes for both of us, but eventually she had toasty warm undies to slip into and she was happy. The consolation of dementia is that she will hopefully have forgotten it by now. The rest of her clothes are drying as I write, so tomorrow the carers will not be faced with the same problem. Whoever came yesterday was clearly not the sharpest tool in the box. Actually it’s hard to rant about them because I couldn’t do this every day for an endless stream of other people’s relatives.

It reminded me though of when I was little. Mother had a similar challenge in the winter when laundry refused to dry in the cold, dank days of November. We had a covered area outside the back door of the kitchen where there was a washing line and coal cellar and space for bikes. In the worst weather that was where we hung the essentials to dry, out of the rain but still in fresh air. November air may be fresh, although it is open to debate, but it is also cold and damp, and clothes tend not to dry even under shelter.

The next stage was then to put the really essential essentials on the airer by the boiler overnight. The kitchen had a small coal-fired boiler for heating water and allegedly to supply the radiators. My parents had a very modern house, built in the mid-1950s, with parquet floors I polished by tying dusters to my feet and skating up and down, and with real radiators for central heating. Sadly the boiler was far too small to make the radiators work, but the water was hot most of the time and the kitchen was always cosy.

No matter how warm and embracing the boiler was, sometimes it couldn’t manage to dry the essential essentials by morning. School hours wait for no parent, and faced with damp knickers and a child half-clad my mother did the only thing left to her and grilled my underwear. In the cooker. She removed the grill pan first, otherwise I would have smelled of good Danish bacon.

Toasty knickers. A great start to the day, let me tell you.

Namaste.

And so that was Christmas….

…What have you done?

At EBL Towers we enjoyed a quiet and peaceful holiday with plenty of good cheer, good food and good relaxation with good gaming, music and knitting. I fed the Offspiringses in bulk to make up for the fact they can’t afford food the rest of the year, and can report a successful increase of a couple of pounds for one and all. I can only hope you had what you wanted too. It’s all a big green tick here.

On Saturday the village enjoyed a surprise birthday party for one of the villagers. There was lots of shushing and giggling as we waited for the grand entrance, and then many glasses of wine to drink and a rather tasty buffet to eat while we listened to our local boy band of extremely talented yoof playing all kinds of songs for every taste (from Beatles to Adele via a Death Metal cover, Lou Reed and Coldplay. We enjoy an eclectic taste in music in these parts.)

Another year over and a new one just begun

As usual Sigoth and I plan to wander down to the local pub and see in the New Year with neighbours. All the Offspingses will be out and about with their friends, which will save me a fortune in rounds at the bar. We might even run to a second glass of something nice while we wait for the chimes of big Ben.

And so this is Christmas, I hope you had fun
The near and the dear ones, the old and the young

Of course, there was also sadness during the holiday marked by the very obvious deterioration in mother. She failed to recognise the in-laws, and worse, the Offspringses. She had fun sitting with us though and sang “Que sera sera” quite a lot, even through Dr Who, which was irritating but we managed. I suppose that the difference felt more marked because I can compare how she was last Christmas, at a fixed point in time, to how she has been this year. Otherwise her good days and bad days simply pass by and I know in theory she is worsening but don’t really appreciate how much without a point of reference.

A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear

Sigoth and I don’t do much about resolutions as we tend to think we should say what we mean and keep to it all the time. Last year we wanted to lose weight, as Sigoth was developing a middle age spread and I was very overweight from the lack of mobility due to feet failing to cooperate. As I had the feet fixed on 30 December, I decided to see in 2012 by trying to increase my activity levels and decrease my calorie levels. It has worked very well and we are both now where we should be. So hurrah for us.  This coming year we want to look at the life-work balance, all of which may be easier if Sigoth doesn’t find gainful employment before the end of March when his current job finishes.

I wish you peace and hope and joy and love, now and throughout all the years to come.

Namaste.

Bunnies of the Apocalypse

Did you remember to say “White Rabbits!” as you woke up on Saturday? No, neither did I. I don’t know about you, but I am now fighting off a sense of impending disaster, having failed to appease the Bunnies of the Apocalypse.

I don’t know where that quaint tradition comes from, and can’t be bothered to look it up. In case you are not familiar with it (and if you are English, shame on your parents for not teaching you), then the rule is that you have to say “White Rabbits!” before you say anything else on the first day of the month. Doing so will bring good luck for the month; failing to do so will unleash unspeakable horrors, such as getting in trouble with teachers, failing the maths test or having your best conker smashed in the match against Duncan – everyone knows he hardens his, which is cheating, but those Arctic Conies can ensure you defeat him so long as you invoke them properly.

