End of an Era

As the 1960’s ended and the 70’s began, our family was heading towards the end of an era. By 1974 I had got married and had my first child, and over the next decade or so my sisters, one by one, would also leave home and start to make their various ways in the world. All of these transitions brought their own challenges of course. Suffice to say that in some ways Mum and Dad, and perhaps especially Dad, didn’t always find it easy to adjust to the ever changing family configurations as their six daughters ventured out into the big wide world.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Before all this re-configuring began, there were still a few years when we would all pile in to Victor the car and head off on various trips, which Dad would continue to document in that old leather album.  In 1969, we crossed the Irish Sea, and for the first time met our Irish cousins. For my Mum, it would have been 14 years since she had last visited her homeland. That first picture, of my mum and Phil her sister in law, has always made me smile as they pose in the garden complete with handbags!

IMG_1614

IMG_1620

What do I remember of that visit? Very little I’m afraid. I see from the pictures that we visited Galway Cathedral and were taken by our Uncle Pat for rides in the hay wagon. My memories coincide with how my sister Mary describes it: “The family visited Mum’s home in Davros where she displayed her bike-riding skill to the astonishment of us all. On our journey home through Belfast we encountered a crowd throwing a pipe bomb and stones. We cowered in the car as Dad drove us to safety (the wrong way) up a one-way street. As we left on the ferry we spotted large graffiti letters painted on the jetty behind us saying “Paisley for Pope!” which we found very funny – I suppose because it seemed to insult both sides in equal measure – and it became a saying in our family for years afterwards.”  Trust us to choose practically the first night of the Irish troubles to finally make it over the sea to Ireland!

It was maybe a year after the Irish adventure that Mum and Dad acquired a great big tent, big enough to sleep all of us, and we became a family who took camping holidays instead of just going away for day trips. I think Glen Orchy was chosen for our first proper camping expedition, a spot beside a stream, which was our one and only concession to modern facilities. I remember my sister Ann and I being allowed to walk maybe a couple of miles up the road to the Bridge of Orchy, where there was a hotel and a shop. I’ve got a feeling we did no more than hastily buy some chewing gum before we headed back again for fear we wouldn’t get back to our camp before it started raining – I know, intrepid or what?. And we probably ended up with blisters as our footwear of choice was wellies!

After that we discovered North Ballachulish where there was an actual campsite owned by a very nice couple called Dykes. Although when I say campsite it was more a bit of extra land attached to their cottage, an informal – and relatively inexpensive – arrangement which suited us so well we went back a few years in a row. This was an ideal location for us, a mere 15 miles south of Fort William and thus within easy reach of places – and relatives – from Dad’s childhood, and indeed the place where Nellie had been the family nanny and the story of their romance began. (See post from 10 March “A Glasgow Wedding”). Both of them loved the Highlands, and passed that love on to us.

We would make visits to various of Dad’s Highland relatives and “John’s girls” would be duly lined up and coo-ed over.  One time we went on what must have been quite a major expedition to Dundee where we visited my Dad’s Aunt Ettie, Sister Mary Evangeline – she belonged to the Convent of Mercy there. The nuns seemed delighted to have us as visitors and the younger ones ran around the garden playing tag with our “wee ones”, Jane and Eleanor. I remember the nuns’ parlour with its characteristic smell of furniture polish, and all of us standing in a row entertaining said holy Sisters with our rendition of “Eidelweiss”. The nuns, being nuns, were very kind and clapped enthusiastically – or maybe they really did enjoy it. Another time we reached even further north and visited Ettie’s sister, Aunt Winnie, in Inverness.

In truth we rarely had much appreciation of who all these relatives were – I think in those days adults were not much in the habit of explaining things or introducing themselves to children, and it’s only as I look back now that I can understand just who those various aunties, uncles and assorted cousins were. In fact part of the purpose of this blog is to try and make some sense of it all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

001 (2)

As you can see, at some point Dad had upgraded from the box brownie and discovered glorious technicolour! I was also lucky enough to acquire a camera of my own (a wee Kodak Instamatic as a reward for doing well in my Highers). One of the first pictures I took was this one of Mary, who had obviously just received her box brownie training! Now I come to think of it, I have very fond memories of my Dad showing us how things worked. He would take your hand in his and position your fingers in the right place, explaining all the time – Don’t shake the camera.. Make sure you stand with your back to the sun.. Press in the button gently.. He’d also tell you a whole load of stuff that you didn’t want to know – shutter speed, exposure times and so on. But, there’s something about those big gentle hands that is a deep abiding memory for me. My mum used to tell me that when I was a very little girl I’d push my hand into his and say “Hold oo wee handie”

