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Saddling up: postcards No.5

 

Great riding country: Sheepscombe, near Painswick.

As the saga of the postcards continues I have at last struck some sort of common thread.

And it’s all about horses. Not all that deep and meaningful but at least it is a consistent theme extending over several of these messages of long ago.

For once during my trawl through these newly discovered mementoes, I have little difficulty in recalling time and place which, in itself, is a great relief.

The first card depicts a white horse looking out over its stable door. “Man’s friend” is how I captioned it on the reverse.

The accompanying message is equally succinct: “Have arrived. This is great. There are 15 of us and it’s an all-male week.”

No hint was given as to whether I thought the all-boys-together situation was good or bad. Maybe on this occasion I preferred the absence of distractions for we were lodged at “the only place of its kind in England” – the home and riding centre established by the legendary Pat Smythe, Britain’s golden girl of the 1952 Olympics.

A week of mucking-out, tuition and riding beckoned.

The location was a dot on  the map labelled as Camp, set in the midst of the Gloucestershire countryside.

As I recorded on a second postcard, also bearing a horse’s head on the front, it was seven days of “plenty of good food, excellent company and fine weather.”

The highlight was doing duty as stable lad at  a day of polo matches, walking the mounts to and fro, cooling them down, giving them feed, making sure they were fully ready to go again and generally being fully immersed in the whole horsey business.

I loved it. And it is one memory that has remained bright and clear down the years. An idyllic time. Rural England at its very best. Something to be treasured, although I fear it is becoming less and less understood, appreciated and valued by succeeding generations.

Postcard home: a good companion

Those seven days at Camp, Painsnwick, Pitchombe, Sheepscombe and other nearby villages set in train a love of horses and riding that remains to this day, although time in the saddle has become almost non-existent.

Throughout my travels I have ridden whenever the opportunity was offered – on an Israeli beach, in the Canadian Rockies, across the Hungarian plains, to the summit of an active volcano and on Lipizzaners at their home in the former Yugoslavia.

Like so many young girls, my daughter caught the bug. School holidays were spent immersed in the whole horsey thing, lodged at a riding centre in the Macedon Ranges.

So we acquired horses of our own: loveable former pacer Brandy, the lively Donna and thorougbred Gypsy. And I had to lug a horse float hither and thither – a cumbersoome and scary task I never truly mastered – as proved by the time the car and float parted company on a sharp uphill bend in a long line of Sunday traffic.

Twice during my double life as a travel agent I devised and acted as leader for an eight-week world horse-riding tour.

The itinerary  included (inevitably) the Spanish Riding school, tuition under a master of the horse on the Esterhazy estate, pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons, lessons at the Fulmer Riding School, tuition and daylong gallops at the Lipica stud plus show-jumping at Aachen, Hickstead and the Dublin Horse Show.

Trying  to control and corral sixteen young Aussie women on what for most was their first  overseas trip added a memorable dimension over which a veil has long been discretly drawn.

So many memories from a clutch of postcards.

**To be continued….

 

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.

 

 

A Paris interlude: Postcard memories No.3

Concorde: up, up and away.

If there is any validity in the saying that “every picture is worth a thousand words” then my hoard of old postcards could generate sufficient information to create an entire book.

Whether of fact or fiction is open to debate. As reported in previous posts on this topic, two attempts to match the facts recorded on the postcards with my memory of those distant times have ended in failure.

No matter how much I try, I cannot recollect any visit to the Channel Isle of Jersey nor any periods of residence at the address to which several cards were sent.

Better results are being achieved as I peruse many of the others and try to sort them into a vague sequential order. Memories are being stirred, names recalled, places and incidents remembered.

However, as most of the cards are undated and the postmarks are often blurred or lacking details of time and place, they still provide only a random retelling of my life before the internet, mobile phones and messaging.

Among those that ripped the memory bank wide open was the one (pictured above) depicting that marvellous flying machine, ill-fated the Concorde.

This was mailed as I was about to depart from Paris, a place I used the postcard to describe as “this strike-bound city”.

I had arrived there a few days earlier from Australia at the end of what I wrote of as being “the longest supersonic flight yet made”.

To join this one-off experience, I had first flown from Melbourne to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The Concorde had arrived there bringing European  delegates of an International Monetary Fund conference, or some such gabfest.

