My daddy died on the 9th of November 1969, when I was eight years old.
In those days, no-one discussed death with small people and so I knew very, very little of what happened to him. I have a copy of his death certificate that I inherited from my mother when she died, five years after he did. So I have known for over forty-five years that he was buried on the island of Barbados, but I haven’t ever plucked up the courage to find whereabouts on the island. It’s not a very big island so I guess I’ve always assumed it wouldn’t be too hard to find, when push came to shove.
So, the shoving is happening soon.
In the wee hours of this day, as others slumber, I am too excited to sleep. There are many reasons for this, but primarily it’s because I’ve finally realised that this is actually real and we will be going on the holiday of a lifetime in a few short weeks.
Millionaire’s paradise, playground of the rich and famous.
Exquisite, beauteous jewel isle at the very edge of the Caribbean, where the days are warm and sunny for almost all the time.
It’s also the place I spent some of my early years – regular readers will already know this. I arrived in early October 1966, just before the island declared Independence from Great Britain and lived through some interesting historical times, including the installation of the first Prime Minister, Errol Barrow. The school I attended stands adjacent to the Government House and I recall watching parade ground antics from my classroom window. I was fascinated by the white plumed hats.
It all ended with the death of my daddy, who wasn’t my (biological) father, but was always my daddy. It was a cold hard bump to find myself in England, in winter, after the warmth and beauty of island heaven. I knew it was because he had died, but couldn’t, for the life of me, fathom why we had to leave and return to Blighty. If only someone had thought me worthy of explanation.
My FAB Hubby has long promised that we will go there to see the place I spent time growing up – it’s just about the one place that I’ve never had any likelihood of an opportunity to revisit. This hallowed trip has taken on mammoth proportions and when the promise seemed to be starting to materialise a few short weeks ago, I’ve steadfastly promised myself that I would NOT get excited or begin planning anything because, well, I didn’t dare to dream that it might really happen.
But dammit, life is too short to not allow oneself the pleasure of anticipation, the thrill of planning what to do and where to go during our visit. So tonight, I gave in to the Dark Side and dove in.
It is simply breathtaking to think that I’m actually going to go.
So I’ve been downloading pictures to use as my screen savers – they’re not my photos, so I’ll not use them here (except the one below -I can’t resist since this is where I learned to swim!) , but you dear reader, yes, I am talking to YOU! -You WILL get to see all the gazillion photos I will be taking myself. With my own camera. With my own eyes. Oh, YES! (I am a tad excited about that prospect, you may just detect a nuance of exhilaration. It may take a while to pass!). I may have to buy a new camera to be sure of capturing everything just so.
And then I stopped and realised something.
I Googled cemetery’s in Barbados and not only found the Westbury Cemetery immediately, but found my daddy’s records in mere seconds.
I think it’s going to be the first place we’ll go to.
I’ll let you know.
As ever, thanks for reading!
‘Hey mum! Guess what I woke up to this morning?’ the GUS, Toby gabbled, somewhat excitedly down the phone.
‘Do tell!’ I replied, not really quite prepared for the response.
‘Only a flying fireman, who, for the first few moments I thought might be a wizard because he seemed to be levitating outside my window!’ were quite possibly the last combination of words that I thought he might utter. Especially when you consider that his new student digs are on the fifth floor of the halls of residence.
(Rest assured, dear reader, he hasn’t completely lost it – the fire station is directly behind the student apartments’ building and the fireman concerned was NOT actually levitating.
‘Cos, y’know, they can’t really do that. It would be wizardry if they could. Cool and all, but not actually real.
I think he was on some sort of platform or something. I don’t know, ‘cos I wasn’t there, but I’m using my noodle to try and keep up with the conversation. The things I do for you guys!)
It’s been a busy month or so, with many ups and downs, getting the GUS ready to fledge.
A year or so ago we watched the magnificent BBC wildlife programme, ‘Penguins – spy in the huddle‘ which truly is worth your time to watch. Toby and I adored it – well who wouldn’t? It’s all about fabulous Antarctic Emperor Penguins, Peruvian Humbold Penguins and Falkland Rock Hopper Penguins, birds who know a thing or two about parenting. Penguins are perhaps the ultimate ‘cute’ wildlife, with their formal-looking attire and distinctive waddle, especially the new-born chicks who are covered with extra-fluffy down and have eyes like saucers.
