Grief caught me today, as I watched a coffin draped with a Standard.
Sunday, 18 April 2021
Monday, 1 March 2021
The air this evening smells like Africa before a storm; that high tension state when the grass almost speaks to the cloud heavy sky and begs for rain. The grass is very, very dry, baked hard with no possibility for birds to feed. We have fire warnings in place, and we wait for the sky to crack. The smell will change first then the colour, then the light will sharpen and refocus through the haze. I wait for the moment. But I will miss the smell. The Smell that invites animals to scratch in the shadows, pause and listen, then scatter. I wait for the scattering at the first boom, the first hammer and flash. Then the metal roof will timpani and throw the drops to dance and white water will gutter in gutters and overflow and crash. Yes, tonight feels like the veld.
Friday, 27 November 2020
Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Friday, 25 September 2020
I wasn't prepared for the effect of being in a car alone at dusk would have on me. When I lived for 7 years in a desert, this was the time I would go shopping. It was generally after a very busy and stressful day in the office. The grinding heat would have lost its edge and you could always smell the scent of some flower or plant as the temperature dropped and the ground sighed with relief.
One of the many delights of my desert life were the encounters with shop assistants. They were all unfailingly polite and friendly and it gave me the chance to make small talk - a luxury not really possible during working hours. My local supermarket had beautiful girls from mainland China at the tills. They wanted to practise their English on anyone who had the time to stop. The giving of change and packing of bags was slow and gently drawn out in order to make conversation. The Indian salesmen in the material souks were charming and funny and would tease and laugh. My local florist was Syrian and kept birds in cages all around his shop. He always had time to talk. The people were often intoxicating, as if from another world.
And there is something in that pause between day and night which triggers the deep emotions I so often felt, returning to an empty apartment, making a meal, checking on my neighbours then falling exhausted into my bed. It was a strange zone between sweet contentment and crushing loneliness. Delight in the ever changing variety of each day, followed by the brief interlude of a sensual dusk, the call from the mosque, and the swish of sand as it hurried across the road.
Tonight I am thankful for a brief return to the intensity of that time. But I am also grateful that tonight I don't fall into bed alone and the only sound of the night I hear is of our resident owl calling its mate.
Sunday, 9 August 2020
Tuesday, 9 June 2020
When my dad died, I took on the mantle of family researcher. Dad was a natural historian and story teller, and perhaps if the world had been different for him, he could have written down the stories. But instead he collated lots of photos and documents meticulously in folders, and we worked together on mysteries of the family tree, me in one country, him in another.
He periodically mentioned Jenny and her two sons, Charles and Arthur, whom he could not get any further information for beyond the last available Census of 1911.
So after Dad died, I found myself digging, in his memory. What happened to them, and was I genuinely the last of this family line, being an only child with no children of my own?
Like many who investigate their long deceased relatives, information often comes in waves, sometimes a piece of flotsam on the beach leads to revelations of joy and sorrow. In Jenny's case, it was mostly the latter.
Through a group of genealogists on Facebook who gave their experienced help gratis, I discovered that Jenny had four daughters in addition to Charles and Arthur (Dad didn't know this). Three had been born and died between the Censuses. Almost by accident I uncovered a census entry for the second daughter, living far away from either her mother or father's family. It transpired that she had been put into the care of Barnados foster families for several years then returned to her father. In the final official information about her, she was living in a mental hospital during WW2. Tragically, this was also the fate of Arthur, her older brother.
This week through wild card searches on the web I discovered that the first girl born in the family had died in a freak accident before her first birthday, being smothered by her own bedclothes. The youngest two daughters died age 2 and 3 after the widowed father returned to the E. End of London immediately after Jenny's death.
Jenny died of consumption aged 38. Her sister, my great grandma had nursed her. I have her death certificate, which had been kept safely with all our family papers. I remember my dad telling me that Jenny and my great grandmother were very close. Their older brother and sister were lost to illness, a burden that many Victorian families bore due to devastating and deadly childhood diseases. My great grandma had lost her firstborn twins and my grandfather was her only child. Then she lost her sister. To my knowledge and my dad's knowledge she never saw her nephews and nieces again. I doubt she knew that the children suffered terribly as their father had a breakdown and turned to drink after his wife's death. So that left me trying to trace Charles. He was last mentioned during World War 2 as a bus conductor and his wife was working making radios for the war effort. I think I found a record of their daughter, and her three sons, who are are of my generation. But here the road stops. There are no more signposts, just lots of dead ends.
This branch of my family has caused many tears for me - a sense of loss, and grieving for lives that were so hard. Arthur and his sister lived to ripe old age, but we didn't know that. If my father had known, he would have visited them. Family was family. If my great grandmother had known the fate of her nephews and nieces, I think she would have tried to adopt them. She only had one child and she and my great grandfather were modestly prosperous. It could have ended very differently. I just hope the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Charles will somehow carry some of the love and grace of their ancestor Jenny.