Jaqui's Daily Blog

On the floor in front of me are dozens of pieces of paper, carefully torn from a note pad. On each piece of paper, a name. At the side of some - though not all - are back and white photographs. Men, women, babies, wedding groups, engagement photos. I am in my element.


Family history is one of my (many) hobbies. It is arguably the most obsessive of them all, taking over my life for long periods of time as I struggle with Censuses from 1840 onwards, Parish Registers and Military Records. There are few things more annoying than seeing how simple a process this all appears to be for those stars of stage and screen featured on programmes like Who Do You Think You Are. It's a whole lot harder without a team of researchers behind you - though much more fun, of course. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with inexplicably missing pieces, and any number of odd ones. Well, let's face it, no family can be complete without an odd-ball or two.


The make-shift family tree, set out on the living room floor, is that of Mr B's father's family. He was one of 13 children, hence the fact that the family tree spreads right across the floor in front of the patio doors. Hopefully Mr B will not feel the need to venture out into the back garden this afternoon or he will find himself stepping over several generations of his own family. All 13 of the off-spring of Arthur Ball and his wife Elizabeth, apart from poor Leslie who died in childhood, married - two of them twice - and had assorted off-spring, many with the same names, like Bert, Lilian, George, Dorothy.


I have been encouraged in this exercise having taking temporary possession of an amazing collection of photographs loaned us by Mr B's cousin Doreen. I have written about Doreen in a previous blog - she is a truly remarkable woman who is an example to anyone wanting to Live Long and Well. Not only has she written out the details of each family on separate sheets of lined paper, she has also written names on the back of each photograph. Thanks to Doreen, piecing together this particular family is relatively (if you'll excuse the pun) easy.


I call on Mr B for some help on Who's Who. It is, after all, his family, not mine. He can't understand how I can possibly fail to remember that visit we paid to Auntie Lil in Chatham in 1965, before we were married. I am ashamed to admit I can't remember anything about it though, given we are talking very nearly fifty years ago, I feel personally that I can be forgiven. I wish I could remember because I rather think Our Aunt Lil may well have been a bit of a gal. I am basing this opinion purely and simply on a photograph of Lil, wearing a truly enormous flowery hat framing the happiest of smiley faces. On the back she has written: "35 shillings this hat cost me, don't you know!" The sub-text is clear:"And why shouldn't I!?" Good on you, Auntie Lil.

 

Doreen's notes tell me that Auntie Lil's life wasn't without its sorrows. Her first husband, Walter Boys, died in the First World War, eleven days before the Armistice, leaving her with two small children. How cruel that must have seemed. I'm glad to learn, from Doreen's careful summary of family history, that Lil married again, to the gloriously named Herbert Bottle. There's a wonderful photograph of their wedding day - and, yes, she is wearing yet another fabulous hat, though there is no indication how much she paid for it. Her smile is as wide, as sunny as ever. I wish I'd known Aunt Lil when she was a young woman, I think we'd have been kindred spirits, as Anne (of Green Gables fame) used to say.


This is why I love family history, whether it's my family or somebody else's. You meet up with characters from the past who come alive in some way or another so that you feel you really know them. I am absolutely sure that my great grandmother, Fanny Dawkins, was a "salt of the earth" type, the one family member who could always be relied upon to be there. I love the description of her on an identity pass which allowed her to visit her son in law, serving on the Isle of Wight. "Stout build", it reads - unkindly, you may think but I reckon it was stout of build and stout of purpose.

 

My other great grandmother, Sophia, was undoubtedly a flighty one, as different from Fanny Dawkins as could be. She was on the stage in the 1880s, had an illegitimate child, deserted one husband, married a second - and was carried to her final resting place in a glass carriage drawn by high-stepping black horses tossing white plumes on their heads. Way to go, grandma Sophia!


I might have them all wrong of course. Fanny Dawkins might have been a rolling pin-wielding martinet and Sophia a shrinking wall-flower. But Aunt Lily - no, I refuse to believe that she was anything but her sunny self.