In one episode, which was about the growing-up stage of life, there’s a memorable moment where one particularly prodigious penguin chick, who is almost as large as his hapless mother, continually demands that she feed him. RIGHT NOW.
He pecks at her increasingly emaciated beak mercilessly, ever more clamorous in his beseeching; she obliges well beyond what is seemingly appropriate or even moral until a final morsel is despatched and a line is crossed.
The girl is simply not giving up another morsel of food to this gargantuan greenhorn – she’s had it.
She turns on her heels (ok … give me a little licence here people, I’m setting the scene OK?) well flippers/feet or whatever and waddles off into the Great Beyond – a featureless sheet of icy tundra that she has called ‘Home’ for the past few months. Not a sniff, nor a sigh nor even a wistful peek over her shoulder at the offspring she’s left behind, to fend for himself. She just heads on out of there, entirely focussed on where she’s going.
We both welled up with tears when we watched it – it was a sad moment and seemed portentous to both of us, perhaps for different reasons. For me, it was the willingness to simply abandon her chick, whom she and her partner Emperor had created, birthed and raised over the past few months. But then, she’s probably done this before and will likely do the same again next year, so perhaps her ambivalence is understandable – a girl has to get her goodies when she can in the real world it seems.Toby, on the other hand, was probably empathising with youngster, imagining how it must feel to watch your loving mother simply walk away from you – maybe never to be seen again.
It’s possible that he was (in his own mind at least) trying to encourage the chick to look on the bright side – surely this means that it’s PAHTAY TIME! It’s also more than likely that his addiction to ‘Happy Feet’ when it first came out may well have had greater influence on his thinking than either you or I could imagine.
He dried his eye as David Tennant (the narrator on the programme) deftly distracted our attention by switching to the Peruvian Humbolds, hopping and skipping towards the perilous seas, falling around like calamitous Charlie Chaplin’s yet perkily popping back, right-side up, defying the ocean’s gormandizing at every turn. It’s a brilliant programme which I would highly recommend to all and sundry. Go watch it – even if you’ve seen it already, you won’t be disappointed by watching again!
So, the idea of fledging has been raking up these mixed emotions in all of us for quite some time now.
A little while back I took a photo which won first place in a competition.
I called the photo ‘Empty Nest’ and described the way that a simple abandoned broken egg shell in a local cemetery seemed to be a visual representation of this feeling of loss when, finally, the last of our offspring leaves home to begin their own adult lives.
I’ve been feeling odd for a couple of months really. It’s hard to describe – the sense of total devastation and loss that after thirty-five years of having our young around, this last-first-day-ever would bring, paired with the other extreme – elation, that after thirty-five years we can finally do whatever takes our fancy, whenever we feel like doing so without having to consider the needs of our children has pushed me on a roller coaster of emotion like none I’ve ever experienced before. And I hate roller coasters – anyone who knows me will tell you that.
It’s a good job I’ve been so very busy.
Planning a new business.
Writing a student cookery book (which is almost finished, but not quite!)
Making sure that the GUS has everything he needs to start his new life, when we have barely two farthings to rub together. Cooking meals and freezing them in advance of his departure, so that he wouldn’t starve in the first week. No, not much likelihood of that – he’s a strapping lad, built like all great rugby players. But in my mind’s eye he’s still a teeny little scrap, with wobbly legs and an ever open, saucer-like blue eyes that beseech me to love him, to care for him and (above all else of course) to feed him.
It’s never easy, this parenting lark, is it?
I was most touched by his gift to me before he left. It’s the very first time he’s bought me flowers. I’ve always disliked chrysanthemums ’til now. Now I think I love them.
So, whilst I watch everyone on social media posting their pictures of their little ones, many in their first-day-at-school-ever poses (including my adorable grand-daughter, Scarlett) and smile at their expressions, their eagerness and their wonderful innocent glows, for the last time, I’m posting my youngest child’s departure from home, his embarkation on the ocean liner of life, my last-first-day-ever photos.
