Categories
Loving

Grandad – A Tribute

On Friday 17 January 2014, my sister and I said farewell to Grandad with the support of good people and the assistance of the wonderful Reverend Peter Evans. What follows is the text of the tribute I read at the service.

Last year, my grandfather and I were fortunate enough to be able to visit the former Colchester Garrison church to commemorate the marriage of our ancestors there in 1856. Afterwards, I asked him for his life story – to add to the family history. Here it is, edited with just a few tweaks…

He was born on 19 April 1907 in Wandsworth Road, London as the first child of Lily Alice and George William Manley. The couple went on to have three more, surviving, children. George’s earliest memory was from when he was a toddler. His uncle was a Thames bargeman who, together with his wife, would look after him from time to time on their sailing barge. They couldn’t have children of their own and were happy to take care of George – especially as his home life was often very difficult. He recalls being put to bed in a bunk on the vessel after being taken on deck to see three warships sail past. This same couple planned to take him with them to live in San Francisco with relatives – their new life was due to start on board the Titanic. Luckily, as it turned out, they left it too late to buy tickets.

George attended school in Mortlake and left before he was 14 – although he’d worked odd jobs all the time he’d been in education, he needed to earn full-time. He was bright and had finished all his classes early and so was eligible to take the ‘Labour Exam’. Passing this meant that he could start work, so he did, at a builders’ merchant for 15 shillings a week. Any spare time he had, he spent making crystal sets (early radios).

A change for the worse in family circumstances led to the family having to leave London, quickly, with no possessions. They moved to Colchester, where there were other relatives. By this time, George was 14 and already had plenty of work experience so was able to find another job, but had to take a pay cut to 10 shillings. The cheapest house the three could find to rent was a country cottage three miles from town, so Grandpa walked there and back every day for two years until he could afford a bicycle.

Through family connections, he was introduced to Doris Annie Elizabeth Lambert – then living in the east end of London with her parents. In 1932, they married. My grandmother, as Doris became, was a secretary in the City of London with an oil dealer and the first girl in her family who had not had to work in service. In Doris, George found someone who was pretty, clever, and hard-working. Importantly, she had grown up knowing the value of a loving, caring family and the necessity of three good meals a day. As everyone said, and as I know, she was a class act. As George said, she was his best friend.

They had two children; my mother, born in 1935, and my uncle, born in 1941. In the meantime, George had continued his business education through evening classes – this helped him to become a buyer and manager for a builders’ merchant in Colchester. He also supplemented the family income at this time by, among other things, building caravans and beach huts. Much later, when he felt he could go no further as an employee, he bought an empty cafe in West Bergholt, Essex and turned it into the village store. A very successful move. As a result, my parents were married in the parish church at West Bergholt and my sister and I were baptized there.

Just some of the other work he undertook included pottery which he taught to children in West Bergholt, selling ceramic work of his own from time to time. He was a carpenter making furniture, dolls’ houses and bird boxes until he ‘retired’ from that ‘job’ on his 100th birthday. After they had left the village store in West Bergholt, George and Doris ran their own printing press from home – this work only ending years later when my grandmother, Doris, became seriously ill.

More important to George was his and Doris’ active involvement in community work and local societies. George joined ‘The Junior Imperial League’ (later, the Young Conservatives) early on in his married life and, very flexibly indeed, remained a one-nation Tory. He later became a Conservative councillor, editing the local organization’s magazine and arranging social events. He had a gift for making a great success of any gathering he organized. Over the years he raised a large amount of money for charity in this way. He even turned his 100th birthday party into a fundraiser for MENCAP.

He suffered from duodenal ulcers and was considered unfit for active service in World War II. So, he became an air-raid warden and firewatcher. At this time, he increased his charity work and was frequently at The George Hotel in Colchester (where my parents held their wedding reception in 1956), organizing dances for ‘Wings for Victory’ and other benevolent groups. However, it was the MENCAP work to which he and Doris were most committed.

