Saturday, October 27, 2007

Climbing trees - still waiting

I wrote here about the research I had been doing into my husband's forbears, and how it had taken such a hold on my imagination. I am still waiting to hear from the Kendal Records Office, whether they have been able to validate my research findings. They told me it would be 12 weeks before their archivist would get round to my request, but that time is now up.

I have been in some sort of suspended animation while I waited; now I am moving into a mood of fidgeting impatience, so great has been my investment of time and interest in this project. There are family members, both old and newly discovered, with whom I shall share the information, but I do not feel I should say a word until I am sure of my ground. Meanwhile I am playing around with it all, creating documents, planning bits of writing, scanning old pictures - knowing that much of it may fall apart if I haven't got things right.

These are my husband's great grandparents on his mother's side, in 1853. We have just inherited them in splendid heavy gold frames. I think they are pencil portraits though they look like photographs. I suppose they could have been photos at that date. If you click on them to enlarge you can see for yourself. The man (who was a surgeon) has a frown between his eyes which makes him human, while the woman looks quite unreal to me. Get that waist - get those shoulders - get that mouth; all idealised, would you say? But the man's mouth is a bit dimply-pouty too, and enlargement reveals that his lips have been tinted red, though his wife's portrait does not appear to have had that advantage.

Poetic fragment

I have recently come across this piece of verse among my husband's papers. I can't recollect seeing it before. As he worked for an engineering insurance firm, he may have written it for the house journal. I think it has a Gilbertian feel about it. He would have delighted in introducing a touch of ridicule to the rather stiff and stuffy world of insurance.

It is not clear to me whether the three lines starting with a dash were alternatives he planned to choose between, or whether he was allowing himself some poetic extravagance. I don't think it matters which.


It is the public’s firm belief
that rates are always found
by methods scientific and
statistically sound

Mathematically based, let’s say
allowing in each £
a modest bit of profit but
statistically sound

The truth is rather different
we use our gifts and flair
to raise a hand aloft and grab
a rate from out thin air

Or else there’s this (no doubt you wish
our mysteries to plumb)
to get the true and perfect rate
one sucks it from one’s thumb

And who shall say that we are wrong
if as each year comes round
we’ve made a bit and paid our way -
there really is no ground
- for saying we have gone to pot
- that rating’s just a lot of rot
- that no-one really cares a jot

In fact we think we’re rather hot
at rating (and we do a lot)
not always scientific but
statistically sound

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our love affair with the Citroen 'Safari' - continued

Our third Safari stayed with us for nine years, I am happy to say, and went with us all over the UK, on holiday to France, and later for a three-year posting to Belgium. But eventually, in 1982, it too had to be retired, too worn out even to drive away. My husband assists sadly at its loading onto the flatbed truck, knowing that he is not likely to be driving a Safari again.

He was right - his next buy was a Citroen GSA Special, and it might even have been a new one. It was not unlike the Safari, and as far as I remember it had the hydraulic suspension which had made the Safaris such fun to watch, at switch-on and stwitch-off, as they rose up or sank down upon their haunches. But the GSA did not have the highly unusual and distinctive front end - (which incidentally made the Safari too big for me to handle comfortably!) And although it was an estate, I don't think it was an eight-seater; but by that time the older boys were leaving home and we no longer travelled en famille.

I don't remember the fate of the GSA, or what came after that, but I had my own car by then anyway - (that is a Simca in the background of the picture above). But I am sure Michael went on driving Citroens, and in 2001 he bought his last one, a Xara. It was quite a small car compared with his first love, and it did not have the hydraulic break system which made the Safaris such an attraction for children, (but which was also the cause of our near disaster on the Motorway in 1969). He drove the Xara until the last few months of his life in 2006, faithful to Citroen until the end.

Michael was a man who liked to be different - which sometimes meant awkward, but more often just unusual or original. This was a personal taste I shared with him readily, and the Citroen Safari Break suited us perfectly in that respect. It was rare to see another on the road in this country, and we all felt pleasingly remarkable during those years when the Safari was our car of choice.

