Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Aimless (1)

My mum was born in 1931, in Cornwall. My grandad had his own coffin-making business. My nan was a housewife.

My grandad had been in the Great War. He’d been gassed in the trenches. He never talked about it.

My mum had an older brother and two younger sisters. Her brother used to catch rabbits and keep ferrets on his person, under his clothes. All four children were given 'opening' medicine by my nan. They’d get caught short in the fields and have to use dock leaves to wipe their arses.

My nan didn't think much of life. Her most common saying was ‘Life is hell on earth'. As her family were always pretty well-off in the scheme of things, there must have been a depressive streak running through her. She was certainly not one to think of the deprivations of others less fortunate living lives that could truly be called 'hell'.

During the Second World War, my grandad joined the army but was discharged quite quickly. They didn't want old'uns like him. He moved to Welling in south-east London where he lodged and worked locally as a clerk of works.

My mum, meanwhile, was living the idyllic Cornish life, far away from the action. I have an image of my mum running on Marazion beach as a German bomber flies overhead. Jerry looks down and waves.

My dad was born in Bexley in 1932. Born in the same council house he grew up in, the one his mum eventually died in. My dad’s dad was a labourer for the council. He could have been a footballer. Arsenal wanted him but he chose the security of a steady council job.

My dad used to say my grandad was as fast as a whippet and, being small, would run with the ball between big centre halves’ legs. Centre halves were giants back then.

My dad’s mum, like my mum’s, was a housewife. She was more cheerful than my mum’s mum.

My dad’s childhood was idyllic, too. He loved the countryside. A teacher once addressed him in front of the class and said he knew that all my dad wanted was to be in a field, alone, miles from anyone and anywhere.

My dad was evacuated to Derbyshire during the war. Bexley was close enough to London to be bombed. My dad loved Derbyshire. I never knew a place with beautiful countryside that my dad went to that he didn’t love, that he didn’t want to move to.

The war ended and my mum’s dad sold his coffin-making business in Cornwall and bought the house he was staying in, in Welling. The family moved from Cornwall for good. My grandparents knew there was nothing in Cornwall for young women. My mum would have had to marry a farmer, muck out for the rest of her life. The girls wanted more than that. They wanted work, glamour, lights and life. Life, not the slow death of the countryside. Not the sort of place my dad dreamt of.


  1. Daphne du Maurier, Mick Fleetwood and Rory McGrath. Famous people from Cornwall that would have confirmed your Nan's view on life.
    Welling never struck me as a centre of glamour but all things are comparative I suppose.

  2. The Aphex Twin is a happy bunny, though.

    Welling in the 1940s was the glamour capital of Europe, I'll have you know!

  3. Oh it's like D.H Lawrence - rural and urban doom collision; eventually someone chases a spouse round the kitchen table waving a knife shouting "I am the master!" (That happened in Cornwall, y'know).

  4. My dad needed to be more brooding, really. The action doesn't really get going for 25 years by which time Lawrence's characters would be dying.

  5. I've had the muck AND the glamour.

    And I'm thinking that would be a good title for MY autobiography.

  6. 'Opening medicine'?

    Anyhow, Welling, Bexleyheath, Swanley... t'was all green fields back then?

  7. MJ - When you've had the muck the glamour tastes that much sweeter.

    Scarlet - It was one big orchard owned by Lord Cox-Pippin. But the bright lights of London were on the horizon.

  8. I expect all this self-reflection is tiring.

    Would you like a cuppa tea?

  9. I haven't written a word today. But I've had 3 cuppas!

  10. Don't forget to get up and stretch your legs every now and then.

  11. I do Pilates on the hour.

  12. An excellent vignette. Funny how people past were so obsessed with bowels. Though in some ways they were actually ahead of their time as chronic constipation can eventually lead to cancer if the body is not expelling its toxins regularly and efficiently.

  13. I think my mum and aunts' digestive problems later in life could have been down to too much intervention early on.