By the late 1940s, they had realized that my uncle (who is here with us today) was autistic and they became driven not only to find him the best possible care by the standards of the time, but also to help other parents with (what were then known as) mentally handicapped children. Doris became the founder member of the, now, Colchester and District branch of MENCAP. George later became their chairman. They worked tirelessly towards the opening of both a purpose-built occupation centre and a day nursery. They went on to help set up other, newer, local branches of the same charity, before assisting in establishing Acorn Village, which still provides a secure future for those with learning disabilities.

Although, happily, he didn’t realize at the time, this work was to help him later when Doris fell ill. She suffered a series of strokes and George became her principal carer and a very outspoken (as only he could be) advocate of respect for the elderly in health care. He became chairman of the local carers’ association in order to help himself, and others, in this work. The effort of taking care of Doris nearly took him away, too – but he would not give up on her, nor relinquish his role as her carer, advocate and partner.

Eventually, in his nineties and living alone, George decided he needed more daily care and support and moved into the newly-opened Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution home, Stisted Hall. In his time there, he became a very active member of the Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court community, well looked-after by an excellent staff (some of whom are here today). His fifty-year commitment to, and progression within, Freemasonry – of which he was justifiably proud – was honoured on 14 May 2013 at this RMBI facility. As a Freemason, he had been Worshipful Master of three different lodges and also served in other positions of high office.

This can only be a snapshot of such a long and productive life. There were so many other stories he had to tell yet, like all good storytellers, he left us wanting more.

Categories
Loving

Goodbye Grandad

George William Manley

Categories
Living

When the Wind Blows

…from the north, as it is now, it takes me back to Herne Bay. 3B Mickleburgh Hill, December 1980, to be precise. I shared the flat with The Two Marks and Christian and we each paid seven pounds a month for the privilege. I studied Law in Canterbury with The Two Marks. Christian claimed to be an ’18-year old trainee chef’. He was 16 and did the washing-up in a local cafe. He was someone Big Mark had picked up on a bus ride back from campus. This last had seemed a good idea at the time, as it reduced the rent and filled a spare room; it wasn’t. Christian had a thing for knives, red light bulbs and the dodgy periodical clippings he stuck on his bedroom wall. We ‘shipped The Young Ones. It was never going to work. One day, The Two Marks barricaded in their room and refusing to come out, I went to find the boy’s mum. She came and collected him. It ended well.

Herne Bay is a distance from Canterbury and was then full of funeral directors and second-hand stores (I’ll leave you to join the dots). Traveling back and forth from the flat to campus was a chore, so we started The Herne Bay Society, registered it with the Student Union and hey, presto! Funds became available for social events and travel – two of my favourite things – and then it didn’t seem so bad. We lived on a diet of porridge, toast, cake, beer (The Two Marks) and whisky (me) with the occasional reject fish from local trawlers. Ross, another Law student, flat-shared with a trawler-man’s brother and used to give me fish in return for cake (seriously, if I never have to clean and fillet another oily fish…). Toast was eaten with Grandma’s ‘marmalade’*, her ‘lemon curd’*, Marmite or peanut butter: in times of plenty or stress, all of the above. We always had fresh bread from the bakery counter at Safeway. Herne Bay froze in the winter, the tale of the North Sea freezing over in 1963 haunted us, so we would stand at that counter until threatened by security and told to move on. Taking reading material with us probably didn’t help our case. Anyway, we bought loaves, so we bought time. Back home, fresh loaves need slicing with sharp knives, no? Yes. This invariably meant I was sent into Christian’s room to retrieve them from under his mattress where he kept them ‘safe’, tricky in that dim rosy glow, but OK as long as I didn’t look up at the walls (*shudders at memory*).

Needless to say, the flat had no heating and there was only hot water in the kitchen. We took showers on campus or ‘with friends’. School-friends came to stay and were shocked that I undressed to go to bed; one took himself to a charity shop and stocked up on woolen garments specifically for bedtime. As the place was so cold, we lived in the kitchen where tea/porridge/toast were always on the go. I have almost-fond memories of standing stirring the porridge vat, sporting pyjamas, gloves-on-a-string, a bobble hat and hiking socks while The Two Marks drank tea and Christian lay low in his room doing whatever it was he did in there with the knives and glamour shots colored crimson. That was the scene when we heard on the radio that John Lennon had been fatally shot. We were in disbelief. We drank more tea and ate more toast and listened to more radio until the news sank in.