Our love affair with the Citroen 'Safari'

This is a picture from Wikipedia of the Citroen DS Break, also known as the Safari, Familiale or Wagon. They were made, it seems, from 1955 until 1975, and with those initials it is not surprising that people thought of it as a 'déesse' or 'goddess'.

My husband fell in love with the Safari in 1969 when, our family having increased to six with the birth of the youngest in 1967, we began looking for a seriously big estate car. The two main contenders at that time were a Peugeot (506 I think), and a Citroen Safari, both of which had extra seats at the back.

I was favouring the Peugeot, as I had seen it in action with another family of 6, but my husband came home one day and said "I've bought a second-hand Citroen Safari" - and that was it, love at first sight. Nothing I could say, over the next thirteen years, about how the hydraulic suspension aggravated my travel sickness, made a ha'porth of difference: we continued to run a Safari as our family car from 1969 until 1982. Theywere always second-hand, as I suspect they were already becoming collectors' items.

There certainly was a cachet to driving those old Safaris, and we would sometimes acknowledge each other if we met one on the road. I was disappointed of a greeting though, on the occasion when we drove into a supermarket car park in our third, green, Safari, and found an empty slot alongside another green Safari! I scribbled a short note of cheery greeting on a scrap of paper, and stuck it under their windscreen wiper. When we came out with our shopping the other Safari had gone, and - miserable spoilsports - they had not responded by leaving a greeting for us.

But that is jumping ahead. Our first Safari had a disastrously short life with us, and we have no picture of it. On New Year's Eve 1969 we were moving house from Cheshire to Hertfordshire, and as we left the Watford Gap services after a refreshment break, the car caught fire - a leak of the hydraulic break fluid had sparked it off. Imagine us, with No 3 son on the bench seat in front between us, in a makeshift harness, and No 4 son in a little metal-framed car/chair seat with a tray, in the middle of the back seat, with his two eldest brothers on either side of him. The boot area was choc-a-bloc with all our most treasured possessions which I had not wanted to trust to the removal men. In the time it took me to get out and get No 3 out, our eldest (age 11) had unharnessed and lifted the baby out of his 'non-quick-release' chair, and we were all in the road and moving fast away from the burning car. Nobody was hurt, and my husband managed to offload much of our luggage, though not all, but the car was a write-off.

The write-off was soon replaced by this elegant silver-blue one, a later model which had bucket seats in the front. Alas, within three years it received a rear-end shunt while we were stopped for road works on the way back from a holiday. It must have been frightening for the boys sitting on the sideways facing seats in the back, as they watched it coming. Again no-one was hurt, but this one too proved to be not worth repairing, so once more there was a change - to a green one this time.

[To be continued]

Friday, October 12, 2007

Punch magazine

Lee commented on my last post that it was a pity Punch went belly up. I tried to remember just exactly when that was, and I couldn't. But not surprisingly there is a great Punch website with the full history of the publication and a whole gallery of cartoons, which is well worth looking at.

To paraphrase the introductory paragraph on the website: Punch, the magazine of humour and satire with an international reputation for its irreverent take on the world, was started in 1841 and lasted until 2002. It was a very British institution which gave us the cartoon as we know it today. Its political cartoons swayed governments while its social cartoons captured life in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was set up with a capital of £25 and was not an instant success, although eventually it enjoyed more than 100 years of popularity before beginning to decline in the 1980s. It closed down in 1992 but was relaunched in 1996 by Harrods proprietor, Mohamed Al Fayed, only to close again finally in 2002, leaving a legacy of over 160 years of humour and wit unsurpassed in publishing history.

Punch was the only magazine that my husband would read, and when it first closed down it was mourned by both of us. When it was relaunched it had changed its format and style and neither of us enjoyed it any longer, but felt that we had failed to move forward with it.