Myself and three other Aussie journalists – Frank Gallego, Jack Butters and Charles Sriber – had been invited to join the return flight to Paris.

It was literally an out of this world experience; one of the few that remains bright in the memory.  That soaring take-off, the feeling of the huge surge of power, the weird sense of being confined with only a hundred others in this pencil-thin projectile (only two seats either side of the narrow aisle) hurtling so smoothly way up through the clouds and into the almost translucent rarefied atmosphere beyond.

We were space travellers, peering down on the curvature of the globe far below – a view unlike any experienced in normal flight.

Paris was reached in three relaxing leaps each lasting about three hours; a nine-hour journey to replace the horrendous twenty-four hours or so those of us living Down Under usually endured for visits to Europe. It was made even more pleasurable and memorable by the Michelin-level food and wine that help distract more nervous passengers from the bulkhead gauge showing our progress from subsonic through transonic to supersonic, from Mach 1 and on to Mach 2.

There are, however, other memories awakened by this postcard that go unmentioned in the few words it contains.

This brief visit – a mere three nights in Paris before a tortuous 36-hour journey home – I seized upon to arrange a secret assignation with a “friend” then living in London.

It was soon agreed: we  would meet in Paris.  She could get a couple of days off work – with OPEC, if I remember correctly –  and I had no rigid program to adhere to. My travel companions would be diverted with their own sightseeing.

The best laid plans ….

It was on the morning of the second day that we scurried hand in hand along the Metro platform to board the train. We dashed  through the closing doors of the nearest carriage and plonked down into a couple of seats.

Giggling and breathless we raised our gaze and looked around.  Facing us across the aisle, sagely nodding and with knowing grins, were my three journo colleagues, each of whom was a friend of my companion in collusion.

So much for secret trysts and assignations.

I wonder what memories these other postcards will stir ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard memories and puzzles – No.2

Souvenir of a visit that is beyond recall.

Yesterday’s gone.  But it lingers on, the details not forgotten unless it was one of those total wipe-out booze-laden occasions. Same for last week, the month that has passed and, hopefully, the highlights at least, of the year before this one.

All are within recall in varying degrees of detail unless one sadly suffers, like far too many appear to do, from some debilitating condition.

Going further back down the tracks of life, however, requires more mental effort. Additional reminders and prompts are needed, like a fading actor who has lost the facility for memorising the lines.

Usually, given the right clues and feeds, something is eventually  stirred. A name, a place, a snippet of music, even a catchphrase can niggle away until the past is brought back to the here and now.

The story thus raised from the dead may have been embroidered over the years; there may be distortions to what was said and perhaps subtle shifts made in the precise time and place. The occasion can be relived, hopefully with pleasure although there is no guarding against unwanted sadness or regret.

But what happens when no amount of nudges, hints, reminders and even solid facts fail to winkle out anything other than a total blank?

Is this what is meant by losing one’s mind? Is this an early warning sign of something more serious?

This is the dilemma – one among many – that this sudden discovery of a hoard of old postcards has created.

Found among them is a handful sent to me by family members at two addresses where I was apparently residing in the city where I worked,  but which was some miles from the town where I normally lived with my parents and younger sister.

No matter how hard I try, I have no recollection of ever living at either address or, indeed, in that city even though it does happen to be  where I have lived for the past eight years.

Today I took a walk. I power-walked up the hilly streets where it seems I once lived. Streets up which I have frequently run many times in recent years. And, as on those occasions, not a tweak of memory occurred.

Similarly, in recent years I have visited streets in towns throughout England where I previously lived way back when. On these excursions,  memories were always revived of having trod those same routes in the distant past. Forgotten people and events were often vividly resurrected.

But not this time. These streets are familiar from the present but have no connections to my past. There is a blank … and this is somewhat disturbing. Best to move on.

So I turned to another of my postcards from long ago; four scenes of Jersey in the Channel Islands, a place I have frequently toyed with visiting.

But it seems I’ve already been, and no matter how hard I try it is an experience I cannot recall.

This card, from 1962, informs my family I am “having three days here for a conference.”  Really! Discussing what?

Apparently I endured  “a bumpy flight and two hours late.”

Once there, I decided “this place is just like Bognor but the drinks are cheaper“. However, there was a downside as there were “horrible flat-capped English holidaymakers everywhere.”

So, that’s Jersey for you as it once appeared to one who still believes he has never been there.

