A Literary Wedding

DSCN6753Briefly- We went to a lovely wedding the other day, where there was something of a literary theme: hearts on the table punched out from a copy of Pride and Prejudice, paper bouquets made from books and magazines, themed course names, and so on.



DSCN6752I particularly liked being asked to choose a present for myself: a book from a selection made by the bride and groom. The idea provoked discussion and pleasure. I know it has motivated some guests to read, or to read something new. I chose ‘Underworld’ by Don de Lillo, as the groom particularly recommended it. Looks like a cue for a blog review. Eventually; it’s huge. Thank you, Michael and Christy-Anne

My Mother’s Books

My mother was an avid reader; my father still is. As I have probably mentioned before, being in a house full of printed material has made me the ‘print-oriented junkie’ (Harold Rosen) that I am today.

In my memory, there were two main threads to my mother’s reading. One was what we might term ‘period romance’, perhaps best exemplified by Georgette Heyer. I tried some of these and they are, perhaps surprisingly, quite well-written. Some later examples of this genre were not as good; I was a little shocked when Mum lent me one and I found that it contained ‘scenes of a sexual nature’!

I fondly remember reading some of Mum’s books from her childhood. She particularly enjoyed the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ novels; oddly enough, I read them as a teenager and greatly enjoyed them. She also had the “What Katy Did” books.

Most fondly remembered are her cricket books. I’m not sure how she got a love of cricket; maybe from her mother-in-law, who took her to see a test match. We went to see county games together a couple of times and shared a love of Test Match Special, especially the humour. She bowled tirelessly to my son in her back garden, and was always delighted when he put in a good performance for his club. I think she was still aware enough to realise that he had scored his first century when we told her.


Her great hero was the Surrey and England bowler, Alec Bedser (later chairman of selectors). I still have a treasured copy of ‘Following On’, an account of the 1950-1953 cricket seasons, written by Alec and his twin brother, Eric.

Equally treaured, but more often read, is ‘The Book of Cricket’ by Denzil Batchelor. Published in 1952, it is a collection of potted biographies of cricketers from W.G. Grace to Peter May. I have read it, or dipped into it, time and time again. I can recite many stories from it to the boredom of anybody.

There are and were others, but these are my prized possessions and memories. Thanks, Mum.


My Grandmother 2 (Things My Grandmother Said)

Brief….. but to be extended as I think of more. Any you can think of, little brother?

“My brain will never save my body.” Said after any waste of energy….

“You like that sort of thing, don’t you, dear?” (Accompanied by a sharp intake of breath) Often said to her daughter, my mother, who could never get it right.

“You’ll cry before you go to bed.” As a parent, I understand this; I think I did as a boy; but I still feel it’s a sad thing to say to an excited child.

“It’ll all be the same a thousand years hence.” I find this one strangely comforting, now.

“I’m twice the woman on my backside.” She was however not notably vulgar.

img083My grandmother and grandfather,  on Eastbourne beach. See also My Grandmother 1 (Nuisance Callers) and My grandfather’s books: A gentle tribute to a gentle man

My Grandmother 1 (Nuisance Callers)

My grandmother was… difficult. She truly was an individual. This is the first of some memories of her.

My grandfather (See ‘My grandfather’s books’ ) died when I was two, so for almost all the time I knew my grandmother she lived on her own; always just over the road from us, in bungalows.

She had an infallible way of dealing with callers at the door. (She never had a telephone.) No matter who it was: political canvassers, salesmen, Jehovah’s Witnesses- she would say “No thank you, I read my Bible” and shut the door in their faces. I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to follow her example.

Of course, like all good stories, this isn’t completely true. I have exaggerated.She did open the door to the milkman. One hot day, when she must have been in her seventies, she was just in her petticoat.

“Never mind me, you’ll see better on the beach,” she told him. (She was a Brighton girl.)

“A lot worse, dear,” he said chivalrously.


My mother and my grandmother, 1970s.

Searching for the Ancestors

We have been on the road and on the internet, looking for traces of our ancestors. It’s hardly ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ but it’s an entertaining and sometimes rather moving occupation.

I am highly pleased to tell you that one of my great-great-grandfathers was a pig dealer. I am a little less certain about telling you that his first wife  was so young that it embarasses me too much to give her age here. Presumably the marriage was legal at the time. When he died, my great-great-grandmother, his second wife, married a gentleman 18 years younger than herself.