I am currently giving houseroom to seven bound volumes dating from 1884 to 1890, and several special issues and almanacks. As none of my sons seems to be interested in them, I may be lucky enough to keep them. Cartoon style has changed enormously in all these years - some of the old captions for instance are very long-winded, and the drawing tends to be much more elaborate and detailed. I think attention spans were longer in those days!
Oh yes, and a footnote which might interest Lee .....

The full name of Du Maurier, who drew the cartoon "True Humility" about the curate's egg which was excellent in parts, was George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier. His son was the actor Sir Gerald du Maurier, and his granddaughter Daphne du Maurier wrote best-selling novels. I had never associated the three names until yesterday.
[The cartoons are Punch copyright, and are reproduced here with the kind permission of Punch Ltd ]

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More punches

Here is a cartoon drawn by du Maurier in 1888, the same artist who drew the "curate's egg" cartoon , entitled "True Humility", from which Lee took the title of his blog. The caption should be legible if you click and enlarge the picture, but in case you can't read it:

Edwin (suddenly, after a long pause). "Darling!"
Angelina. "Yes, Darling?"
Edwin. "Nothing, Darling. Only Darling, Darling!"
[Bilious Old Gentleman feels quite sick.]

The caption is part of my cultural heritage - I think my parents must have quoted it to each other often in their soppier moments!

This one I love particularly for the charicature of the 1920s styles, and the absurd posturing, both physical and verbal, of the shop assistant.

And how about the 'sugar daddy' in spats in the background, whom one can imagine being called upon to pay for the sorry remains of the obliging animal. I remember my grandmother's generation wearing fox furs - head, legs, tail and all, with glaring glassy eyes - draped around their necks, and there was one in my dressing-up chest for years, until I learned to dislike it and chucked it out.

Drawn by Beauchamp in 1929.

Assistant. "It suits Moddam perfectly. One would think the animal died for Moddam!"

[The cartoons are Punch copyright, and are reproduced here with the kind permission of Punch Ltd ]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'Punch' classics

I don't seem able to write at the moment, so here is a Fougasse cartoon published in Punch Magazine in 1931.
The caption reads:
"And what was it you said you were suffering from?"
And a story without words by J W Taylor
from 1951.
[The cartoons are Punch copyright, and are reproduced here with the kind permission of Punch Ltd ]

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More blessed to give .....

I wrote here some time ago about the Freecycle organisation, for recycling goods which you no longer want, but which are still serviceable. I have been making good use of it lately. A year of helping my sons to tidy up my husband's possessions has left me convinced that I must do something about my own junk NOW, before I go. And this is not only for their sakes as my executors, but for my own too: with the extra boxes of my husband's stuff which are still cluttering two spare rooms, I have begun to feel seriously burdened by all the clutter around me. So I have made a start on sorting and throwing out ..... and I am on a roll. Having got going I am finding it hard to stop. I lie awake at night thinking of new areas of operation, and restraining myself with difficulty from jumping up there and then to get at them.

But it is not just the satisfaction of clearing out which keeps me at it. It is the much greater reward of finding homes for stuff which other people are really glad to have. Many of them send me emails after collecting something,
to tell me how pleased they are.

One woman who had a pair of red curtains (which I didn't like), sent this email:
Just like to say they bring sunshine type brightness into my room. Thank you very much.

Another said:

Thank-you very much for the wool and paper. My oldest son (who designs cartoon characters) already has a couple of designs ready for me to make into small stuffed 'critters' . The paper has been half snapped up for the children's club, and the other half my youngest son wants to try paper weaving with. Thanks again.

And finally:

I am just writing to say thank you so much for the cot sheets. I am guessing they must be quite old, as it is virtually impossible these days to get such lovely quality linens. The cotton is so soft, it almost feels like velvet - the only other place I’ve ever found sheets like that was in my Nan’s house! They are very much appreciated, and our little boy will get many, many nights of lovely sleep in them. We will pass on the pink ones to our neighbour, who has just had a little girl.

This family sent me a photo of their baby, and when they came back a second time for something else, they brought him with them to show him off to me.

It's a win-win activity, and no mistake.