Thanks for reading again, my friends! I’ll try not to be so long between posts again 🙂
Well, that went well.
It’s been a week of good fortune so far in the Gregory family. Good news for our daughter who has secured a fabulous step on her ladder to success which is likely to involve her moving back to London and jetting around Europe and the US doing what she loves and is brilliant at – publishing books. She’s a very private person so I won’t go on about it too much here, just enough to make it clear that I am very proud of her.
Good news also for the GUS.
It was a tense weekend, with sessions in front of the TV, watching the ‘How to pass your practical driving test’ on repeat for most of Saturday, followed by a couple of hours more rehearsing for battle in the chariot on Sunday.
I was mindful of his first attempts at driving, which involved a turquoise, cerise and gold coloured ‘Li’l Tykes’ vehicle, powered by a pair of very sturdy little legs, in a somewhat haphazard fashion around the large living room of our various apartments in Hong Kong – some of the rooms were large enough to cope well, some weren’t. I do recall (vividly) Toby’s elder sister, Natalie and her teenage friends attempting to squeeze themselves into said vehicle to provide an exemplar for the little chap; indelibly etched upon my memory are the sights of Elle (who was actually mostly small enough to sit reasonably comfortably in the tiny driving seat) and Tom (who, frankly, wasn’t) with legs akimbo protruding from the non-existent windscreen and a backside hanging out of the equally hypothetical rear window, which gave new meaning to the word ‘booty’.
Thankfully, these long-buried anamneses have not adversely affected the GUS’s will to learn to drive, although I suspect there may be some therapy bill in the future for ironing out issues raised by such recollections!
In the US, young drivers can begin ‘Drivers’ Education Classes’ in many high schools – I’m not certain, but I think they have to be at least fourteen and a half years old to begin learning to drive. I’ve always thought it would be one very important thing that here in the UK we could consider. Get ’em whilst they’re young and perhaps this will result in more careful drivers when they eventually obtain a full driving licence. It’s not common practice here though, since in order to drive any vehicle at all in the UK the driver MUST have reached the age of seventeen (or, in some exceptional cases usually involving an enhanced mobility component, sixteen). Farmers children can and often do learn to drive tractors at an earlier age, which I think they’re allowed to do on private land (i.e. around their farm) but unless you have some exceptional reason for needing to drive at a younger age, seventeen is the magic number for young motorists here.
So when the GUS reached the designated number of days upon this Earth, he sent off for his provisional driving licence and studied, off and on, to pass the theory test. More off than on the first time round as I recall… but that obstacle was cleared in a matter of two or three months and since then he’s been revving up the Astra on a regular basis with those badges of progress emblazoned firmly on the front and rear of the vehicle – the dreaded ‘L’ plates.
We tried the magnetic ones to start with. Twelve sets of little white squares fluttered joyfully into the ether, freed from their entrancing tethering before we gave in and stuck the markers to the car. It may have been a tad embarrassing to careen around in a carriage marked as an inexperienced coachman, but such is the lot of parents – to do what needs to be done and be thankful for the opportunity.
The day finally came yesterday when the GUS would be tested on his SACKs of motoring proficiency. For those who aren’t teachers, I should probably explain what SACK means – it’s an acronym that stands for Skills, Attitude, Concepts and Knowledge. It’s always made me giggle to think of students carrying around these ever-growing hessian duffel bags filled with parcels labelled ‘Skill: can type quickly’ and ‘Attitude:is considerate of others’, as well as ‘Concept: understands how to walk across a road without dying’ and the inestimable ‘Knowledge: reads at level 43(b) with great expression’, as if this is any use to anyone, except for OFSTED inspectors, but I digress once more. I’m not supposed to be moaning about the burden of teachers any more. Or maybe I will moan thus, but not today.
He’s a good driver. He can make the car go forwards AND backwards at reasonable and responsible speeds AND he knows where to find the tyre pressure requirements at a glance (which, incidentally, was more than I knew until Sunday, perhaps an indicator of how useful this knowledge actually is when you’re driving!). He’d overcome his fear of heeding his father’s advice to make it obvious when he’s looking in the mirrors so that the examiner cannot be under any impression that if there was a twenty-foot tall green and purple dinosaur strolling somewhat inexplicably two cars behind, then Toby will have definitely have made eye-contact with it and have a fully-formed plan of action to deal with any unheralded flight of fancy that it might take.