If you want to get ahead, get a hat. Even if it costs you 35 shillings, don't you know!

It doesn’t take a weather forecast to tell me that it’s getting colder day by day. I just look around the bus taking me into town and note the change in our collective outer wear.

 

Not so very long ago we were all wearing summer dresses, sandals and shorts, sun-glasses and floppy sun-hats. Now most everyone on the bus has a coat on, a few are even wearing woolly hats. Someone is actually wearing gloves.  After our glorious summer, it must – finally - be Autumn.

 

For my part, I have unearthed my long boots from the back of the wardrobe.  Now that really is what you call making a Serious Statement.  I did wonder if I was going a Step Too Far – but then the bus turned up two minutes early, at 9.28 a.m.  and the grumpy bus driver told me I was “twirly” and would have to wait for the next bus, my bus pass not being valid for travel until 9.30 a.m.  It was pretty chilly, standing there at the bus stop for quarter of an hour so I was rather grateful for my long boots.

 

I passed the time in conversation with a fellow would-be passenger who, like me, had turned up twirly. I only understood about a third of his chatter, as he had a very strong accent, but I did learn quite a lot from him about the timetable of the Number 7 bus, which only comes once an hour, meaning if the bus is twirly, or you are too late, you are – not to put too fine a point on it – in trouble.  My companion had, indeed, suffered much in the past.  I couldn’t exactly work out the route of the Number 7 bus but I am pretty sure I am never likely to have to use it, which is a Good Thing, especially if it keeps turning up twirly.  Having said that, this is the important thing about conversations – you never know when you might need the information you glean, so it pays to develop your listening skills.  It is one of the joys of retirement, I believe, that there is so much more time to listen and learn. One day, maybe, someone will ask me about the Number 7 bus and I will respond, knowledgeably: “It only comes once an hour, you know...” They will think I am an expert on buses in general and the Number 7 in particular. They would never imagine that I might, on occasion, turn up twirly.

 

When the next bus finally turned up it was, as expected, jam packed with passengers who, like me, would have hoped to catch the earlier bus if we (or it) hadn’t been twirly.  It also had to stop at every single bus stop on the way to town to load up with more passengers so the journey took a lot longer than usual. Fortunately our driver – perhaps to make up for his colleague Mr Grumpy Pants – was a cheerful chappie, quite prepared to wait until the frailer passengers were safely seated before lurching off and to patiently answer queries about timetables, routes, fares and all the other mysteries associated with bus travel.

 

Along with several other passengers, I disembarked outside the Library, where a man with a machine appropriately called “Glutton” was hoovering up leaves from the pavement.  Now there’s another sign of Autumn – leaves changing colour on the trees, drifting in the breeze and decorating our pavements. My younger sister Maggie always says that she knows when her mid-November birthday is approaching because she can swish her way through the fallen leaves. When she tells me that, I visualise her in outsize Paddington Bear wellington boots. I don’t know why, I just do. 

 

I have said it before and I will doubtless say it again – I love the changing seasons.  It would be so boring to live in a country where it was always hot, or always cold. I’m delighted to welcome my long boots back from their sojourn in the back of the wardrobe. “Welcome back, good and faithful servants!” I tell them (obviously out of Mr B’s hearing because he will only laugh at me) “Come and swish through the Autumn leaves with me!”

 

It’s definitely not twirly for a bit of swishing.

Have you ever had that horrible feeling on opening, say, the dish-washer and realising that, not only has it not washed anything up but there is a nasty, sludgy pool of water lurking in the bottom?

 

That is what happened to me this morning. I was not a Happy Bunny. I immediately went into “Woe Is Me” mood.  Not only were we going to have to replace the dish-washer, at enormous expense and inconvenience, but probably all the other kitchen appliances on the basis that they were all installed at the same time and would now all, to a man (or, at least, to a machine) be approaching the End of Their Useful Lives. After which, being the practical type, I started emptying the dish-washer, washing up all the dirty crockery, and using an old mug to decant the sludgy water from the bottom of our appliance.

