I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Keeping in touch

With granddaughter who became Professional Bleeder
With the dead I attach less importance to dates (those artificial milestones) and more to chance reflection on the dead's living influence. That way there's the rest of the year to play with.

My mother's birthday I remember was August 11 but August this year passed without my marking it. For what it's worth she would have been 110, a meaningless factoid. This morning I woke, vaguely aware - as on many other mornings - of my debt to her. Wondering whether I qualified as a dutiful son.

I have my doubts but I did at least write. Here's part of a letter from Philadelphia, ca. 1968

Dear Mum, I note your suggestion of jewellery for Christmas. By the time I received your letter I had made the supreme effort and bought everybody's gifts. I use the words "supreme effort" not as they apply to the act of buying, but to the act of packaging. All my love and devotion to my parents goes into the business of wrapping my gifts safely. It's an evening's work and involves the use of about £1 worth of paper, string and sticky paper tape. As a matter of fact, even more love and devotion goes into the packaging of the Folkestone parcel (ie, to VR's family). This is usually bigger... Yours is fairly utilitarian I'm afraid but I do know you use one and this one's a little gayer. Father's is experimental. We'll see.

NOTES. Secure packing and insurance were essential for UK-bound parcels; otherwise they were routinely stolen in New York. I have no idea what the "utilitarian" and "experimental" gifts were.

US friends, appalled by the RRs’ disinclination to be emotional, would have approved of "love and devotion". But, see, it is repeated and therefore jocular.


  1. That was hard to read, lump in the throat for me, and I hadn’t seen the photo before - there were so few in those days and what there were are scattered around or not survived. You had the benefit of being older and thus able to take advantage of grown up discussion on matters literary and the like. It is a classic situation, but I so often regret not being quite mature enough to make more of that with Mother.

    She was wise - one anecdote:

    I stored up for ages at the age of seventeen or eighteen the desire to emulate certain friends by going to bum round Germany, (following the herd I suppose). I eventually summed up the courage to announce this ambition to Mother fearing a strong disapproving reaction.

    She said something like, “What a wonderful idea, you should go off and do it whilst you have the chance…”

    From that moment I no longer had the slightest desire to depart my comfortable scene.

    When I reply to comments it is often fairly straightforward and I type directly into the comments box, but with something more delicate and personal like this I have a feeling that such an approach is somehow too trivial or superficial, and also it seems to encourage a quicker and less considered response, so I turn to a proper word processor which is designed for more serious writing, then when I am satisfied, copy and paste.

    I wonder if others feel the same way? I have tried to analyse my thoughts here on this, and no doubt, as usual you will be able to crystallise what I am trying to say providing you have some relevant empathy.

  2. My father died of a heart attack at 72 in, I think, 1989. My widowed mother continued to live in their house until 1998 and then came to live with us for the last 5 years of her life. So the wrapping/posting of parcels did not then apply.

    However we periodically send parcels to our daughter (HHB) in Oz, packed with love and non-essentials like books, magazines and foodstuffs which contain Marmite (which she enjoys), the latter not being available out there, where the locals prefer a nauseating, sweetish concoction called Vegemite.

    As with you the effort goes into the assembling and parcelling and the cost of postage usually exceeds the content's value. We refer to them as "Red Cross parcels" as the custom started at a time when such a morale booster was important. (Australian bush fires are no respecter of bungalows in the Perth hills)

  3. Sir Hugh: It wasn't all lit-chat; she passed on a number of her opinions, notably political, some of which I found myself discarding as I grew older. I suppose I was entitled to do this but it tended to feel like betrayal.

    When I say, as at the beginning of this post, I don't go much on dates I'm referring to dates which carry an obligation to celebrate and/or commemorate. What I seem particularly bad at is remembering dates and time-spans that define the hum-drum events within the family. What year, for instance, did Mum leave home? How long did she stay away? When did we move to Leylands Lane? What age was I when I started at Thornville? Without these markers it's hard to assemble a panorama of my mid youth. Serves me right, I suppose. I wasn't interested at the time.

    Your desire to bum around Germany - however tenuous - is news to me. Without paying too much attention I always had a vague belief that you were glued to the West Riding. When I found myself sending Christmas cards to you in the north-east it seemed inappropriate.

