The Other Grandfather

 

The Other Grandfather 

Before I launch into today’s entry in the isolation diary I would like to thank all of those who are reading my ramblings every day and a special thank you to all who have been able to send me a comment or a message. Your interest is very greatly appreciated. Please feel free to pass the link to the web site on to anyone that you think would be interested. 

Today as I looked out of the bedroom window the sky was a uniform grey; dull, overcast and uninviting. Each morning the birds go through a daily routine. Three or four Gulls swoop on to the roof, screech, swear and scream loudly and then they swoop away in a graceful arc and glide into land on the village pub chimneys. Fat matronly pigeons sit in non isolating pairs on the back of the garden bench gossiping like two old ladies over a garden fence. More graceful and aerobatic, a squadron of crows leave the tree tops in the churchyard and fly in formation above the village and fields before taxiing into land with loud caws, back into their twig nests.

The weather has not improved as the day has dragged itself into the afternoon and still a dirty grey blanket of cloud covers the sky. The trees in the yard across the drive stand still and stark. I am reminded of Wilfred Owen’s poem “Exposure” in which “clouds sag stormy” but “nothing happens”. 

With that thought I return to my tidying of yesterday and this time I come across some postcards that my paternal grandfather sent to his family and most especially one that he sent to his sister in August 1916 when he was on the Somme. The card says little except that he is alright and that he is hoping to have a letter from home the following morning. He sends his best love to all at home and says he will write again in a day or two. The card picture is of a bombed out street in a French town and the caption on the front is in French and English. It reads “Bapaume Street after several bombardments. In the foreground the tobacco shop of Madam Richard”. In the top left hand corner “Guerre 1914-1916. I presume that the address given on the front is that of the printer – G Lelong, 21 Rue St. Martin, Amiens. 

Edward was born in Northiam, East Sussex in 1893 and his father owned and ran the Six Bells and Edward spent his early working life  on his father’s land and in the Six Bells. When war was declared he volunteered and he saw service at Ypres and on the Somme. He married in 1917 and in December 1917 he was made a Warrant Officer Class ll in the Army Service Corps. Later in the war he was posted to northern Italy. His postcards home to his mother from there tell a grim picture of that time. His concern is often for the farm and the hop picking or harvest. 

When he left the army at the end of the war he started farming. Much like my other grandfather he spoke little of his war experience to his family but I did once overhear him talking to my son. 

At  the time my son was of an age when war looked exciting. My grandfather, sat in an armchair, told gently but firmly of something of his experiences. Most poignantly, at the age of 91, he said he could still hear the big guns. Like my other grandfather he was given to looking into the distance with his cornflower blue eyes and thinking his own thoughts. He never forgot his fallen comrades. 

When we visited on the evening when the Festival of Remembrance was televised we were required, even as young children, to sit and watch in silence. Nothing was said but Grandad had that far away look in his eye and a moistness that I now recognise as a silent tear for those who had been lost. 

He, too, like my other grandfather was a gentle, kindly man, soft spoken a man of few words. Their experience and stoicism in the face of hardship and danger puts our present situation into some perspective. 

Memories of Grandad

Today’s piece is not just text but also several pictures by way of illustration.

Today’s weather is far less bright and cheerful. Although there is sporadic sunshine the grey clouds have been massing across the hills and casting their shadow across the fields. Although I planned to do some gardening this afternoon it is only fair to say that I am a fair weather gardener and have, therefore, rejected that option. Instead I have spent time sorting through some of the material that was brought here when my sister and I cleared out our parents’ house when my father died twelve years ago. Most of the photographs, family documents and other memorabilia were put in a small chest of drawers in my “study”. A jumble of material that once meant something to my parents and grandparents; that had been treasured by them. 

As I sorted through I came across a package that my mother had brought back when she, too, had cleared out her parents’ home. As I opened it up I was surprised and very touched to find several postcards that my grandfather had sent to my grandmother while he was serving in France in the First World War. To me he had been a very kindly, quiet, gentle grandfather. A farmer who spent almost all of his life working on the land, who achieved his ambition of owning a small mixed farm of his own. His beginnings and youth were humble – his father had been a farm bailiff  and Albert also began his working life as a farm worker. I have no idea when he meet my future grandmother but my mother told me that they had met at the local Methodist Chapel where Albert played the violin. She also told me that in his earlier days he had seen himself as something of smart looking young man. I found this difficult believe until I found a dress cane at my parents house that had belonged to him. In my memory he is the “little grandad” that loved his cows and named them after his grandchildren, the man who seemed to have infinite patience with us children, and who grew the most delicious fruit. Whenever I smell a Victoria plum I am transported back to a darkened oast stacked with plums in fruit boxes ready for transportation to market. His “office” was loaded in one of the oast roundels and smelt of hay, cow cake, cows and fruit. Papers were spread around on the make-shift desk and an old brown milking coat hung on the peg on the back of the door. In the summer we would walk across the fields to meet him and then walk back to Grandma’s for tea. A motley crew of his daughters, their husbands and the grandchildren would chatter, run around and chase each other through buttercup fields in the summer heat. 