(*This is what Grandma labelled the jars – the contents tasted grand but were unexpected, is all.)

Categories
Loving

One of the miracles of love

For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives…a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.

CS Lewis ‘A Grief Observed’

Categories
Thinking

Optimism

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer
― Albert Camus

Categories
Moving

Wandering

As a child, I admired characters, in life and on the page, who had no fixed abode in time or space. My heroes were loners who moved on at the drop of a (cowboy) hat. This was me to a tee. When my father talked of his travels with the RAF, I went with him in my imagination.

I never wanted stuff; stuff tied you down. My maternal grandfather warned me to beware possessions as they end up possessing you. Years later, watching the movie ‘Heat’, I smiled ruefully as Robert de Niro’s character, Neil McCauley, said: ‘A guy told me one time, ‘Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat…” Because, yes, stuff tied you down.

As soon as I could walk I was off. My maternal grandmother quickly nicknamed me ‘Dot’ (in the distance). Feet on the ground I was off, at a cracking pace, into the distance. I understood solvitur ambulando long before my Latin lessons. Walking does solve it, whatever ‘it’ is. I walk it out. The more I walk, the weller I feel.

Kierkegaard felt the same: ‘Thus, if one just keeps on walking, everything will be alright’ (letters). Chatwin put it more sanguinely in ‘The Songlines’: ‘I had been sitting on my arse for a couple of weeks and was beginning to feel the disgust for words that comes from taking no exercise.’

For many years, I moved a lot and traveled very little. I was not myself and not at home. By moving, I grew into myself. I do travel, farther than others and not as far as some, and there’s farther still to go than I ever will or want to. Though I move and have no residential address, there are places I feel at home. These are the places I stay. There is a clear difference between living, visiting and staying.

Living is what I do, gratefully, every day. For me, it has nothing to do with place, no connection with an address. Visiting happens with new places, or with courtesy calls to those who describe themselves as ‘living’ in a particular location. Staying is what I do when I find somewhere I like and want to get to know. That’s where I lay my (cowboy) hat. Before staleness sets in, though, it’s time to move – because there’s always back to come.

Is there a purpose? I cannot say. All I’ve talked of here is function. The best description was coined before I was born: ‘We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time’ (TS Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’).

In any case, I shall leave the last words to a favorite of mine, John Donne:To live in one land is captivity, To run all countries, a wild roguery; Waters stink soon if in one place they bide, And in the vast sea are more purified: But when they kiss one bank, and leaving this/ Never look back, but the next bank do kiss, Then are they purest. Change is the nursery/ Of music, joy, life, and eternity. (Elegy III: Change)

Categories
Making

Marc Chagall Uncovered

The previously unknown work, uncovered in Munich in 2012.

20131105-145740.jpg

Categories
Loving

A Feaver

Yet twas of my minde, seising thee,

Though it in thee cannot persever,

For I had rather owner bee,

Of thee one houre,

Than all else ever.

John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Categories
Loving Making

Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues

I hear these women raving ’bout their monkey men
About their trifling husbands and their no good friends
These poor women sit around all day and moan
Wondering why their wandering papas don’t come home
But wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no blues

Now when you’ve got a man, don’t never be on the square
‘Cause if you do he’ll have a woman everywhere
I never was known to treat no one man right
I keep ’em working hard both day and night
‘Cause wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have their blues

I’ve got a disposition and a way of my own
When my man starts kicking I let him find another home
I get full of good liquor, walk the streets all night
Go home and put my man out if he don’t act right
Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have their blues

You never get nothing by being an angel child
You better change your ways and get real wild
I wanna tell you something, I wouldn’t tell you a lie
Wild women are the only kind that really get by
‘Cause wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have their blues

Ida Cox, 1929

Categories
Loving

She lies in this alien room and aches.

She lies in this alien room and aches. Her mind and body howl. All that she can normally keep tamped down springs into life…It is not that he is ever forgotten, but mostly emotion is dormant; it lies quiet, biding its time. And then every so often something brings it raging forth, and she is back…with the raw new truth of it…

She should not have let herself be made unwary by wine, flattering attention, questions and the temptation to expand on her own achievements.

Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger