Dodderings

Jan. 3rd, 2017 08:38 pm
steepholm: (tree_face)
I went to the bank to sort out some business for my mother today, and the man there needed to ring her to check some information. "It takes her a while to get to the phone these days," I said, "so it'll probably go to voicemail while she's mid-dodder. If it does, ring her again in a minute."

It happened just as I'd said. Later, my mother asked: "Did you really say 'mid-dodder'?" She pretended to be offended, but was actually laughing. She added that the secret to staying safe in the house at an advanced age was: "Do everything at a pace that makes snails sneer."

I hope I'm a phrase-maker when I'm 92.

Dodderings

Jan. 3rd, 2017 08:26 pm
steepholm: (Default)
I went to the bank to sort out some business for my mother today, and the man there needed to ring her to check some information. "It takes her a while to get to the phone these days," I said, "so it'll probably go to voicemail while she's mid-dodder. If it does, ring her again in a minute."

It happened just as I'd said. Later, my mother asked: "Did you really say 'mid-dodder'?" She pretended to be offended, but was actually laughing. She added that the secret to staying safe in the house at an advanced age was: "Do everything at a pace that makes snails sneer."

I hope I'm a phrase-maker when I'm 92.
steepholm: (Default)
The other night I watched quite an interesting documentary on Kipling's time in Lahore with my mother [ETA I watched with my mother; Kipling wasn't with her in Lahore], which got her to thinking that she had never actually read Plain Tales from the Hills, despite owning a copy for the past fifty years. I was duly sent to fetch the book - an early twentieth-century edition, one of those with a little swastika on the spine. (These are sad days for lovers of that ancient symbol: apparently Japan's tourist board is dropping its use as a sign for Buddhist temples, because it's so often misconstrued.) Anyway, the book had a 1919 dedication to "Cady" (pronounced "Caddy") - which my mother explained had been the nickname of her own mother, Evelyn Cadman (b. 1900), when she taught at a school in Kent as a young woman. I had no idea she was ever a teacher, let alone in Kent, or that Cady was ever her nickname. So I'm jotting it down here, lest I forget. The whole dedication had a wonderfully Angel Brazilian quality, actually.

With the same motives - and not because it's intrinsically fascinating or important, here is the story of how my maternal grandparents met - which I had also never known till now. For completists only. )

Anyway, I was given Cadman as a middle name, and my parents often stressed that, as well as being my grandmother's maiden name, it was the name of the first (named) English poet - the inspired cowherd Caedmon, whose story is told by the Venerable Bede. I grew up thinking of Caedmon as a close cousin. Though the spelling was a bit off I put that down to the atrocious orthography of Olden Times. More troubling was the fact that Bede's man was from Whitby, while pretty much all the Cadmans in the world hailed from Wellington in Shropshire. (Here's their distribution in 1881, not so long after Evelyn's own parents were born - both Wellingtonians called Cadman, but no relation, as far as they could tell.)

It was all a bit tenuous, in truth; but it may have had some effect in persuading me to consider myself potentially a writer. As for famous Cadmans, I may have to content myself with Eveylyn's Uncle Sam, whose visits from being a radio preacher in America caused such a fluster in my mother's childhood home. Whether Uncle Sam would have been content with me is a much more open question.
steepholm: (tree_face)
The other night I watched quite an interesting documentary on Kipling's time in Lahore with my mother [ETA I watched with my mother; Kipling wasn't with her in Lahore], which got her to thinking that she had never actually read Plain Tales from the Hills, despite owning a copy for the past fifty years. I was duly sent to fetch the book - an early twentieth-century edition, one of those with a little swastika on the spine. (These are sad days for lovers of that ancient symbol: apparently Japan's tourist board is dropping its use as a sign for Buddhist temples, because it's so often misconstrued.) Anyway, the book had a 1919 dedication to "Cady" (pronounced "Caddy") - which my mother explained had been the nickname of her own mother, Evelyn Cadman (b. 1900), when she taught at a school in Kent as a young woman. I had no idea she was ever a teacher, let alone in Kent, or that Cady was ever her nickname. So I'm jotting it down here, lest I forget. The whole dedication had a wonderfully Angel Brazilian quality, actually.