 

We didn't have a dishwasher for years and years. I always maintained that I didn't really mind washing up, all those bubbles, don't you know? I wasn't so fond of drying up, to be fair. I understand that even The Queen always insistrs on wielding the dish mop, in preference to the tea towel and if it’s good enough for Her Maj then it is surely good enough for Humble Old Me. However, I do have to admit that when we actually took possession of a dishwasher (yes, the self-same machine standing uselessly in my kitchen as I write) I came to realise, pretty quickly, that it had hidden powers.  Chief among these was its ability to make the kitchen look beautifully clear, even when I hadn’t tackled the washing-up.  

 

Tucked away inside might be all manner of dirty dishes – but you’d never know from looking round the kitchen. (Well, provided you were prepared to ignore Mr B’s collection of coffee paraphernalia and my collection of old newspapers. Mr B would say that at least his coffee does have a place in a kitchen, unlike my newspapers.  I’m not about to argue with him, on the basis that one should never sweat the small stuff, there being plenty of meatier matters to argue about.)

 

The Youngest of the Darling Daughters washes all her dishes before she puts them in the dishwasher.  I can only imagine this is because she has Serious Trust Issues. At least, where machines are concerned. I never try to fill her dishwasher with dirty dishes because I know she will take them all out and re-arrange them. It’s easier to cope with the sink and suds.

 

Now, I do realise (though you are far too polite to say so) that you are contemplating on the fact that I have written 473 words of complete and utter drivel. You might not have estimated how many words of drivel exactly, of course, but then I have the advantage of a word count on the bottom bar of my Word program. What you almost certainly won’t know is that this drivel has been especially written in memory of my lovely friend Eve.

 

Yesterday was Eve’s funeral.  “A Life Less Ordinary” – those were the words on the front of the Order of Service, underneath a lovely picture which was just as I will remember her. Inside, lovely photographs of Eve as a little girl and a young woman.  Because she was more or less the same age as me, the hair style and clothes were all more than a little reminiscent of my own younger self. For each of us, tucked inside the Order of Service, a book-mark bearing her photograph to remember her by.

 

Eve was the founder of the Worthing Girls who meet up to enjoy sea-front walks, Sunday lunches, bus trips, games evenings, book club meetings.  You name it, we gathered – all thanks to Eve.  All you had to do was to check out the Girls’ website, look at the “Meets” planned for the following week or so and say if you were planning to come. The Girls was Eve’s legacy and oh, how we thank her for it.

 

Eve’s funeral was not listed among the forthcoming “Meets” but over 100 of us turned up anyway. The service was all planned by Eve herself and, as we walked into the Chapel at Worthing Crematorium, it was to the tune of “Here Come the Girls!” Trust Eve.

 

We sang hymns to a guitar accompaniment and touching tributes were read. I was glad of the company of my friend Eleanor, knowing that on the way home in her car we would be able to talk about how we felt – about Eve, about life and the Hereafter.

 

Eve loved my Daily Blog. She used to introduce me to new people by saying: “This is Jaqui. She writes an amazing blog – it’s complete and utter drivel, of course - but...” I always felt that little word "but" was rather important..

 

Dear Eve – I have no idea if the world wide web extends into the After Life but I like to think you are up there, sitting on a cloud, chuckling over my latest bit of drivel.

 

Written just for you.

Yesterday we drove home. We took it easy, but still made it home in four hours not counting a half an hour stop at the Chieveley service station where Mr B demolished a Cornish pasty and I chomped my way through a sausage roll. The West Cornwall Pasty Company always attracts Mr B especially as we can sit outside where he is allowed to smoke. It was a bit chilly but the sausage roll warmed me up...