    I rarely write directly into the comment box. Most of the time - as now, for instance - I use Notepad, then cut and paste. I like to be able to see more of what I've written. But Notepad is dangerous; accidental deletion is a regular danger and it's happened two or three times when I've exceeded about 400 words. Interestingly these deletions have revealed I have almost total recall up to about this limit. I'm not entirely sure this is something I should boast about.

    Avus: I'm astonished about Marmite; it used to be the subject of antipodean jokes (actually, jokes about Brits who went to live there without knowing the shocking price they would be paying) but I thought that was decades ago. I'm almost certain it was available in NZ when we went there and it's certainly sold by French supermarkets. Not too sure about the US; the government tends to be faddist about stuff that's mildly out of the ordinary.

  4. I use my email which with the Mac is a well furnished word-processor. I open a new email and address it to myself - it gets deleted when I have posted the comment. If you accidentally close it or whatever it saves itself as a "draft", but that is then un-editable, so I copy and paste it into another new email, but that is a rare occurrence.

  5. When visiting my eldest brother in Aus, we were talking about our mother, generally positively, but I said 'I just wish, just once, she might have been able to admit to the possibility that she could have been wrong.' This provoked amused recognition, but he replied that in fact it had taken him probably well into his thirties, long after he had departed not only the bosom of the family but the country and the hemisphere, to accept the idea that she might have been wrong about anything either. Having been finding chilly solace in Larkin's 'This be the verse' and Oscar Wilde's 'children begin by loving their parents...' from a very young age, I found this quite remarkable, though Tom had rather harshly remarked in the earliest days of our partnership, and before having ever met him, 'your Aussie brother is a mummy's boy.'

    I often do that too, sir Hugh, into a chrome 'memo notepad' extension, when I have a lot to say, though I'm not doing it now. It was useful when we had only very limited internet connection recently, though it did have pitfalls, for example when I wrote Avus's daughter (see above) a long thank you letter for a 'Red Cross parcel' she more than kindly sent to us, then omitted to actually send it.

    This is more of a reply to the comments than the actual post.

  6. What interest and yet melancholy in these comments. I didn't expect it. And those of us who are mothers must wonder what our children will make of us in the end.

  7. Lucy: Could I be a mother's boy? Once I'd have found that hard to bear, implying effeminacy, skirts worn into early teendom, an interest in cooking that started at age five. These days I'd post about it, being careful to adopt a cynical tone, of course.

    My mother abruptly left us (three brothers) with my father when his infidelities became blatant. This was, I think, in the late forties and times were very different then: neither her best friend nor my mother's parents - whose houses she sought - approved. This combination left her in a shaky state which dogged her subconsciously to her death. Since I disliked my father I was non-critical but there was to be an odd denouement; when, later, she and I were alone together she told me she would never come back to my father. For reasons I've never understood since, this caused me to burst into tears. Conceivably children cleave more towards order than to the emotional reactions which are predicted (always by adults) in similar circumstances.

    I'm very pleased you are responding to others' comments on Tone Deaf. I've profited similarly on Box Elder.

    Marly: Melancholy is right because significant events occurring in childhood quite freqently last the rest of our lives. Both my daughters are now on or around fifty. Given that journalism wholly involved me during their formative years, both could now be entitled to the justifiable option of feeling cool towards me. A combination of VR's attentions and pure luck appears to have ensured this didn't happen.

    Oh, and there's never - actually - an end.

  8. My brother, like you, is quite a manly man, and certainly not effeminate, though he does cook very good scrambled egg. My mother was rather annoyingly very often right, probably more right than Larkin or Oscar, in the end, allowing that, as you say, there never is an end.

    What prompted Tom's remark was this: when my mother was about eighty, and Aussie brother well into his fifties, his elder son, my mum's first grandchild, who was over thirty and had always been a rather quiet, nerdy chap, grew a pony tail and got himself a rather lovely younger girlfriend, they set up home together and announced the expected arrival of their own firstborn, being clear that though very happy and committed to each other and the child, they didn't want to get married yet. This was all happening in Australia, my mother, though always a rather critical and morally judgemental person, didn't really know or any longer give much thought to her extended family on the other side of the world, and had managed to survive rather more shocking, sad or puzzling events visited on her by some of her other children.