The postcards reveal a sentimental young man who clearly knew my grandmother during the war. They got married in 1919. My mother was born in 1920. My grandmother was not from a country family and from the information I have found she was, perhaps, from a rather more affluent family. Her brother, William, was killed in the First World War and before the war he had worked as a postman in London. Her father had worked for a bakery company called Henry, King and Feast. He lived, with his family ,in Highgate but by the time the war began he had moved his family to Northiam. He continued to own several houses in Highgate that he rented out.

In with the exquisitely embroidered postcards are tiny cards with sentimental messages. On the back of the cards my grandfather has written a message – each addresses my grandmother as “Bub” and he refers to himself as “your best boy Bertie”. My grandmother’s name was Bertha. 

The cards must have been treasured by my grandmother and subsequently by my mother. In with them was a beautiful silk, decorative handkerchief edged with delicate lace and a series of German banknotes. As well as these remembrances of the war my mother had found a small package that was addressed to my grandfather and had been sent by registered mail. It was opened at one end but it was plain that the contents had never been taken out. When she removed them she found that they were my grandfather’s medals from the war. It seems he had realised what they were and hid them away never to be revealed by him. 

Like so many others he never shared his war experience with any of the family. We would never have known if we hadn’t found some photographs of him in uniform and these other humble artefacts. My most abiding memory of him is of the most kindly blue eyes that always looked into the middle distance as though he was remembering something we couldn’t know. As Sheila Kaye-Smith noted in her memoir writings such a Sussex countryman would “on a Sunday evening lean over a gate and gazing down at the earth feel more than he can think”. Like so many of his generation that war affected the rest of his life and more importantly his attitude to how he should live his life. He lived to be 92.

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The Search for a Light Bulb

The search for a light bulb

You might not think this is a very promising title for this piece.
Today looked promising from the bedroom window, light frost sparkled on the lawn and the fields beyond were silent save for the cooing of pigeons, the occasional bleat of the sheep and the twittering of small birds in the hedgerow. A dull tractor noise faded away while the village lane was empty and still. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Then I remembered that I had to search for a replacement light bulb to purchase. Not, you might think, a particularly difficult thing to do – you would be wrong! To be absolutely accurate I needed to search for two different types of light bulb.

As is the unwritten rule it seems, when we went to bed last evening a bedside light refused to come on. The bulb had blown. Although there is no purpose in philosophising on the reasons for such things to happen at the most inconvenient times I found myself doing so. Why now – just when I wanted to get into bed and sleep? Himself began to ruminate about the possibility of us actually owning a replacement while I headed down two flights of stairs to crawl into the under stairs cupboard and delve around in a box of light bulbs. It seemed that we had more light bulbs than B&Q. Eventually, after bashing my head on a plastic dust pan and brush, I had located the correct bulb – maybe. Back upstairs himself was turning off switches and wrestling with the broken bulb. Apparently the lamp was badly designed and the bulb was being recalcitrant when it came to being removed from its holder. Would he like me to try? No he wouldn’t – yes he would. The lamp was handed over but I was assured that I would never be able to remove the bulb; it would never work again. The bulb did unscrew and the new one was fitted, switches turned on and all was light. Hurrah. At last, half an hour later than expected sleep beckoned.

Today, as light dawned through the bedroom window, I suddenly remembered that the search must begin to buy new light bulbs. Now that sounds fairly mundane a task you might think. You would be so wrong. Not only did I feel I needed to get some replacement bulbs for said lamps but also I was reminded that we had no replacement bulbs for the outside lights. Now, it seems, was an ideal time for me to buy all of these bulbs. The immortal, but completely erroneous words were uttered – “it shouldn’t take long to get them all”. So the search began. Amazon was my first port of call. I typed in the details of the bulb for the bedside light and a confusing selection of products appeared. It had to be a small screw golf ball. I thought I had found what I wanted. I had to buy six. I looked at the reviews – not happy customers so perhaps not for me. While I was thus debating on the merits of buying six bulbs that might not be right and might be broken when they arrived, himself appeared with the label from the outside light bulbs. If Amazon couldn’t help I would try Tesco – where the original bulb had been purchased. Yes they had them and they were cheap. I placed two in my trolley and then went to check out. I really should have known better. Of course it wouldn’t be easy! I needed a Tesco Acccount, I didn’t have one. Was it worth it for two light bulbs? Would they deliver two light bulbs? Did I really want to buy loads more stuff just to get two light bulbs? The answer was no. Back to the search and this time I would try and get both kinds of bulb from one place.