Mr B has finally relented and agreed that we should share the driving in future whenever we are undertaking a long journey. He will, I am sure, still insist on driving to choir, to cribbage, to Tescos, to the sea-front, to the bowls club and to the Sea Lane Cafe. These are short journeys, after all, and it would offend his sense of propriety not to act the Gentleman and drive his Lady wherever she wishes to go. But for journeys to visit our Foursome and their families, for trips to far parts of the country - even, possibly, for Questers' visits if they involve Serious Mileage, I am now counted as Proficient to Drive. This despite the fact that I earned my full driving licence over forty years ago. Mr B, you can tell, took rather more persuading than the Driving Examiner.


I do remember that learning to drive, all those years ago, was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I suppose it was all that hand-eye coordination, never my strong point. Plus there's my dismal lack of spatial awareness. My father did try to teach me, when I was sweet seventeen, but gave up after a single lesson, returning home wild-eyed and white of cheek. Several years were to pass before I signed up for a course of lessons. With three young children and another on the way, it seemed sensible to try to learn how to get from A to B rather more swiftly than was possible by Shanks's Pony.


It took me three attempts to pass my test. I still recall Test Number 2 when I drove off from the test centre, full of confidence. "Pull over here," my examiner intoned - I am sure you remember that particular voice, if you've taken a driving test yourself. I did as I was told, bringing the car to a halt, perfectly aligned with the kerb. "Now close your door properly..." said the examiner. I don't know why we carried on with the test, given that I was Doomed to Fail -  but we did.


The other driving test I remember was that of the Eldest of the Darling Daughters. Have I told you this story before? Ah, well, it's probably worth repeating. I'd pulled up in my car behind my daughter, still sitting in her driving instructor's car at the end of her test. In a bid to attract her attention and ascertain if she had passed, I sounded my horn, waving frantically and making thumbs up signs. At this point, her driving instructor appeared at my car window to tell me that my daughter's test was still underway...


Oh, yes, she passed. First time, too, despite her Dreadful Mother.


My trusty Volvo did all four of my kids a good turn as they were learning to drive. Mr B, it must be said, refused to allow them to drive his car, nor would he sit beside them in the passenger seat while they were still learning but in need of practice. Oh, dear me, no - that was a Mother's Job, if ever there was one. I told each aspiring driver in turn that I was not there to teach them to drive, believing that to be strictly the province of their driving instructor. Once they were reasonably competent, I promised tham, I would sit next to them in the passenger seat so that they were "legal" and enable them to perfect their driving. I thought I did a pretty good job of keeping quiet - but the Middle of the Darling Daughters told me, quite recently, that she still recalls that I had what she termed "a fiercesome foot" on an imaginary brake pedal.


My Boy took me at my word. He would insist on driving along the narrowest of roads as I shrunk in terror at his side. Did we have to take such hazardous routes, I asked him, tremulously, couldn't we just stick to the wider roads? "It's good practice!" he assured me, nonchalantly, negotiating the Volvo between cars parked on either side of a street which was hardly wide enough for our safe passage through. He passed first time, too.


In fact, all four of my off-spring passed their driving tests first time around, which was just as well, given the cost of lessons. All that driving practice, all those nervy journeys in the passenger seat, all that virtual braking with my fiercesome foot clearly paid off. I always said that there were three things I wanted for my children. These were to put them through university, to see that they learnt to drive - and to make sure that they always wore "proper" shoes. Obviously there were lots of other things I wished for them too. Like happiness and all. But it wasn't a bad set of Aims and Objectives for a Happy and Fulfilled Adulthood.


Now on long journeys Mr B will sit beside me in the passenger seat. He will wince if I brake too sharply pulling up to traffic lights and shake his head sorrowfully when I play it cautious at every roundabout.


I, for my part, will be watching out for his fiercesome foot on that imaginary brake pedal...

Six poplars stand in a row, straight and true. They represent the firing squad.

 

In front of them, the figure of a young soldier, cast in stone. He has been blind-folded and he wears a target around his neck. His great-coat has been stripped of all badges, buttons and decorations, as a mark of his disgrace. The last words he will ever hear in this life are deadly indeed: "Ready. Aim. Fire!"

 

His name is Private Herbert Burden and he was shot at dawn at Ypres in 1915 for cowardice.