He was ready.
He passed. First time. With only three minor errors.
Way. To. GO!
Clearly months of driving back and forth to York along the infamous 64 has its advantages – experience will always stand you in good stead. I’m really very proud of Toby for this success – job well done. Onwards and upwards from here!
Thanks for reading again my friends – looks like we may crack a milestone sometime very soon – almost ten thousand hits already!
It is finally here… our youngest child had reached adulthood at last. Tobias Mark Gregory was born this day in the Matilda Hospital, on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong at 3.56am and so he has now reached the grand age of eighteen, which makes him a proper, fully fledged grown-up person. Actually, due to time differences, we noted he was actually 18 at 7.56pm last night!
It’s a day I’ve been thinking about for a very long time. If you read my last piece, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the prospect of an empty nest after all of these years with at least one small person to take care of, to look out for, to nourish and to cherish, is a somewhat daunting one. It’s a momentous day for us.
Toby was a wonderful addition to our family who has brought so much joy and happiness with him. He has sunshine in his heart and something else that is all-too-rare a quality, he is a genuinely kind and loving person. I don’t know what the future holds for him of course, but I know that the world is a much better place for having him here in it.
He has grown from a wee little Piglet (his older sisters were Pooh Bear and Tigger) into a gentle giant with grace, a keen eye for detail and a robustly dry and quick sense of humour. He is great fun to be with.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing of course… the sheer number of times I’ve been astounded that he is still alive is too many to keep count. From febrile convulsions in infancy and falling head first into a playground sign (five stitches in the forehead, aged three) and again from a thirty-foot rock face (overnight in hospital thanks to concussion, aged five), through a dozen sporting injuries and consequent trips in ambulances from pitch-side to A&E departments – that’s what you get for playing hockey AND rugby from such an early age I suppose – to peritonitis and broken ankles in later teenage years. He has a medical rap-sheet of misadventures that belies his cheerful smile. I can only say that it’s a good job he isn’t actually a cat, because he’s used up ALL nine lives and then some!
I can’t think of a better way to congratulate my big boy, who will forever be my Neanderthal, although I suppose now he’s an adult I should call him my ‘Young Man’. I’ve collected together some photos of his life so far and I hope this little Tobys 18th birthday (click on the words to watch it!) slideshow works to say Happy Birthday Toby!
Thanks for reading!
As I was washing up the breakfast porridge this morning I heard the familiar scuffling noise as the postman delivered the morning mail and I sing-song-shouted my usual ‘Thank you!’ to his rapidly disappearing frame as he trundled back down the lengthy garden path. He raised his arm in a gesture of acknowledgement and I swear he was chuckling to himself as he went on his way.
The reason for the chuckle soon became very clear as I bent down to pick up the solitary item on the doormat. A letter, about A5 sized (approximately 8 inches x 5½ inches) sat there, beaming up at me. It was addressed to ‘Nana, Grandad + Toby’, so I knew who it was from even before I picked it up.
As I picked it up, smiling inside, I turned it over and this is what greeted me:
There was a fair amount of glue and sticky tape holding this little bundle of love together, which required some very careful and rather tricky negotiation, but eventually, we managed to prise it open and feast upon the great gift held so tightly within its depths.
Auntie Donna (that is Harrie’s aunt, not mine of course, because that would be a very difficult relationship to explain… Donna being my daughter and all… 🙂 ) had been looking after Harrie on Monday as she was too poorly to go to school, after a weekend of coughing, raised temperatures and the now familiar consequences.
Harrie simply adores school and was terribly miffed at not being well enough to be with her teacher so she had asked Donna to help her to do some schoolwork, such is her devotion to her studies – dedication that many others could learn a great lesson from (mentioning no names, Mr Neanderthol… 🙂 ). Let’s not forget, Harriet is nearly four now, so these things matter a great deal to her. Donna had found an excellent compromise – let’s write a letter to Nana!