I wonder how many more blank pages of my mind I am to discover.

** Memories from the postcard trove to be continued …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard memoir from snapshots of the past

Postcard home from Belgrade in 1963. ‘A week back in London, then to Lebanon, Jordan etc’

We all know about the past being a foreign country [LP Hartley, The Go-Between] and in recent days I have come to realise how true that oft-quoted phrase can be.

A large handful of well-worn postcards, wrapped in a torn plastic bag, have taken me back down the years and stirred memories that until now have remained stubbornly dormant.

As one who can hardly recall the detail of events from last month, those of my much more youthful years have long been a blank sheet.

I still remember where I lived, which of the many schools I attended, the places where I was employed. But that is mere outline, the rough sketch drawn before the picture is painted. The details have long gone – dates, names, events, conversations and so much else are almost all non-existent in a brain that otherwise still functions at a satisfactory level.

But now I have my postcards, mostly in my own handwriting to the folks at home, and they are doing a better job at stirring the memory than any expensive session on an analyst’s couch.

Like a SOCO team’s “enforcer” they have battered down a previously unyielding door into the past.  Only a few words on each, but enough to trigger a name, raise a smile, answer  a mystery and, of course, raise a host of many more.

For example, when did I live in Carvoza Road, Daniel Road or in Hatfield Crescent? All are locations in Truro, the city where I transformed from schoolboy to employee. They are addresses that appear beneath my name on  postcards sent by my parents while, so it seems, they were on holiday trips around England.

But the family home was in Falmouth and to the very best of my knowledge it was there – and only there – that I lived throughout the three years of my time working in Truro.

Thus a window into my past has been thrown open but the view it presents is a total puzzle. Was I a boarder? Was the Miss Ditton to whom several of the cards were addressed as being “care off” a family friend, a boarding house owner, a B&B operator?

Postmarks and two separate addresses indicate I “enjoyed” two separate Truro sojourns during July and August 1955 while the rest of the family was tripping around Stratford-on-Avon, Birmingham, Sidmouth, the Lakes District and our wartime home of Fleetwood.

And not a jot of this exile remains in my memory.

Nor does my namesake, another Tony who signs off on two of the postcards sent to Corporal Berry at RAF Abingdon during my two misspent years of National Service.

In one he talks of being halfway through “my grand tour of England” and regrets that “we’ll not reach Cornwall” and in the other he reports  the food and weather  in Conway are excellent and urges me not to worry as he’ll be back next week.

Fine, but who the hell is/was this other Tony?  Why Conway? Why should I be worried at his absence?

Churning over the old grey cells unearthed not a jot of him but his postcards help revive other memories and confirm forgotten details.

Flip through the pack – choose a card, any card, says the conjurer – and  I realise I have a random, higgledy-piggledy  Reader’s Digest version of my forgotten life.

“Hello from 250 miles behind the Iron Curtain” I write in one. So much was left unsaid.

On another: “Can’t resist sending a card from the most primitive place I’ve ever seen. Just returned from the ritual killing of a couple of sacrificial buffalo, a funeral and a three-day festival.”

From what was still Yugolsavia: “Been driving a car across a lake, it’s that frozen. Spent a whole afternoon on my backside in the snow – it’s called skiing.”

Feeling the heat in Israel: “A temperature of 108F should be enough to give me a tan, and have I got one! Phew, it’s hot. Am the only Englishman is a party of  20 French journalists.” Which could be the reason I detoured home via Paris. That and the El Al air hostess.

From Newcastle: “Awa’ hinnie. Passing the night here for a dinner-dance.” Don’t ask …

The nascent foodie in Barcelona: “Had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen. Paella it is, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels, squid in a rice dish plus chicken. The way these people eat in unbelievable.”  Well, we were still emerging from food rationing.

And so much more; this was the quick contact pre-Twitter, as many words as you could squeeze into a space rarely more than two-and-a-half inches wide and deep.

Enough to prod at the dark screen clouding my memory and let in some welcome shafts of light.

And this handful  is only the beginning. There are many more promised to come. So many memories  to revive; so many stories to relive, and perhaps even to tell.

Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My trans-Atlantic Cousin Jacks, Part 1

Soon after I began delving into my Cornish connections – created by the marriage of Welsh cousin Charles Edwin Nicholas to Landewednack lass Sidonia Jose – I realised I had entered a genealogical maze.