As I got older, I was unsure when the first of the month began. Was it when I woke up or was it the second after the stroke of twelve by Big Ben? To be safe, I do it twice if I happen to be awake at midnight, and regularly confuse friends at New Year’s parties by spluttering “WhiteRabbitsHappyNewYear!” as the chimes fade away. It’s especially important in the first month of the year as it sets the tone.

So picture our despair as both Sigoth and I forgot to perform this vital ritual on Saturday morning. Neither of us have had good weeks, and had been looking forward to a Saturday lie-in, followed by a long list of errands to run. It is true that most of them were enjoyable errands around preparation for the festivities scheduled nearer the end of the month. This did not reduce their number, only their onerousness.  (Note: I am amazed the spell check thinks “onerousness” is a real word, given some of the words it fails to recognise.)

Sigoth has an interview on Monday, and if unsuccessful will be made redundant. I am travelling quite a bit so hoping it won’t snow or flood or rain locusts in a way that prevents me getting back home on Thursday. I know, it’s all about me. All the other on-going stresses need to be managed, so it’s a week of juggling as usual. We could do with some Rabbity help.

The Rabbits thing always makes me think about the other traditions we had when I was little. Sigoth and I have not passed them on to the Offspring for the most part; actually the one about the Rabbits is an exception to this, because it is fun.

Things we have not taught them:

  • Throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder to hit the Devil in the eye. It had to be the left shoulder. This was non-negotiable. It was well-known the Devil always came at you on the sinister side. (Sinister as in “left” in Latin;  see also “Carry on Cleo” where they march “Sinister, Dextra, Sinister, Dextra!”)
  • Put out milk for the fairies, witches and ghosts on Halloween. We left it outside the back door so they could find it, and it was always gone in the morning, so it was definitely essential. You don’t want irate hob-goblins messing with the crockery.
  • When I had an exam, my parents would throw a shoe at me as I left for school. They claimed this was good luck. I have my doubts. It was extremely embarrassing when I was doing O-Levels at the age of sixteen.
  • Never walk under ladders.
  • A black cat crossing your path is good luck.
  • Don’t wear green – particularly difficult as my school uniform was green. I hated that school anyway, so that was probably why.

That doesn’t even get me onto the little sayings and songs. I’ll save those for another day.

Now the Offspring are large enough to manage without us tying their shoelaces, I find I am sometimes sad they don’t know this stuff. What seemed like meaningless nonsense to avoid when they were small now feels like a link to their past which has been broken. I broke it. I need those Rabbits to protect me from the consequences!

Learning to meditate

Learning to meditate, trying to ease into a new way of being still and quiet and calm, starting with a DVD to hold my hand while I take the first faltering steps and breathe. Then sitting in the living room, on my own, finding I can do this without a voice whispering in my ear. Feeling cocky, trying and failing on a commuter train. Trying again and doing better. Why do we find it so hard just to breathe?

 

In.

 

Out.

 

In,

 

Out.

 

That phone call earlier floats in, but wafts away and then dissolves on the wind, turning into nothing more than air.

 

Breathe.

 

Trying not to feel too pleased about letting it go, because in itself that is a distraction. This is the time for meditation, breathing, quietness. I can deal with the phone call later.

 

Feel the boundary between my skin and the world fade away and then I become, for one startling instant, part of everything, everyone, every place and time and galaxy wheeling, stardust, golden. You old hippy. The shock sends me back to breathing in and out, regrouping. But for a second I felt it.

 

The light in me salutes the light in you.

 

Namaste.

 

The Idea of Yorkshire

You might need to be sitting down for this. It’s a bit of a shock, and it made me feel quite queasy when I heard about it.

 

Did you know it might be the case that Yorkshire does not exist? Yes, I know, unthinkable. It may be that it exists only in the Platonic ideal, say, or as a perfect thought in the mind of God. God’s Own County, whose history can be traced back to within nano-seconds of the Big Bang, may be no more than a collective dream of something better than the humdrum of motley human existence.

 

The proposal for this thesis arose as a result of thinking about government boundary changes, an exciting field for fertile rational debate and a regular subject of passionate and informed conversation across the nation. But take, for example, this anomaly: that until it became a Unitary Authority in 1996, the city of York (happy 800th, by the way) was part of North Yorkshire County. This immediately raises questions about the status of West and South Yorkshire, since the capital had originally been found at the meeting point of the three Ridings, at once within all and none.

 

Yorkshire owes much of its history to the Danish and Vikings, although before them it was part of the Kingdom of Deira. King Aelle was the first recorded Anglo-Saxon King in 559 AD before it merged with Bernicia to form the greater region of Northanhumber. The name, however, is derived from the British people who lived there before the invasion, generally transcribed as “Deywr”.

 

The Romans had founded York (Eboracum) in 71 AD as the northern capital on the boundary of Brigantes’ territory, until their garrison was recalled to Rome around 412 AD. The Angles colonised and subjugated the area soon after and when Northanhumber was finally stabilised the capital was at Eoferwic, formerly Eboracum. Over time and through numerous bloody invasions, the name transformed to Yorvik, then York.

 

The Danish dominance and later the harrying of the North no doubt influenced the development of Yorkshire identity. Historic county boundaries were established by the Norman administration, and based largely on Anglo-Saxon shires, including Yorkshire (hence the infamous Norman role of Sherriff, or shire-reeve).

 

None of these entities are real, in that they are all ephemeral to the eye of History: but what we call “real” in these parts are the (North, East and West) Ridings and the Ainsty, long abolished but living on in the hopes and dreams of true-born Yorkshire men and women. I share their pain, being a native daughter of Middlesex which ancient desmesne suffered the same fate of abolition in 1974 and was parcelled out between Surrey and so-called “Greater” London. We know it still exists, in the shadows, biding its time. It still has a cricket club, as does Yorkshire, so it must be true.

 

The outside edge of Yorkshire remains more or less intact, beyond occasional boundary issues. How it is broken up internally is in the end an administrative matter reflecting but minimally on the soul of the shire. While it may no longer exist in its ancient form according to the clerks and scribes, I respectfully submit, in response to the controversial thesis proposed above, that Yorkshire is as real as any great idea, such as liberty, equality, peace or justice.

 

Mustn't let it fall

Rosie once told me a secret.

“I found a treasure at the rainbow’s end,” she said, looking a bit shifty, and checking no one was listening.

It was safe to talk; no one else in the hostel paid Rosie much attention, but it was a slow day and I felt the need for a chat, so I found myself sitting down with Rosie who could always find something to say. Today a little black cat was curled up in her lap, dreaming of whatever cats dream of, and keeping Rosie warm. It was pretty mangy and I didn’t feel quite strong enough to stroke it.

The weather had been fearsomely cold all week and even Rosie had been driven to the hostel at nights, although she and Horace still wandered outside all day, looking for news, or food, or miracles. Horace sometimes found some casual work, but Rosie was too dishevelled and smelt too bad for anyone to want her to stay around. On that day Horace had gone down to the docks to work in one of the warehouses still taking on labourers, and Rosie had stayed in the warm because there was macaroni cheese on the menu which was her favourite. She had taken three helpings, thinking none of us noticed, and was feeling pleased with her cunning. We didn’t mind her taking extra when there was enough, and we had plenty that day because the police had rounded up quite a few of our regulars the night before in order to bring their statistics up to the required level, so they were being fed at Her Majesty’s pleasure leaving us to catch up on the paperwork and find time to be sociable with the remaining regulars.

“What treasure?” I asked in a whisper.

“Can’t say,” Rosie muttered. “S’mine though ‘cos I found it.”

“Are you sure, Rosie?” I asked. I was beginning to suspect the use of the “found” part.

“Ain’t been touched since the old Queen’s day,” Rosie confirmed. “It were in the ditch.”

Then she put her finger to her lips and shushed loudly. A couple of the old fellas playing darts glanced across, then carried on their game.

“It’s a secret,” Rosie said, more forcefully. “Keep me safe it will from those buggers…”

“What will?” I asked, intrigued.

“Elf arrow,” she hissed. “Mustn’t let it fall.”

Then she turned her back on me, and pretended to go to sleep on the bench.

I asked Horace about it when he came in that night. He was tired from a long day for little money – not even minimum wage.

“What can you do?” he said. “But I got some fags.”

“You can’t smoke in here,” I told him, automatically. “Have you ever heard of an elf arrow?”