I give you the contents of the letter – I am sure Harrie won’t mind me sharing them with you all, because I challenge anyone to not feel instantly cheered by the wonderful simplicity of this fabulous message, in pictorial form – ‘You are my lovely family, I think of you often and I love you so very much!’. For those who need to be more literal, I’ll interpret the drawings for you: Back row, left to right Toby, Grandad and Nana (the one with all the hair – boy, she’s nailed that one!) all holding hands; front row – Harrie, eating a doughnut. Of course.
Yep, feeling very pleased to be a loved Nana today!
Thanks for reading again!
A couple of weekends ago our nephew and his lovely fiancée were married at the Gomersal Park Hotel.
As always here in England, we all worried about the weather; an unnecessary concern as it turned out, because the day was perfect, slightly cooler in the morning, so that all the important people didn’t soak their precious garments in buckets of perspiration, lovely and warm with intermittent sunshine during the afternoon, giving photographs a glorious quality of bright, sparkly light.
I had been asked to take some photos by Lee and Lyndsey at least a year ago, when they first floated the date within the family – August Bank Holiday weekend is notorious for downpours and this probability was high on my radar for potential difficulties on the day. Of course I agreed to do the honours – I do like to take a couple of pictures every now and then, which, if you’re a regular reader, you may already be aware of. I decided to take a positive approach. If I refused to believe that rain might spoil the day and mean that I have to engage in Plan B, then it simply WOULD NOT happen. I’m quite impressed by the power of positive thinking sometimes!
It was probably just as well, because Plan B was not very well thought out.
In fact, it didn’t really exist.
I’m prepared to admit this now, two and a half weeks later, when its actuality is irrelevant. It was never needed, so why worry about it?
So, Plan A was simple.
- Go to the bride’s house (actually, the bridesmaid’s house but let’s not get too picky here!), an hour and a half’s drive from mine, arriving by eight-thirty on W-Day.
- Take a bunch of *getting ready* pictures.
- Follow the bride to the venue.
- Get out of my car ahead of her arrival in order to capture her arrival.
- Capture the Wedding Party as they began their traipsing down/up the aisle.
- Rush to the front and capture the Father of the Bride giving his daughter away.
- Capture as much of the ceremony as possible, as well as some of the audience/witnesses expressions during sai ceremony.
- Rush to back in order to capture the newly-weds as they embark along the aisle towards their new life, together.
- Go outside & capture the guests’ joy at what has just happened -including the throwing of rice or confetti over the new Mr & Mrs Deaves.
- Begin the process of photographing everyone in every possible combination known to man and mathematicians;
- NB: Allocate Ushers to the job of ensuring people are where they are needed at appropriate times
- Make sure the Ushers have a copy of The Plan.
- Include some of the bride’s personal requests regarding particular images she wanted to capture (there’s a rather fetching log to drape brides over – presumably to show the dress off to maximum advantage).
- Try to survive this PLAN without having a heart-attack or personal meltdown.
OK. Looking at it in black and white like this, I can see that there are some minor faults.
Perhaps, it may not have been as simple as I had thought.
The first part of the plan went fairly well… I arrived early enough, drank tea, fiddled with my equipment and took about four hundred shots – many of the adorable new addition to the family, ten-day-old Evelyn. I have to say that her Zen-like approach to the occasion may well be an important lesson for all of us to emulate! I have many shots like this one, where she was napping peacefully, looking like a perfect angel.
Lots of preparation shots, including some adorable ones of The Dress, went well too. There was the inevitable photo-bomb, when snapping away on the upstairs landing, *someone* (notice my discretion there – not naming the culprit!) popped out of the bedroom, right behind the bride and her mum, to ask for some assistance with their dress – their state of undress could have been embarrassing. Fortunately, the two subjects shielded the ‘bomber’ and everyone’s dignity was maintained. Phew!
Everyone was readied, one by one. The Page Boys and Flower Girl looked particularly angelic, for a few minutes at least. The bride’s parents adjusted each other’s buttonholes/sprays and smiled lovingly at each other. People always forget that parents have so much invested in these occasions – that little look an indication of the lifetime of commitment they have given to each other, culminating in this special day for their child. It is the look of love. The bridesmaid arrived downstairs, looking perfect. And then finally, here came the bride. Shining with inner joy, she gracefully posed for photos with her family and the wedding party before they all departed, leaving only the bride and myself to wait for her father’s return. Those last few minutes seemed to take an age. I’m particularly pleased with some of the images from this time.
The, at last, her dad returned and smiling broadly, they posed for a final picture at home. Folding the dress into the car, checking all the doors’ ribbons and finally driving off to the venue. Not a sign of nerves.
Then things went slightly awry – I managed to take an alternative (some would say *wrong*) route to the venue, losing the bridal car in traffic and arriving some ten minutes after them. Fortunately, FAB hubby HAD plan B tucked away at the back of his mind and managed to take some shots for me whilst I found the *right* route and rocked up eventually, a little flustered, but not a lost cause. No siree, not me!
The ceremony went exactly as planned and then we were into the home stretch – just the ‘formal’ pictures to capture.
I may have been a little more successful if I had experience in kitten herding! I think, should I embark upon a venture such as this in the future, I may invest in a Border Collie, a special whistle and take a few lessons in shepherding from Jon Katz and the exemplary Red. That, or maybe a loudhailer. Or, perhaps, a magnum of champagne – that way, I simply won’t care if I’ve managed to photograph everyone!
When all was said and done though, it was a beautiful wedding, enjoyed by all and I hope that the bride and groom will enjoy looking through the three or four hundred photos that I will have eventually have whittled the occasion down to (from the eighteen hundred ++ that were taken!), when they get back from honeymoon in Mexico, later this week. I hope they’ll like them. Then it will have been worthwhile.
Congratulations to Mr and Mrs Deaves!
Thanks for reading once again!
Earlier this week, my father-in-law’s emotional, uncontrolled weeping as he sat next to me looking at my computer screen gave me serious cause for concern that my attempts to achieve something useful had, in fact, had the polar opposite effect. I was, as always, worried that I had inadvertently provoked this spontaneous, tear-jerking reaction and that he would never forgive me for my transgression. I know I’m a bit difficult at times, but surely not enough to bring a grown man to tears?
As I wracked my brain to consider the possibilities that may have led to this event, another, perhaps less rational part of my grey-matter began to muse on the following: angels live amongst us, of this I am sure. Sometimes, their presence is fleeting, so that we barely notice them until they leave. And then, when an inexplicable hole appears in our lives, we grapple with grief and anguish. Only occasionally do we realise that we have been touched by something celestial and awesome in the most inspirational sense of the word. Perhaps my action was the immediate trigger, but these heart-rending sobs clearly had a deeper, more visceral origin. An angel was affecting him, as she has done for every one of the sixteen thousand, six hundred and fifty-odd days since she left him. Her name is Tina Denise.
My biological father and I have never met, although I recently found out a great deal more about him than I ever had in the first half-century of my life.
My Daddy, the man who was married to my mother, died when I was eight years old. When my mother died five years later, I was looked after by my (much older) brother and his wife, along with their family of five children (my nieces and nephews) who were all of a similar age to me. It was a very complicated arrangement that many found difficult to understand, particularly when I went to the same school as my two eldest nieces who were both older than me. Other teenagers simply couldn’t get their heads round the fact that I was their aunt, yet they were older than me. Did that make my brother my father? This was a typically poorly considered question that I usually answered with a withering glare. Possibly, this was also (in part) where my rather bizarre sense of humour comes from.
So, having a father-figure in my life had been a tad hit-and-miss until I was eighteen and met my husband. My husband had a ‘Dad’ and I found this intriguing from the outset. I had no real idea of how to *be* around this man, who looked remarkably similar to my then boyfriend, just a few years older perhaps. There’s a number of hilarious stories involving Mark (my hubby) and his Dad in farcical mistaken identity scenarios resulting in the elder being thrown out of pubs at the age of around forty, whilst his seventeen-year-old son happily knocked back a few pints in the tap-room. Bar staff in local pubs simply couldn’t tell who was who unless they were standing side by side.
You see, Mark’s father had a very youthful appearance. as you can probably see from the picture … go on, have a guess at his age in this photo… what do you think, maybe fifteen? Sixteen? In truth, he was about eighteen when this was taken. 1957 -ish. I’ll just let you absorb that for a moment.
I found myself attached to his son a quarter of a century later and with my husband came his family. For many people this can be a difficult transition, meeting the family, hoping they’ll like you and that you will like them – but right from the start, Mark’s Dad became my Dad, with his warm smile, irrepressible charm and generous spirit; qualities that he had passed to his son osmosically. And yes, I know that’s a made up word. That’s how I roll. It should be a word and now, I’ve made it one!
I mention this because when you consider the traumas he had lived through in his life, it is utterly remarkable that he showed little evidence of any difficulties in his demeanor or visage. Not a crinkle or a wrinkle in sight. Clearly, some supernatural force is at work here! No-one looks that young for that long, unless of course they are policemen, who look younger by the day, I swear.
Not long after I met his family, Mark told me about their circumstances and the fact that he had once had two sisters, but that his youngest sister, known to everyone as Little Tina, had died when she was three, some twelve years before we had met. Leukaemia had been tragically diagnosed when she was very small and the young family had lived with the consequences for over eighteen months. She had responded well to treatment to start with and after initial hospitalization went into remission. Unfortunately this was not a permanent circumstance and shortly after her third birthday, in October 1968 she passed away. The only photograph her bereaved parents displayed was a very small oval picture of her in a little knitted dress, standing next to a bush in Seacroft Hospital gardens, grinning broadly, but clearly affected by her medication. The photograph had faded very badly over the years, taking on an unpleasant greenish hue that made it look overly antiquated. It almost felt as if she had faded into oblivion when I looked at this miniature portrait, as it became ever more ghostly.
I was empathic, for I too had suffered similar calamities and it was one more thing that seemed to bind us together. I didn’t, at that point at least, consider the actual impact on Mark’s parents until we had children of our own. I visited Little Tina’s grave with my fiancée and lent my moral support whenever and wherever I could. I had always found that those people who had experience of such losses were more understanding of my plight as an orphan and that they usually offered few words – perhaps knowing that words are generally less comforting than actions: so I complied with the general rule of mentioning her only very, very rarely, if at all.
But as time passed, I found myself weeping silent tears for the loss of this small child, especially when our second daughter was born, as she had so many similar characteristics; a startling physical resemblance coupled with some uncannily agnatic mannerisms and personality traits. I was painfully aware that Dad found being around Natalie when she was between two and three particularly challenging. Part of me was ever-so-slightly upset for my daughter, after all, it wasn’t her fault that she had this genetic link and shared so many idiosyncrasies with her deceased aunt.
Seeing him suffer, albeit in silence, tugged at my heart-strings though, much more firmly than my concerns for my own child. I began to consider what it must have been like to lose a cherub at such a tender age. Mark had often mentioned the frequent stints spent at his gran’s home (where he was born) mostly after school or at weekends or during school holidays, when their parents were busy at the hospital with their sick child. Dad would return to pick them up and walk them home, telling stories to them all the time; frequently he would be sporting a new tie that had been cut, up near to the knot at his neck, as Little Tina had been holding tightly to it as she fell asleep. His mother was equally torn between spending time with one child at the expense of the other two. It must have been an agonizing choice.
And then I realised how very young they must have both been when this all happened – in 1968, Dad was 29 and Mum only 26. The cost of travelling to and from the hospital must have been a heavy financial burden as well as physically and emotionally draining. The incredible uncertainty of the unknown – would this treatment work? would she improve sufficiently to come home? how long would she suffer? – must have also taken a significant toll on their sanity as well as everything else. Yet, they came through and were able to pull together, regroup and get on with their own lives as well as their surviving children, giving them an otherwise remarkably happy and settled childhood. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much bravery this must have required from them both. I cried a river mourning for them and for the lost relationship with my unknown sister-in-law.
And so, when Dad asked me for a little help in restoring a long-lost photo of Tina Denise (Little Tina’s full given names), which was taken in the hospital activity room, whilst she was receiving some treatment, I agreed instantly. He said that he’d heard I was a bit of a whizz with Photoshop and could I do anything with the photo, even though it was badly showing its age, with not only faded colours, but several large cracks when the paper had been bent and folded in the box. I didn’t hesitate to agree. How could I refuse?