With the same motives - and not because it's intrinsically fascinating or important, here is the story of how my maternal grandparents met - which I had also never known till now. For completists only. )

Anyway, I was given Cadman as a middle name, and my parents often stressed that, as well as being my grandmother's maiden name, it was that of the first (named) English poet - the inspired cowherd Caedmon, whose story is told by the Venerable Bede. I grew up thinking of Caedmon as a close cousin. Though the spelling was a bit off I put that down to the atrocious orthography of Olden Times. More troubling was the fact that Bede's man was from Whitby, while pretty much all the Cadmans in the world hailed from Wellington in Shropshire. (Here's their distribution in 1881, not so long after Evelyn's own parents were born - both Wellingtonians called Cadman, but no relation, as far as they could tell.)

It was all a bit tenuous, in truth; but it may have had some effect in persuading me to consider myself potentially a writer. As for famous Cadmans, I may have to content myself with Evelyn's Uncle Sam, whose visits from being a radio preacher in America caused such a fluster in my mother's childhood home. Whether Uncle Sam would have been content with me is a much more open question.
steepholm: (tree_face)
I don't know whether my move to Cardiff was a catalyst, but my mother's Welshness (very much sotto voce during my childhood) has found increasingly resonant voice recently. The other day she surprised me by singing the Welsh national anthem (in Welsh) - perfectly, as far as I was able to judge. I'd never heard her do that at any time in the previous half century.

Perhaps it's only natural that she thinks about her childhood, and wants to pass on what she can of it. A couple of days ago she said, apropos of nothing, "Whenever my father served Fray Bentos corned beef from a tin, he would always say, 'Have a slice of Harriet Lane.'" Apparently Harriet Lane had been a murder victim, and referring to tinned meat in this way was a piece of naval slang my grandfather had picked up in the navy at the start of the twentieth century.

"But hang on," said I. "I heard exactly the same story about Fanny Adams. Can they both have been dismembered murder victims whose remains were made the basis of a grim joke about navy rations? It doesn't seem very likely."

However, it turns out to be true. Seven years after young Fanny Adams was butchered in a Hampshire field in 1867, Harriet Lane was murdered and cut into "manageable pieces" by her lover (and father of her children) in Mile End. I don't know whether Harriet and Fanny's names coexisted in the Navy, perhaps in different services (my grandfather was in the merchant navy before WWI), or whether it was a case of Fanny's being supplanted by a later victim. It's odd, though, in a grisly way.


Later the same evening she asked, "What's all this about Germaine Greer? I watched her on Newsnight last night and she looked quite mad."

I explained about Greer's history in this regard, and for my mother's education and amusement read her this choice quotation from The Whole Woman, which shows Greer at the aphelion of her eccentric orbit of rationality:

"There is a witness to the transsexual's script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual's body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual's worst enemy, his/her mother. Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her."


"What a dumbass!" said my mother. (Actually, that wasn't the word she used, but I'm translating it into American for reasons of decency.) She laughed like a crone, and I like a crone-in-training. And of course the situation does have its absurd aspect, especially when you see someone like that invited to give a distinguished lecture on 'Women and Power' at one's own university - an institution that boasts of itself as a safe and welcoming place for LGBT+ staff and students that will "in no way condone discriminatory comments of any kind”.

And then you read about Tara Hudson, the 26-year old transgender woman who has just been sent to an all-male prison less than a mile from my house. And you remember that Greer's "You're really a man" poison has real effects on real, vulnerable people.
steepholm: (Default)
I don't know whether my move to Cardiff was a catalyst, but my mother's Welshness (very much sotto voce during my childhood) has found increasingly resonant voice recently. The other day she surprised me by singing the Welsh national anthem (in Welsh) - perfectly, as far as I was able to judge. I'd never heard her do that at any time in the previous half century.

Perhaps it's only natural that she thinks about her childhood, and wants to pass on what she can of it. A couple of days ago she said, apropos of nothing, "Whenever my father served Fray Bentos corned beef from a tin, he would always say, 'Have a slice of Harriet Lane.'" Apparently Harriet Lane had been a murder victim, and referring to tinned meat in this way was a piece of naval slang my grandfather had picked up in the navy at the start of the twentieth century.