Horace was a well-read man, fallen on hard times. Perhaps they fell on him. He had chosen the traditional tramping life, but somehow had failed to recognise it as belonging to a previous generation. Inexplicably he survived.

“Flint arrow heads,” he replied promptly. “You find them lying about in fields where the farmer has ploughed them up to the surface.”

“Right,” I said. “Are they common then?”

“Probably,” said Horace. “I had one when I was a boy. Dropped it one day when I was messing about. ‘Sposed to be bad luck to lose it.”

He paused. “Just before I started out on the road.”

Rosie moved on the next day. The cat went with her. Horace said he thought she had gone up to Watford, but he didn’t elaborate. The police got tired of feeding our regulars and let them go with a warning, so we were busy again for the next few weeks.

Winter passed, as it usually does. I forgot about Rosie’s story until one spring day, after a thunderstorm, when I saw a rainbow against the sky over the East End. One of our regulars had been stabbed the night before, and I was coming back from the hospital, where there had been more paperwork and long depressing conversations with the police and social workers and probation officers.

I thought it would have been nice if he could find something to protect him at the end of the rainbow, but he had died anyway, and so all that was left to do was look at the colours fading as the rain blew away to the west.

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Scary but true

Although Hallowe’en celebrations have suffered the same fate as so many of our customs by becoming Americanised almost beyond recognition, we still like to celebrate the festival in our house. Somehow it feels right to acknowledge the longer nights and colder mornings by keeping in tune with the ways of our forebears.

The celebration often ends up combining with another popular event – Bonfire Night. The origins of this custom are ancient as well; the bonfires were “banefires” or “bonefires” and were lit to keep evil spirits in check and the gods appeased. But then the Gunpowder Plot came along and suddenly the fires were there to burn other things and later to bake potatoes while we watched the fireworks. Whatever. Sic transit gloria mundi.

I’m not sure the children still learn the rhyme, but we were taught it as soon as we started school:

Remember, remember the 5th of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Ever should be forgot

Consensus these days is that celebrating the torture and death of a religious fundamentalist by burning their effigy is not really very nice. At least, I think that’s the consensus. Sometimes it’s hard to tell with the screaming and raving haemorrhaging from the red-tops.

Either way it still leaves me with apple bobbing, pumpkin carving, cinder toffee and the opportunity to frighten little kids half to death without fear of recrimination. What more could you want from an evening at home?

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Family stories

No one lives in a family group, of whatever composition, without learning the family stories: who we are, how we got here, what matters really.

Some of the stories are fresh enough to refer to people in living memory, some so fresh that they may refer to living people/ Others are of a more mythological status: about somebody (noone is sure who) or something (no one is sure what) which happened or was true (no one is sure when).

My mythology included the story that my mother’s family had Dutch ancestry somewhere on her father’s side. There were also comforting tales which upon closer inspection, and following some research for my family tree, turned out to be nothing more than that: comforting stories told to or made up by small children in difficult situations. So, for instance, my mother’s father believed his own mother died in giving birth to him, whereas in fact it was to a younger sibling, who also died. More confusingly, my father believed his own father had been brought up by aunts because his mother had similarly died in childbirth and his father could not look after him alone. In fact, he was illegitimate and his mother moved away, later marrying and dying in her 40s without any other children. His putative father did not seem to be aware of his child, later married and was known to have regretted often that he had no children. What we choose to disclose and what we keep secret or warp to fit our own designs, can affect the lives of others without our knowing.

What stories are also lost! I have ancestors who were coast guards and revenue men going back to the 18th century, or were London city missionaries at the end of the 19th century in the sinks and stews of Whitechapel. One ancestor was apparently a defence solicitor for the men of the Pentrich Uprising in Derbyshire – a story which I hope to prove one day and be able to trumpet to the world. Another ancestor was an engineer on steamships, yet another a police officer before and during the Peel inception of the Metropolitan police. Ancestral siblings established settlements in Australia, worked in India and Canada, were miners, engravers, farmers, governesses, dressmakers, National School teachers, farriers and shopkeepers. Fortunes were won, inherited, lost, and yet of these struggles there is no whisper.

My own family spoke of its history very little beyond the stories outlined here. The other abiding story was of the loss of brothers in the Great War; again I had been told it was almost all of grandma’s eight brothers who died, but in fact five survived. This does not diminish the loss of the others, nor make the sacrifice less. It is why I am moved emotionally when thinking of them despite never having met; to me they are real through the stories and my grandmother’s quiet tears and faded photographs.