This presented an even more confusing challenge. The outside light bulbs had to be ‘dimmable’, they had to conform to a multiplicity of criteria. I typed in the details and was overwhelmed by the possibilities for purchase. B&Q promised they had just the thing. Overwhelmed by excitement I clicked on the link. Yes, there was the bulb I wanted. No, it didn’t have the right screw size. Try again. This time all was correct. I checked and double checked the pictures on all sides of the old box. Exactly right. I placed two outside light bulbs in my basket, got out my card, and clicked on check out. Only for my hopes to be cruelly dashed. A large caption told me that “these items cannot be delivered”. I had not even begun to search for the bedside lamp bulbs! Losing the will to live and cursing the technology I have given up on the search. We have plenty of candles and other lamps with working bulbs. Anyway why am I concerned to light up my drive for the odd fox or badger and the like. Let it be dark out there. I am past caring.

Musings on “stuff” past and present

Musings on “stuff” present and past.

I am posting this earlier today in the hope that the weather will cheer up a bit and I might be able to get into the garden for a while. Cold and windy at the moment with some cloud that is threatening rain. I am finding it increasingly difficult to find titles for my daily entries hence the rather uninspired title today.

Today is my brother-in-laws birthday. Happy Birthday if you are reading this – I don’t expect you are – hope you have had a good day. Not sure why but whilst sitting up in bed drinking my morning tea I began to think about the sort of phrases that my parents used to use – some unique to them I think – and the fact that such “sayings” have fallen out of fashion and use. Were they of their era or had they heard them from their parents and grandparents I wonder?

My mother used to talk of menacing cloud as being “black over Bill’s mother’s” – as a child I found this extraordinary – we didn’t know anyone called Bill and certainly not his mother. Not only that but it appeared that “Bill’s mother” lived in a variety of places. Sometimes across the valley, other times across the back of the garden. Even more confusing was the fact that we lived on a farm and could see very few houses in any direction.
A saying that my mother once used in my hearing when I was a small child proved to be considerably more embarrassing. I overheard her once say, probably as a joke, “red hat and no drawers” but when a lady in a red hat got on the local bus it didn’t go down well when I shouted “look Mum that lady hasn’t got any knickers on”.
My dad would “swing his hand” at people he knew, and my grandfather once stated when asked for directions that “ if he was going there he wouldn’t have started from here”. The weather was always “middlin” the hedge and hair needed a “good brishing” and a diagonal line across a field or on paper was “cater ways”.

The remembrance of these led in some inextricable way to a remembrance of visits to my home of the local vicar. Always in good weather, usually in the summer, my mother would suddenly be sent into a fluster. She had just seen the vicar coming through the garden gate on one of his rare pastoral visits. The garden path was sufficiently long for her to have time to make some very quick preparations for his visit. Our house was such, that in truth, we really only had one door and it was what most people would call the back door. (There was another door but it was never opened and it led to a tiny bit of garden and then a gate to a hop garden. It, in effect, went nowhere.) The back door opened on to a small porch area that had coat hooks, welly boots and other odds and ends. Today in certain gentrified circles it would be called a ‘boot room’ I suspect. At the advent of the vicar’s visit the porch would be very hastily tidied up a bit. We would be warned to be polite and well behaved and by the time he knocked on the door all was prepared. He would be offered tea and cake (it was always an afternoon visit) and once one cup had been consumed my mother would utter the words “more tea vicar?”. For some reason those words became a signal for suppressed giggles and too this day bring a smile to my face. So much so that when many, many yeas later I lived next door to a clergyman it was always my ambition to make an excuse to say “more tea vicar”.

The visits of the vicar passed into family legend, not because of the tea drinking, but because on his way out down the path he would always admire, in fulsome terms, my father’s fruit and vegetables. Not only he note their quite splendid quality and profusion but more especially he always follow this praise with some comment that clearly indicated that a contribution of greengrocery to the vicarage stores would be very welcome. He would come equipped with a capacious bag into the depths of which our contribution would disappear, to join the vegetables and fruit of other parishioners.
Once he was out of earshot my mother would reflect, some what sardonically, on his ability to make so many people feel that it was their Christian duty to feed the occupants of the Vicarage. Away he would go, wobbling up the hill and along the lane on his ancient bicycle.

