May 2018


More memoir surprises

Family history never ceases to surprise and delight.

It is an endless journey into the unexpected.

Skeletons leap from cupboards and sudden contacts from hitherto strangers breath life into people who so far have been mere names clinging precariously to the family tree.

This week, emails from out of the blue have unearthed another bag of surprises and added further grist to the memoir that is becoming an ever-expanding work in progress.

Overnight I find I am related to two sisters who met prematurely early deaths; one was an alcoholic, the other a drug addict.

A third relative from this same Welsh ancestral cluster spent years in a mental asylum after undergoing cross-examination in a sensational society murder trial.

From cursory reading it appears that Aunt Eva was employed as a nursemaid for the murdered woman and was accused of somehow having access to the arsenic used as the killing agent.

The common thread here is that many of their male line served in the Great War and either came back maimed, often in hidden ways, or simply never returned, in some cases their bodies not even found on the battlefields where they fell.

Their wives and families were left to struggle on tbe best they could.

Happily, more recent descendents have become absorbed into suburban respectability with not a black sheep to be found among them. At least, so far.

But one cannot help wondering what the next generation of family historians might eventually dig up.

 

 

Weekends in Beirut – Postcard memories No.4

On the tarmac at Beirut International Airport: a Comet 4C of MEA

So, moving right along …
The next postcard to take my eye among my recently discovered trove of long-lost messages home was another bog standard picture of an aircraft. This one is dressed in the livery of MEA, or Middle East Airlines, the national carrier of Lebanon.
It is a Comet 4C, the workhorse of many airlines back when mass tourism and package holidays were beginning to hit their post-war stride.
In the message on the back I briefly inform my sister that it is being posted during a 45-minute stopover en route to Beirut and that I have enjoyed “superb weather and the smoothest of flights”.
I add, jokingly I can attest, that I had a bullet-proof vest in my baggage “ready for Jordan” which, on this occasion, was my final destination.
However, it was not that somewhat adventurous trip that I was first reminded of on finding this postcard.
At that time, plentiful overseas travel was one of the perks of my job as a reporter and feature writer on Travel Trade Gazette, a publication that owners and staff alike proudly proclaimed as the world’s first weekly publication for the travel industry.
We reported on the politics, finances, management and products of this rapidly expanding industry business. Not merely from a UK aspect, but globally.
The world was ours to investigate and explore, not from the view of the holidaymaker but from that of those who created the products.
New hotels had to be inspected, resorts checked out, marketing plans examined, each new air route flown. There were tourism chiefs to be interviewed and international conferences to be attended and reported on. The world, as the saying goes, was our oyster.
And a very tasty mollusc it proved to be for a bunch of young journalists, most of them yet to see their thirtieth birthday.
An occasional weekend in Beirut was thus routine. It began with the trip out to London Airport (this was in pre-Heathrow days) where our hosts saw us into our first-class seats for the MEA dinner flight to Beirut.
Check-in to the luxurious waterfront Hotel Phoenicia Friday was followed by an exploration of a city that had no trouble justifying its tag of “the Paris of the Middle East”. It was a golden sparkling vibrant city where few could have imagined the carnage and devastation that was to come.
After breakfast, cars whizzed us off through the famed cedars of Lebanon and into the awesome Beka’a Valley.
A dominant feature of this vast plain is by the Temple of Jupiter, (pictured right), one of the wonders of the ancient world that, down the centuries has been frequently vandalised, usually in the name of religion until only its six towering columns remain amid the city’s expansive ruins.
Such unfathomable destruction as has been wreaked on Baalbeck and its spread of ancient building and monuments continues to sadden as my postcard stirs memories of starlit nights attending performances amid the temple’s towering columns.
Sunday – after a luxurious and bibulous Saturday night dinner – was usually a day of much-needed rest and recreation; exploring the souks and alleys of Beirut, sampling the Phoenicia’s pampering, or water-skiing and swimming in the Mediterranean off the hotel’s deck.
It was all good preparation for a flight that departed in Monday’s wee small hours and got me back in London in time to stumble into the office and start another day’s work.
A tough life but, as the saying goes, someone had to do it. And as I gaze at this old postcard I’m thankful it had to be me.
It was a world and experience never to be recaptured.