Friday 29 March 2024

Friday Photo #62

I started to seriously look into my family tree over the past winter, in an effort to make sense of the paper trail left by Mum. In the 1980s and 1990s she subscribed to various genealogy newsletters, spent hours poring over dusty documents at Somerset House in London and dragged Dad around endless country graveyards on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, in search of any clues about the life and times of our ancestors. She was keen to share her discoveries with me at the time, but of course I paid scant attention back then. Now that I am interested, there's no-one left to ask. However within a couple of clicks on Ancestry, cross-referred with Mum's handwritten notes, I'd already travelled further back into history than she managed in over 15 years of research. And I've barely scratched the surface.

This is the only known photo of my maternal grandmother's brother Sidney, with whom I share a middle name. He was born on August 30th 1895 and though I found all kinds of information about his parents and siblings with relative ease, Sidney's trail quickly went cold. Then it dawned on me and I turned my attention from birth, marriage and census records, towards an altogether more tragic resource, where I discovered that Sidney, a rifleman, was killed in action in Flanders on Good Friday March 29th 1918, 106 years ago today, and is buried in Arras, Pas-de-Calais.

Friday 22 March 2024

Friday Photo(s) #61

Just lately I've been spending more time than usual in London. My aunt is having a few health issues and my cousin has had to fly in from America to monitor the situation. I've bombed down the M11 at every opportunity over the past month or so to give them both a bit of moral support (I'm heading down again today). During this uncertain period, my cousin is also working all hours, including seemingly endless daily conference calls carried out on New York time. To see an unwell aunt and a horribly stressed out cousin without really being able to do anything to help either is upsetting to say the least. 

One day, while my cousin was up to her neck in unfathomably complicated technical discussions with multiple colleagues scattered around the globe and with the relentless rain briefly pausing, I took myself off to the East Ham Nature Reserve to clear my head. The reserve winds through the defunct 9 acre graveyard of an 800 year old church and in spite of incessant A13 traffic hammering across the flyover a few yards to the South and planes from the nearby London City Airport roaring overhead, it's a relative oasis of calm amid the turmoil of life.

Jape - Graveyard

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Together Riding On a Crest, It Was Swell

Back in the 1970s, most of the Friday morning playground chatter concerned the previous evening's edition of Top of the Pops. A lucky few of us would've recorded selections from the programme on our new fangled cassette machines, turning to shush our parents as we held a microphone up to the tiny tinny speaker next to the screen. The rest relied on mental highlights, etched into transfixed memory and enhanced by the shared recollections of classmates. Memorable performances seemed to come thick and fast for us throughout those years; David Essex's extraordinary 'Rock On', Leo Sayer's pierrotesque tour-de-force 'The Show Must Go On' and our first glimpse of  the unique genius of Sparks, via 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us', to name but a few - all of these before we even start on the likes of Bolan, Bowie, Slade, Sweet etc. The cultural impact of Top of the Pops may have been tarnished by the evil actions of some of the presenters and dimmed by the passing years, but those performances resonate with me to this day. Another that stands out is Cockney Rebel's 1974 TOTP debut with 'Judy Teen'. The following morning, before the school-bell rang, a group of us huddled together beneath the netball hoop to exchange our thoughts on the brilliant quirky oddness of the song and frontman Steve Harley's strangely alien appearance. It was the stuff we lived for. Needless to say, the BBC have wiped that particular edition of the show, though a later TOTP version of the song is preserved on YouTube.

I happened to be in London on Sunday, just half a dozen miles from my childhood stomping grounds, when news of Steve Harley's sad passing pinged onto my phone. In The Boleyn later that evening, I raised a pint of Five Points Best to Steve and to all those pals from the old schoolyard. 

Cockney Rebel - Judy Teen 

Friday 15 March 2024

Friday Photo #60

Maud, my Maternal Grandmother (Nan), was born in Stratford in the East End of London on January 19th 1893, 131 years ago. She passed away two days before my 16th birthday in 1976. Here Nan is pictured standing between two of her sisters in the early 1920s. On the left of the photo is Beatrice, known to me over 40 years later as emphysema ridden Aunt Beat, who was born in 1897 and died in 1974. To the right is Caroline, Aunt Carrie to me, who enjoyed the longest life of the three sisters, born in 1892 and passing away in 1979. There appear to have been at least a further three siblings in the family, including another sister lost in infancy and a brother Sidney, killed in France during the First World War at just 22 years of age.

This second photo, from the late 1960s, shows (left to right) Beatrice, Carrie and Nan as I knew them.

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