So, to finish, here we all are, still at school, still having our pictures taken in the back green, still relatively unaware of the changes that would inexorably come upon us, and indeed upon the world. Embrace it or resist it, nothing ever stays the same for ever…

005 (9)

Advertisements

Travel broadens…

… I was going to say the mind, but considering the associated meals out, incidental cups of tea, snacks on the train, plane or whatever, it would probably be more accurate to say that travel broadens the beam! This is on my mind because I’m on the move right now – a mini tour of relatives in London and Ireland. I started this post on day 4 of the County Mayo leg of the trip, a place I’ve not been since 1969, though it’s my mother’s family home. She visited her homeland quite a few times in the years after my dad died in 1981, but somehow we daughters never did, other than the aforementioned family holiday in the sixties.

So I’ve finally come over to try and retrace her footsteps, starting at her sister Mary’s house, where Mary (92) still lives, cared for by her daughter Marian. Here’s Mum (left) on one of her visits, chatting with sister in law Phil, and then cousin Marian  (“don’t be silly, of course you must come and stay with us”), sitting at the self same table, chatting with me (the picture of me didn’t come out).

Catching up with the relatives has involved limitless kindness and hospitality on the part of these lovely cousins of mine, so warm and welcoming, and ready to ignore decades of neglect on my part. There seems to be something about family ties, especially in a friendly place like Ireland, that you can always rely on. Calling at the family farm in County Mayo turned out to be more than just a quick visit – Auntie Phil had other ideas: cosy fire in the living room, high tea laid out on the kitchen table, and –  surprise, surprise – more cousins; Marian, Sarah and Ann, who had “just popped in” . And then came the piece de resistance – this little suitcase absolutely crammed full of old photographs, which engrossed us all for the next several hours…

Here’s just a small selection, mainly from the fifties and sixties, of Phil and Paddy’s family snaps. Paddy was my mother’s younger brother, and he and Phil had three daughters, mentioned above, and a son, John, who now lives in England. The top left picture is of Phil and Paddy’s wedding day.

And of course Marian in Tuam also unearthed a fine collection of photograph albums, chronicling HER family over the years. It would be too confusing to start reciting all the names here, so I think I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves, except to say that the first photo is of Marian on her mother’s knee.

I love the way these rather faded old photographs seem to reach out to you directly from a lost era. But I suppose I’d better bring you more up to date with a couple of pictures from a family wedding (Marian’s daughter Denise). Don’t they all scrub up well?

It’s a bit overwhelming to catch up with quite so many relatives, so many lives, all at once, so I think it would be best not to leave it several decades before I come back again.  And I would also do well to remember that visiting relatives in Ireland is definitely an exercise in going with the flow – whatever thoughts you might have had of being very organised and self-sufficient and independent simply fade away in the face of such boundless hospitality.

I’m not sure if it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive – passing through Stansted Airport, as I did for the first time last week, just about knocks all hope out of you, a truly ghastly experience, only surpassed by the appalling Charles de Gaulle in Paris. So what with that, delayed trains, carting luggage up and down stairs in the Tube, I think I’m probably more a fan of actually arriving.  However I do agree with the author Mary Anne Radmacher: “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine from the other side of the world.” Now that rings true. I will never forget travelling to China five years ago and watching the sun slowly rise over the curve of the Earth as we flew towards the morning from Europe to Asia. That kind of experience makes a long lasting impression. “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”  Gustave Flaubert.

sunrise

Travel does change you, if you let it. It might be the spectacular once-in-a-lifetime trip, such as that fortnight in Shanghai, or the apparently more modest excursion to somewhere that captures a little corner of your heart and stays there long after you’ve returned home again – it’s great to occasionally be cast adrift from the normal, familiar routines, to see different sights, think different thoughts, be open to different cultures. That’s when travel really does broaden the mind, changes your perspective, creates lasting memories. As John Steinbeck observed “People don’t take trips, trips take people”.