That cliched phrase ‘a tight-knit community’ hardly did justice to this Lizard Peninsula clan. This was so tight-knit, and the Jose name so prolific, as to be akin to a skein of wool attacked by a basket of playful kittens. Unravelling it with any certainty would be a challenge like that faced by someone researching the surnames Smith, Brown or Jones.

Ahead lay a path strewn with doubts and uncertainties where obtaining conclusive proof the correct ancestor had been found would be almost impossible for many of them.

Like others of earlier times, the Joses bred large families and stayed close to home. Most of them stayed deeply entrenched within the sea-washed confines of the Lizard Peninsula which, even today, presents as a singular attachment to the rest of Cornwall, remote, cloistered and self-contained.

However, among the many stay-at homes. there were a few who broke loose and ventured far afield. Most went of their own accord but one or two were dispatched at the order of the courts. The majority remained in their new homelands and founded Jose dynasties, although a couple did make it back to English shores.

One of the youngest to quit the Lizard was cousin John Jose, determined to start a new life after some turbulent years at home. His father had died when John was only four-years-old and his sister, Elizabeth, had followed their father six months later after living only three months.

John’s mother, Elizabeth (nee Harry) had since formed a liaison with a Mr Secombe (or Seccombe, the most likely candidate being Thomas Seccombe, a married cordwainer from nearby Mawgan-in-Meneage) and given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Isabella, who lived for a mere six months.

But the biggest setback came in 1838 when his older brother, Richard, died at sea while aboard the Royal Navy brigantine Skylark. The ship, built in Pembroke (another Cornwall-Wales link) and commissioned in 1831, was stationed at Falmouth.

When John arrived in Quebec, Canada, at the end of the 1830s, he was barely out of his teens. At some stage of his journey – was this a shipboard romance? – he met Scottish lass Jane Vance, from Glen Luche, a place so far not found on any map but reliably mentioned in the family’s folklore.

 

 The record of Jane Jose’s birth in Quebec

On 7 May 1840, when Jane was still only sixteen years old, they were married at St John’s Presbyterian Church in Quebec City.

The newlyweds soon moved to Toronto where they lived to the end of their days with Jane’s death, at the age of ninety-two in July 1915, being reported in the local newspapers as that of ‘one of Toronto’s oldest residents’ who had settled in the city ‘before the coming of the railroads’.

In memory of John’s brother they named their first son Richard, who fittingly was a lone survivor among the couple’s early days of parenting.

Their first born, Elizabeth in 1844, lived less than three months but was remembered first in another Elizabeth, who lived barely two years from 1853 to 1855 and yet again on 25 August 1856 with Elizabeth Jane, who bucked the trend and lived to the age of eighty-seven.

Another early death was that of John, who survived for only six weeks from birth in January 1849 and was remembered a year later when another boy was born and given the name of John.

The family’s fortunes vastly improved from the birth of the third Elizabeth with most of the surviving seven children marrying, having children, and living to a ripe old age. The one setback was Sarah, born in 1866 and who married late at the age of thirty-nine but lived for only another four years.

And so, to the best of my knowledge, at least one twiglet on the Jose family tree has put down deep roots and continues to grow and thrive in Canada.

Sugged in by Joe and his YouTube antics

YouTube has a lot to answer for when more and more truly worthwhile causes are failing for lack of funds while a semi-literate 24-year-old accrues instant wealth from acting the idiot in his bedroom.

Like thousands of immature youths before him, Joe Sugg found it amusing to film his gawkish ramblings and upload them to YouTube.  A tidal wave of unthinking followers now replay his videos to such an extent that in next to no time he has become obscenely rich.

OK, it’s not YouTube’s direct fault that Sugg (who, you might well have asked) is raking in a fortune while thousands of far more genuinely deserving causes go penniless. But it is only through its existence that such skewing of society’s priorities has become possible.

In a matter of months, Sugg, a roof thatcher in an English village, has jumped from scraping by on an apprentice wage to estimated earnings of £500,000 a year. And that’s only for starters. The inevitable book deal, documentary and ticketed live appearances that accompany such nonentities ensure this is merely a base figure.

The foundation of Sugg’s obscene income (far more than the Prime Minister’s or that of innumerable people with taxing, responsible, even life-affecting jobs) is the revenue from the advertisements that accompany YouTube’s videos. With an estimated “audience” of  5.2 million he is creaming it – and so is YouTube.