    Nevertheless, when my bro was telling his sister-in-law (other brother's wife) about this on the phone, he said what was really worrying him was how he was going to tell mum about it. Naturally he got short shrift from her too, as well as Tom's rather brutal judgement, which he didn't in fact hear, to my knowledge.

    The two of them get on pretty well on the whole though. Aussie nephew and pretty wife are still together, and got married a couple of years ago, their son is now twenty-something and very brainy.

  9. Lucy: Here I am basking in the luxuries of retirement: The Art of The Baroque Trumpet rattling in my ears, providing Lindsay (of Rictangular Glasses) with plausible dialogue in the bar of a boutique hotel in Knightsbridge, and breaking off - deliciously - to chat with Brittany. Who but a fool would ever work for a living?

    Minutes ago my instinct was to tell you - instruct you - not to be so damn profligate. You cannot waste all this rich raw material in a re-comment (or is it a re-re-comment?) in someone else's blog. Knowing of course that the moment prescribes the material; and lo one is presiding over a union of time and text that's fun to do.

    I love the way you switch your mother on and off in deliberate acts of self-irritation: insufferably right when you'd give an arm for her to be proved wrong, and then - dog-blast-it - being right anyway, when remembered statistically. Then short shrift followed by brutal judgment; making me feel like a French waiter with his funny little roller-aspirateur hoovering up crumbs from a table-cloth which your family has left behind after a long and most discursive lunch. And goodness me, a happy temporary ending. Didn't expect that.

    All of which is sequel to a visit I paid a few hours ago, spent among the leaves that continue to fall - month after month, year after year - on Joe's blog. Twenty-four leaves, most post-mortem; and now a twenty-fifth as a conceit occurred to me there and then. He did conceits well, I hope we're not making him envious.

  10. I sometimes wonder myself why I'm so much more relaxed and extravagant in comments, particularly here, than on my own blog, but as you say, it's the moment that gives rise, and generally responding is easier than than initiating, plus, as has often been observed, a comments box offers a degree of privacy the main blog doesn't.

    Switching on my full chronological sidebar feed to go to Joe's (Ellena's 'like time' comment is a twist to the heart strings in itself) is a litany of poignancy; his last post is just above Julia's last one from Prague, two down from Clare's brief general blog after she bowed out from her 3BT one at last, and a few inches down from Stella's 'disappearing act'. Last of all at the bottom was Mangetout, remember her? That Shirley Valentine character in Provence who cooked and wrote very well but who deleted everything and disappeared never to be seen again when her rather flaky Provençal boyfriend did the dirty on her? And that's only a sample of all the 'trépassés' whose blogs languish there. At one time I might have cleared them out as link-rot but now I can't quite bring myself to, it feels like a kind of betrayal. There are also many who update quite regularly but I seldom visit them any more, again, it would seem disloyal to delete, and I like to know they're still there.

    I like your conceit.

  11. Lucy: I've never been more flattered than by "particularly here". I could go on but the list of names you've provided has given me an idea for a post which also draws on another phenomenon I've only recently become aware of. How perfectly you chronicle those comings and goings; I'm sure you're right and that the "Shirley Valentine character in Provence" was called MangeTout; my impression is her blogonym was EarlyBird. Even if I'm right yours is funnier and I'll use it.

  12. She was indeed Earlybird, mangetout was her blog. I was always doubtful about the boyfriend, when she described his typical afternoons as sitting in a garden hammock drinking pastis (maybe, or maybe I elaborated that detail in my own false memory), with a shotgun beside him occasionally taking potshots at the local wildlife, and that she proudly cooked woodcock pâté for Christmas dinner, presumably the woodcock having been slaughtered by himself or one of his co-Provençals, since I doubt many of them came within view of his hammock.

    A weird thing is, when I switched back on this morning, the whole sidebar feed blog roll thing had completely disappeared from my blog, a matter I feel I must post about, even though I'm supposed to be packing to move back to the house.