On our list of places we have visited, or plan to visit, are Bognor Regis, Brighton, Wolverhampton, Bournemouth, Richmond, Mortlake and little villages in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire. We have discovered agricultural labourers (lots of them on my side), servants, ironmasters, teachers, stokers, photographers, caretakers, ploughmen, coachmen, tobacconists and ‘gentlemen’. We have investigated divorces, emigration and have been left with more and more mysteries.

I have written before about my great-grandfather  , Isaac. We have been to Nottingamshire, where he was born and lived his early life. Magically, the school where he must have been educated is still standing, though now a derelict (but just purchased) house.

It was donated and endowed for the poor children of the parish. I speculate, rather idealistically, that the basic education he received here was the first step on the road that led to his daughter becoming a teacher, my father gaining professional qualifications in insurance and computing, through his own hard work in his own time, and to my teaching career and M.A.

I frequently wonder what our ancestors would have thought of us. So many lived their lives all in one place, in the same place as generations of their forebears. In the rural areas, I think they would not have found so much changed. There are still fields, trees, hedgerows and little villages. What would they have made of me, sitting tapping this on a machine which would have appeared magical, for a medium which is virtually virtual…? I suppose much of it would be beyond their comprehension. Sometimes I fancifully imagine myself in a line, with my father next to me, his father (who I never met) next to him, Isaac next to him, and so on. Or with my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my great-great grandmother the pig dealer’s wife….  All people, all the same, with all the hopes, joys and fears we have ourselves.


My grandfather’s books: A gentle tribute to a gentle man

My (maternal) grandfather died when I was 2. I called him Bampin. He was a gentle man, apparently. My grandmother was…. assertive. When things got bad, Bampin would say to my mother: “Never mind, dear. When we do something right, we’ll go to Canada.”

DSCF0587Nevertheless, he went off to World War I, under age; he was gassed. He had a stroke and died in his late 50s. Sadly I have no memories of him, apart from what others have told me. In my grandmother’s house there was however a small collection of his books. This gentle tribute is just a look at the titles I remember. Some of them were sadly lost when my grandmother died.

Castle Dangerous of Canada This was one of those nicely bound Victorian tales of derring-do, full of ice, snow and peril. The copy would probably worth a penny or two now. (I’ve just looked it up: it was by Sir Walter Scott.)

DSCF0583Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe) An abridged edition. I still have it, and it’s rather special, as it was given to my grandfather as a school prize for ‘good work and conduct’ in 1910.

Fabian of the Yard (Robert Fabian) An account of the cases of a Detective Superintendent. It was quite violent for the time, and mentioned floggings as a judicial punishment. Again, lost. I have just looked it up and found it was made into a TV series, which I am sure my grandfather cannot have seen.

DSCF0586Stolen Journey (Oliver Philpot)  This and the next book are accounts of the ‘wooden horse’ escape by POWs in World War II. Philpot was one of the escapees. I love it…. great period detail. A treasured possession.

DSCF0585The Wooden Horse (Henry Williamson) A partly fictionalised account of the same escape. The word ‘mucking’ is used a lot. It was only years after I first read it that I realised what it was a replacement for.

The Nights of London (HV Morton) Each chapter takes a different aspect of London at night. Fascinating.

DSCF0581In the Footsteps of St Paul (HV Morton) A present from my mother. I haven’t yet read it, though I mean to… and I’m not sure Bampin read it.

Montgomery’s Orders of the Day I’m not sure of the exact title. Stirring stuff from el Alamein and Europe. I think my mother gave it to him. It did kindle an interest in Montgomery. Lost (unless my brother has it.)

DSCF0584Most Secret (Nevile Shute) I must have read this book more than any other. It’s a wartime story; typically excellent Nevile Shute plotting, with great characters. This put me onto reading Shute, a lifetime pleasure. It’s a basic, war economy edition but a dearly treasured possession.

The Saint (Leslie Charteris) Again, I’m not sure of the exact title. I have just looked this up, and found that Charteris wrote loads. Perhaps I should read some more. Lost.

Looking back over the collection, it strikes me as quite violent. I would consider myself generally to be a gentle man, but I also enjoy certain strands of crime and war stories. This list certainly puts a little more detail on my second hand memories of Bampin. It also makes me remember how precious ‘real’ books can be, with their accumulation of memories and associations.

(Footnote: I have just found, to my huge pleasure, that my copy of Nevile Shute’s ‘Round the Bend’ was a gift from my parents to my grandfather.)