And it all comes from acting like a right dick and mouthing the sort of unthinking, random thoughts that tend to fester so many young heads.  Plus the equally unthinking support of millions just like him.

If only all this support – and, more especially, money – could be channelled into some meaningful, useful, deserving, positive purpose.  Every day there comes news of an individual, an organisation, a cause, a project that is facing failure or closure (even death) through lack of funding.

Many such would welcome even as little as one per cent of Sugg’s income in order to struggle on, to survive.

There is, however, little hope of that happening.  After all, this cynically dressed and groomed peacock has an admirable example to emulate in the form of his slightly older sister, Zoe, who is categorised as “an internet sensation” famously known – like so many instant identities – by a single moniker: Zoella.

Big sister is even more ridiculously rich for doing little that contributes an iota of benefit to the welfare or wellbeing of our  impoverished society.

One cannot help but think society is being suckered (or is it Suggered?) by Joe, Zoe, their imitators and their followers.

Sadly, there is no answer; no remedy. Unless, of course, these mindless parasites have a Eureka moment and decide to turn all their preening and prancing to some philanthropic and purposeful use.

And, yes, pigs might one day fly.

 

 

Is there anyone out there?

Time and again we read reports of the decomposing body of some poor soul being discovered in the house where they have lived for ever and a day.

Shock, horror. “How could this happen in this modern day and age?” goes the cry.

Why the surprised reaction? Rather than express shock that such events could ever occur we should be treating them as the norm; they are becoming an almost daily occurrence.

And I see why. As a solitary soul, happy in his own company, there are many periods when I have scant contact on a personal basis with other human beings – certainly not within my own domain. There are no neighbours knocking on the door for whatever reason; there are no friends dropping in for a chat, coffee or a glass of vino. The postman needing a signature on a package can be my sole contact with the outside world.

My realm is that state of mind and body known as “splendid isolation.” Which suits me fine.

But what if, as one of advancing years whose many contemporaries are now resting six feet under, I was to suffer one of those “attacks” that can occur so suddenly?  I have been close to, and  sharply aware of, numerous such events in recent times. And they are becoming ever more frequent.

What, I wonder, if I was to succumb to such an event?  It would require immediate, urgent, knowledgeable action … or else.

Yet it could be hours, days even, before anyone was aware that I was not up and about as usual. The newsagent might notice I hadn’t been in for my daily paper – but would think I’d gone away for a while rather than permanently. Who else? Contact with friends and relatives these days is predominantly by email and Facebook.  A day without a post or a message would not be unusual – there can be weeks between  such communications.

In common with the majority of the populace, I have many Facebook “friends” but true friends are few.

We have long lost the personal touch. Never off the phone, ceaselessly sending texts, iPads and iPhones our constant companions, so busy, so many contacts … and yet it is all at arm’s length. We are hired, fired, congratulated, commiserated, engaged, divorced, befriended, unfriended, cheered and chided, slandered, praised and variously ordered and informed by remote electronic means.

Not a touch, a smile, a wink, a caress, a grimace, laugh or semblance of humanity intervenes. Never have we been so much in touch with those around us, and around the world.

And yet we never speak to our neighbours, or even to our so-called friends. Or knock on their door.

So be not surprised that if you do happen to knock, there is no answer. Your call came too late.

 

 

 

 

 

About time

Wonder of wonders: the Brits have decided to test all 11-year-olds on the proper use of verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs as well as prepositions and conjunctions. They are also to be taught to use punctuation marks correctly with a focus on full stops, question marks, commas, inverted commas and the dreaded apostrophe.
One would have thought all this would have formed the basics of any educational system. But it is evident from much that is written these days that such teachings have become considered passe and unnecessary. It is staggering to think that only now is such an idea being canvassed but, even worse, that it is being opposed by teaching unions.

Rebus returns

Thanks goodness the Scots have decided to raise the retirement age for their police force. It means Ian Rankin can bring irascible old Rebus back to the mean streets of Edinburgh. Standing in Another Man’s Grave is already completed and due for release in November. It not only resurrects Rebus 25 years after he first appeared, but it also sees him up against the adversary of his later years, the dour and dutiful Malcolm Fox. Orion is the publisher.