"But hang on," said I. "I heard exactly the same story about Fanny Adams. Can they both have been dismembered murder victims whose remains were made the basis of a grim joke about navy rations? It doesn't seem very likely."

However, it turns out to be true. Seven years after young Fanny Adams was butchered in a Hampshire field in 1867, Harriet Lane was murdered and cut into "manageable pieces" by her lover (and father of her children) in Mile End. I don't know whether Harriet and Fanny's names coexisted in the Navy, perhaps in different services (my grandfather was in the merchant navy before WWI), or whether it was a case of Fanny's being supplanted by a later victim. It's odd, though, in a grisly way.


Later the same evening she asked, "What's all this about Germaine Greer? I watched her on Newsnight last night and she looked quite mad."

I explained about Greer's history in this regard, and for my mother's education and amusement read her this choice quotation from The Whole Woman, which shows Greer at the aphelion of her eccentric orbit of rationality:

"There is a witness to the transsexual's script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual's body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual's worst enemy, his/her mother. Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her."


"What a dumbass!" said my mother. (Actually, that wasn't the word she used, but I'm translating it into American for reasons of decency.) She laughed like a crone, and I like a crone-in-training. And of course the situation does have its absurd aspect, especially when you see someone like that invited to give a distinguished lecture on 'Women and Power' at one's own university - an institution that boasts of itself as a safe and welcoming place for LGBT+ staff and students that will "in no way condone discriminatory comments of any kind”.

And then you read about Tara Hudson, the 26-year old transgender woman who has just been sent to an all-male prison less than a mile from my house. And you remember that Greer's "You're really a man" poison has real effects on real, vulnerable people.
steepholm: (Default)
My mother said to me this evening, apropos of nothing, "I don't suppose many people can remember the exact date when they took up smoking, but in my case it was 6th June 1944."

My grandfather, who commanded a ship that took some of the bigwigs across the Channel on D-Day+1, had of course known the date of Overlord for some time beforehand. Not being as good at keeping secrets as he was at sailing ships he had told it to my grandmother, who in turn had told my mother (and no doubt much of Wrexham - which happily was not a town thick with German spies). So my mother was very nervous on the 6th June, listening for news of the landings on the radio, when someone offered her a cigarette to calm her nerves. In less than a month it will be her and tobacco's 70th anniversary.

I blame Hitler.
steepholm: (Default)
My mother's been recalling her time working for Eddie Rothschild in the late 1940s. He employed her to ghost-write his memoir, Window on the World, and so for two years she went to work every morning at the family bank in St Swithin's Lane. A few of her reminiscences...

Work at Rothschild's began at 10am, with the staff going to the basement and toasting bread on forks at the coal hearths there.

She often worked in the Gold Fixing Room, where each morning a group of four or five top-hatted men would arrive in order to determine the worldwide price of gold. While they were doing this, she had to vacate the room. Why this was (and is) done at Rothschild's, she doesn't know.

At lunchtime, all the women were seated at one table, the men at another, and they were attended by a butler called Henry. In those rationed days they were grateful for the plentiful meals, made up of food grown on the lavish Rothschild estates. For all that, the meat was sometimes off.

The three partners (Eddie, his uncle Anthony, and a Mr Coleville) worked in the Partners' Room, the only one that was bigger than the Gold Fixing Room. The top half of the door was made of plain glass, and people who wished to talk to them would wait outside, until summoned by a nod. On tne mantelpiece of the Partners' Room were a few coins of loose change that had been left there by Disraeli at the time of the building of the Suez canal - largely on Rothschild money.

Though she didn't mention it tonight, I also remember my mother confessing that she once drank her fingerbowl when attending a posh Rothschild meal, a humiliation to be equalled only when, as a small child, I was offered a napkin at a dinner party and declined, explaining that "My knees are quite warm enough, thank you." That's her story, anyway.

Years later, when she was living in Romsey, Eddie Rothschild invited her to his home in Exbury, just the other side of the Forest; but she didn't go. I suppose the moment had passed.

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