He was eventually succeeded by a rather more upper crust individual who appeared to be the epitome of the stereo typical country vicar. A vey pleasant man in so many ways. The vicar that was eventually my neighbour was of a similar type and a most charming and kindly man but under that exterior lurked a great intellect and an interesting individual with a somewhat naughty sense of humour. When I told him of my ambition to say “more tea vicar” he laughed loudly and suggested that “ more sherry vicar” or similar would be much more welcome.

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Today has been cold and windy again with occasional sunshine. I thought I would include this picture of some of my tulips because, although they were a cheap bag of bulbs, they seem to have turned out rather well.

As I have been indoors all day I have spent most of the time baking. Some small chocolate cupcakes or as my mother called them buns and some Alice biscuits from a recipe given to me by my sister. These are absolutely delicious – made with coconut and chocolate among other ingredients and iced with a super chocolate icing. Probably extremely bad for you!

When looking out of the kitchen window today, at the bird feeders, I was thrilled to see a long tailed tit as well as a tiny gold crest. I had never seen one before and at first thought it was a wren. There are less birds coming to the feeders at the moment. Plenty of great tits and blue tits and they were all ambushed by a small flock of bully boy starlings this morning. The little birds took refuge in the Forsythia bush biding their time.

Today seems like a wasted day in some ways. I have been planning some alterations to the garden however but as they may require some muscle and strength they may have to be tackled slowly. Although I am being urged to get someone in to do the hard labour I am reticent about doing so in the present circumstances. An alternative is to invest in some kind mini cultivator but this could be a false economy. All seems to be conundrums and questions. I have plans to make a purpose built frame for my sweet peas and for this I need a dedicated piece of ground. Loads of work required. Should I just compromise this year and put the plants around make shift wigwams of canes? Not how I envisaged it but perhaps it might have to be. The lan was a good one though. Would look really colourful and I could try and grow some really splendid sweet peas. Oh well – I shall keep planning and trying to think my way round the problem.

 

An Exciting Day!

A marginally exciting day today. Fairly early this morning as I took a quick look at my emails I noticed one from Waitrose. It seems that they have realised I qualify to be in the elderly/vulnerable list and am therefore able to qualify for preferential treatment. The upshot of a very long email was that if I got my skates on I might be able to get a delivery. Faster than a rabbit down a hole I scurried to my computer, typed in my password and then became flustered. I had no idea what I had put in my virtual trolley but I was determined t get it delivered what ever it was. Fast track to the delivery slots – I had only limited time to complete – I could only find one. I virtually grabbed it. Next Friday. Hurrah. I paid and then printed out the list. A strange combination of products as it turns out but I have been able to add to the list. A complete success.

I have also managed to master FaceTime and have had a fun conversation with both of my children. All good so far. Then I remembered some fruit I had bought several months before Christmas. Not just any fruit but some cherries preserved in kirsch. Bought at a family owned supermarket that from time to time has such luxury items. It would be ideal I decided for pudding tonight. But where was it? Certain that I knew which cupboard they were in I set too. Half a cupboard emptied on to the kitchen floor and my head and shoulders in the cupboard but to no avail. No sign of the rather nice jar of cherries. Thinking I miss remembered I searched other food cupboards. No luck. I tried again today. Still no luck until I removed the contents of a cupboard in which I keep my baking tins and there it was, under the tins. Why did I put it there? I have absolutely no idea! However, boozy pud tonight I think.

Probably good that I had all of these displacement activities today because the weather is pretty awful. So far we have had sleet, rain, cold northeasterly wind blowing at near gale force and a little sunshine.

March Wind

Today seems to have been one of those somewhat nondescript days. Domestic chores have over taken me. Nevertheless it is impossible to ignore the ferocious gusting wind that is roaring through the trees in the yard across the drive. A great day for getting the washing dry! No walk today – too cold and blowy. No gardening either.

I have, however, managed to arrange a delivery of fruit and vegetables from a local greengrocer. Small achievements take on a great significance in these times.

 

March Wind

Rumbustious roaring wind
North easterly, steel sharp,
Rages around the house,
Buffeting trees and bushes,
Scattering snow flake blossom.

Clashing naked branches rattle,
Gusting waves strike the yew.
Beyond the garden, on the marsh,
Backs to the wind, sheep graze.
Silvered reeds lurch and lunge,
Rasping, hoarse against the tide.

No sound but the wind.