Here’s the original photo he gave me to work with:
He wasn’t wrong… it was in dreadful condition. He instructed me to do whatever I could with it, maybe take his cousin Irene (the lady with blonde hair on the left) out of the picture, so that it could just be a picture of Tina knitting. You can see the concentration on her face; you can also see the canula taped to her cherubic, chubby left arm, a stark reminder of the circumstances. His voice cracked just a tad as he spoke to me on the phone about the project. I reassured him that I’d do whatever I could to give him a picture he could treasure. I’m not sure he believed me. I’m not sure I had any confidence that I could do a good job. But I was determined to give it my best shot.
So, here’s my best shot:
When he saw the image for the first time, his silence was devastating. I was terribly concerned that he was disappointed or annoyed that I had not done a good enough job.
When I looked at his face, I saw the tears, streaming down his face.
For the first time in over forty six years, he could see his little girl.
She was real again.
His eyesight, which had never been spectacular even in his youth, has been fading steadily for many years and the tiny oval photo’s evanescent countenance had blotted her from view. But here she was, in full colour, looking remarkably lively and cheerful.
He loved it.
Hence the tears. Happy tears.
An angel touched him once more. I’m so glad I was able to bring them both back together.
Thanks for reading.
Regular readers of this blog may already be familiar with some of the tid-bits that I’ve hinted at over these past nine months or so, regarding the development of what I hope will be a magnificent story, that of my own ancestral shenanigans. My anticipation that it will be a tale of epic proportions is well-founded. Some of you who are personal friends already know that I’ve had this dramatic story up my sleeve for what feels like a millennium, but is in reality no more than maybe forty years or so.
Still, that’s nearly my whole lifetime so far and in any respects is a long time to be brewing up a storm.
I have an excellent reason why it has taken me so long to reach this moment of clarity. People usually relate stories about their experiences from their own point of view. Sometimes, for a whole range of reasons, people embellish the details – usually in order to present themselves in the best possible light to their audience, perhaps to absolve themselves of blame for perceived wrong-doings.
Often, this embellishment will increase in complexity with repeated recounting of the story to a point where identifiable lies are clearly committed and the story becomes, literally, unbelievable. And then, some go beyond this point, to where the unbelievable has become so incredulously outrageous that the audience begin to question their own perspectives and consider that there may, indeed be a nugget of truth here, within that which is obvious obfuscation.
This is where my story lies. It’s actually where my mother’s story lies. And yes, I’m using the word *lies* because it has a multitude of meanings. This story is complex, yet simple. All the best stories are.
The reason that I haven’t been able – and here I mean actually physically, possibly and corporeally – to tell this story hitherto is simple. I didn’t know the truth. I had only ever had access to one version of the adventure and, fortunately for me at least, I was intensely aware that this gave me only one dimension to each of the key characters. If the author has such limited access, then they will likely create a biased, incoherent and ultimately uninteresting tale that is not worthy of the time spent upon it – either for the writer or the reader.
But, thanks to some serendipity that is unknown to me, finally, after all of these years, I know the truth. I’ve learned how to identify all the loathsome lies, unbelievable prevarications and bewildering bafflement’s that have discombobulated me in the intervening years. And I also realize that not all stories start at the beginning.
Which can be a bit wHierd, to quote a friend (thanks Lisa Dingle!).
Plus, I found out last week that I am half Irish. It’s a little odd, after half a century of thinking that I was almost entirely Anglo-Saxon. There’s Celtic blood in me – which explains a great deal about my intuition and sense of anti-establishment-ism. For the first time in my life so far, I feel like an almost whole person. That has to be a good thing!
Next steps? Now that Chapter One is penned, the rest of the story is clear and needs only for me to actually write the words. I’ll continue with research for aspects that I know I’m ignorant of – but at least now, I KNOW what I don’t know, which is a hell of a lot more informed than I was before. And with the centenary of the First World War this year, records and facts will be easier to access on the whole.
Thanks for reading – your comments are welcomed