 

He was seventeen years old.

 


Mr B and I are at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire. We have walked to the eastern edge of the 150 acre site - the first place to see the dawn each morning - to see the Shot at Dawn Memorial and to hear its story, told by one of the knowledgeable and ever-helpful volunteer guides. It is one of many poignant moments of the many we are to experience over the course of our visit.


Behind the figure of Herbert Burden are 306 posts, each representing a soldier similarly executed by firing squad during the 1914 - 1918 War. Each post bears a name, a date, the soldier's age - where it is known: some may well have been under age when they signed up to serve their country, without the slightest notion of the horrors ahead. The posts are arranged like a Greek theatre, symbolising the tragedy of it all. These men were convicted of cowardice, desertion, disobeying an order, sleeping at their post and sentenced to death after summary trials with no adequate defence. Their deaths were intended as an example to their comrades.


Our guide reminds us that we should not apply our 2014 thinking to the circumstances of a century ago. Post traumatic stress disorder, from which many of these shell-shocked men will have been suffering, was not recognised as a medical condition until 1980. In 2006, a posthumous pardon was granted to the 306 men. It was the result of a campaign led by Janet Booth, who sought a pardon for her grand-father, Private Harry Farr. Her loving persistence paid off.


We had arrived in time for the daily Two Minute Silence in the Millennium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness where Mr B confessed to a lump in his throat listening to the note perfect Last Post and Reveille. This is the only place in the UK where there is a daily act of remembrance at 11 a.m. After that, a trip all round the site in a land train as an introduction to this amazing and inspirational place "Where our Nation remembers."


I hadn't realised just how many memorials can be seen at the Arboretum - over 300 in all, many of them unexpected. There's a memorial commemorating members of the Showmen's Guild, complete with a brightly coloured carousel horse; a Golden Grove of trees marking couples who have celebrated their Golden Wedding; a walkway of scented plants remembering Blind Veterans UK - just think, we are off to visit their Brighton home with our Questers group next week. The very first memorial to find a home at the Arboretum was the Polar Bear Memorial, a tribute to the 49th Infantry West Riding Division. Snowed in 20 feet of snow in Iceland for most of a World War 2 campaign, the commanding officer nicknamed his men his "Polar Bears" and the name stuck. The bear is 9 foot long, 5 foot high and weighs 2.5 tonnes. Apparently there was much hilarity when this unusual wide load was transported to the site, with traffic announcements warning of a "large polar bear travelling along the M6..."


Towering above the site is the central Armed Forces Memorial, a six metre high earth mound on top of which are walls constructed of 200,000 bricks on which are the names of the 16,000 service men and women who have been killed since the end of World War 2. Bold sculptures tell a story of loss and sacrifice. A gap has been left in between two walls, allowing a shaft of sunshine to fall onto the central bronze wreath at 11a.m. on the Eleventh Day of the a Eleventh Month.


Everywhere we look there are names. Projected on the wall of the Far East Pavilion, the names of all those who died horrible, lingering deaths while prisoners of the Japanese; in the SANDS (Stillborn and Neo-Natal Deaths Society) garden, dozens of brightly painted pebbles bearing the names of lost babies - "Never Seen - Always Loved," reads one.


Most sobering of all, there is so much white space on the walls of the Armed Forces Memorial. There will be other names added, other tragedies, other families ripped apart.


I fear we will never learn.


But we can - and we must - remember.

 

Latest comments

21.10 | 21:55

Beautiful and poignant blog Jaqui. Thanks for sharing your experience. Jan x

...
15.10 | 16:23

I have just read your blog, I agree with every word, the memory of this day will be with me for ever xxxx

...
03.10 | 20:50

Sewing is far more important than ironing!!!!!

...
27.09 | 18:36

My oboe was a Howarth (and still is, but I haven't played it for 18 years...). It served me well right up to my spectacular failure of grade 8!

...
Hi!
Make your own website like I did.
It's easy, and absolutely free.
AD